A timely lesson in te reo pronunciation

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 02/07/2013

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A cow tree. Never heard of it? No, it's not a shrub preferred by ruminant beasts; it's the name of a Palmerston North suburb that many city residents cannot seem to wrap their tongues around.

Aokautere is among the typically mispronounced placenames in Palmerston North that could do with a vernacular revival this Maori Language Week.

Primary schools with Maori names have been encouraged to teach their pupils about the history of their monikers.

Awapuni School principal Stephen Soutar has taken that cause one step further, guiding pupils on the correct te reo pronunciation of the city's landmarks, after he found children struggling to pronounce the name of nearby Aokautere School, which they instead identified as "that school that starts with ‘A' ".

"That's the problem around here. There are a lot of long Maori placenames and people have no idea of their history or how to pronounce them," Mr Soutar said - citing Palmerston North's vowel-rich Maori name "Papaioea" as an example.

His school's name, Awapuni, translates roughly to the river lagoon, referring to the small pools that formed in the swamps upon which the suburb was built.

Hokowhitu, another school site, describes a method of assembling the Rangitaane warriors who used the riverside land as a rallying point. The warriors were customarily counted in units of "whitu" or seven.

Whakarongo School, literally translated, means to listen. But it was actually named after a chieftainess, Te Manawa museum adviser Manu Kawana says.

Similarly, Aokautere was named after Te Aokautere, a great Rangitaane chief. But its deeper meaning was more closely related to its geographical situation, Mr Kawana said. The area was named to highlight movement of the clouds, or mists, over the cliffs up the south bank of the Manawatu River, he said.

On those hills sits Tiritea School. It was built before Massey University's Turitea campus came into existence on its doorstep - but only one got the spelling right.

"Turitea" is, in fact, the correct form, and the oddity is highlighted in the school's centenary book. For reasons unknown, the Palmerston North City Council renamed the district, stream and road "Tiritea" in 1889 while building a dam, and the school, built in 1895, inherited the error. The spelling remained in use until about 1923, shortly before Massey University was founded.

It was not until the council consulted on a name for a new walkway through Bledisloe Park that Rangitaane elders challenged the error, pointing out that "Turitea" means "clear bright water" and "Tiritea" has no meaning at all.

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The New Zealand Geographic Board corrected the name in 1991, but the school kept its spelling, intriguing parents and children ever since.

"We are wrong, apparently, but we have been around for well over 100 years, so it's unlikely to change any time soon," principal Glenys Edmonds said.

- Manawatu Standard

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