'Why be mainstream when you can be unique?' video

Tamzyn Pue, broadcaster on Te Korimako o Taranaki, said the varying dialects of te reo Māori identified which iwi people ...

Tamzyn Pue, broadcaster on Te Korimako o Taranaki, said the varying dialects of te reo Māori identified which iwi people were from.

Kiwis sound different to Aussies, and different again to Americans - but we all speak English. 

So it's no surprise that, across Aotearoa, one te reo Māori word can be pronounced a multitude of ways. 

"You can tell where somebody's from straight away, instantly, by the words they use and by their accent," Taranaki woman Tamzyn Pue explains. "It's your identity."

Whether it's the drop of a consonant, a glottal stop or replacing a letter with another, variations of the language are unique indicators of the country's different iwi. That can affect how New Zealand's Māori place names are said. 

In Taranaki and Whanganui the sound "wh" becomes a glottal stop with the "h" being dropped and the word whakarongo (listen), for example, being pronounced "w'a-ka-ro-ngo."

The people of Tuhoe in the Bay of Plenty change the "ng" sound into an "n" and so would say "wha-ka-ro-no", while in the South Island speakers from iwi Ngāi Tahu swap the "ng" sound for a "k" and would instead say "wha-ka-ro-ko," and so refer to their tribe as "kai ta-hu".

Te reo Māori advocate Dr Ruakere Hond believes the individual dialects of te reo Māori are still strong within iwi.

Te reo Māori advocate Dr Ruakere Hond believes the individual dialects of te reo Māori are still strong within iwi.

But in Northland the word, which is commonly known to be pronounced with a sharp F sound at the beginning, would be said "ha-ka-ro-ngo."

Pue, who is of Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Ruanui descent, said within the different regions there were variations of the language again.

The Te Korimako o Taranaki radio station host, whose first language is te reo Māori, said, for example, it wasn't quite as simple as just "dropping the H" in Taranaki.

Why I learned te reo Māori

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"The reo can be broken down into three waka; Tokomaru, Aotea and Kurahaupō."

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Aotea, which includes Whanganui and South Taranaki, quite obviously drop the H, while people of Tokomaru in North Taranaki would soften it, she said.

The people of Kurahaupō were quite different again and would instead speak with an H sound in front of words that begin with a vowel "even if it didn't exist in the written text." 

"Each tribe and each hapu and each marae throughout the country has its own accent, their own dialect, their own diction and rhythm."

She said each unique version was a reflection of the landscape, environment and tongue of tribal groupings.

Somebody wanting to learn the reo who perhaps had links to many iwi, or was non-Māori, had a plethora of dialects to choose from, Pue said.

"It's a blank canvas. Why be mainstream when you can be unique?"

Advocate for te reo Māori, Dr Ruakere Hond, said learners of reo should look to their community and question who they want to engage with in the long term when choosing a dialect.

"If they see themselves as a person from Northland they should start thinking of how they can get access to the way in which people speak up North," said Hond, who has links to ​Taranaki, Ngāti Ruanui and Te Ātiawa.

"But at the same time a person may be from up North and they actually feel more connected to Taranaki and they feel the way they would like to speak should reflect their upbringing from that region."

Hond said that, decades ago, people were of the view the varying dialects would eventually fade out to make way for a standardised language. But that was not what was happening.

The dialects were still strong within the various iwi and it was always a clear mark of where somebody was from.

He said the future of the dialects are being driven by identity and the way in which a person sounds.

"​The only way to maintain those variations is by having communities that are speaking those on a regular basis, where children are raised hearing those sounds," he said.

He said it was difficult to teach through books and tapes and people needed to instead korero with those around them.

"It's really going to come from interaction on a regular basis."

For more information on Māori place names, including what the names mean, visit NZ History.

As part of Te Wiki o te reo Māori, Māori Language Week, we're taking a look at why so many of us mispronounce Kiwi place names.


 - Stuff


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