Taking te reo Māori back to basics
AH EH EE OR OO. To get Māori place names correct, you have to start with the vowels.
Those five sounds are the building blocks for any attempt to pronounce the names of many of our most beautiful places, says te reo tutor Craig Shepard.
It sounds simple. And yet so many of us can't seem to manage it.
The challenge is to stop seeing Māori words through an English lens, and instead recognise the Māori vowel sounds for what they are, says Shepard, who teaches at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.
So let's break it down. The Māori pronunciation of the vowels A-E-I-O-U are ah-eh-ee-or-oo.
Or in other words - the words of New Zealand's Māori Language Commission - A like the 'u' in cup, E like the 'e' in egg, I like the 'e' in eat, O like the 'o' in for and U like the 'o' in to.
When it comes to dipthongs - where there are two vowels joined together in a place like Marahau - the same principle applies, Shepard says.
"Work on that same principle with ah-oo... just speed them up to join them together."
A macron over the vowels: Ā-Ē-Ī-Ō-Ū - lengthens them. So that gives you Ā like the 'a' in car, Ē like the 'ea' in measure, Ī like the 'ee' in heel, Ō like the 'ou' in your, and Ū like the 'oo' in roof.
Most consonants are similar to English, except that WH is said like the 'f' in father, NG like the 'ng' in singer, and 'r' with a roll which can sound more like a 'd' or 'l' sound in English.
Put them all together, and you can make a strong stab at saying the place name you see on the road sign in the way it's meant to be said.
Many non-speakers choose to pronounce Māori place names incorrectly because that's how they have always heard them, according to Shepard.
He gave the example of Marahau, in the Tasman district.
"It's often said 'ma-ra-how', which it doesn't even sound nice when the word is 'muh-ruh-hoe.'"
Nearby Motueka, meanwhile, is often said as "mot" or "mot-ew-ay-ka", but it was meant to be said, "maw-too-eh-kah".
"The key is to understand the name for a name," says Shepard.
"If someone is called David, and I choose to start calling him 'Dah-vid', he's not going be happy about that."
What do the components of the names mean?
Iti small, little
Nui large, big
One sand, earth
Pae ridge, range
Roto lake; inside
Tai coast, tide
Whanga harbour, bay
For more information on Māori place names 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.