Why Stuff is introducing macrons for te reo Māori words
EDITORIAL: It's a truth that should be self evident: as an official language of New Zealand, te reo Māori deserves to be held in the same esteem as English.
A basic first step toward that deserved level of mana is using the language correctly.
That's why, from today, we are introducing macrons (tohutō) for Māori words on Stuff and in our newspapers.
We're pleased to be able to do this in Te Wiki o te reo Māori, Māori Language Week.
Macrons are the horizontal lines above some vowels. They indicate a longer vowel sound. For instance, the macron in Māori gives it an 'a' sound like in 'car'.
READ MORE: What's that little line? He aha tēnā paku rārangi?
As well as showing respect to our Māori audience by ensuring our usage is technically correct, adopting macrons will aid pronunciation and prevent mistaken meanings.
Including or missing a macron can make a big difference to a word's meaning.
To borrow one example from the Māori Language Commission, "He keke māu?" translates to the delicious "Would you like some cake?". But the very similar "He kēkē māu?" translates to the much less appetising "Would you like some armpit?"
This introduction is arguably overdue – after all, the Māori Language Commission has now been advocating the use of macrons for 30 years.
Some other media organisations are already using macrons, and we applaud them. There are mundane technical reasons for why we haven't done so earlier, but those excuses have passed their expiry date.
Fairfax Media reaches more than 3.3 million Kiwis per month via Stuff — New Zealand's largest domestic website – and our print publications, including The Dominion Post, The Press, the Waikato Times, and the Sunday Star-Times.
Our hope now is that our considerable audience reach means we can help make correct te reo Māori usage through macrons a normal part of everyday life for New Zealanders.
We recognise this move will not be universally popular. For a small line, the macron can cause a lot of consternation.
In recent years, communities such as Manawatū and Kāpiti have endured heated debates over whether their names should include macrons. It seems particularly with place names, residents feel an emotional stake and some will tend toward the conservatism of retaining the spelling they grew up with, even if it's incorrectly anglicised.
But the world didn't end when Wanganui acquired an 'h', and Kiwi culture didn't crumble when we accepted the plural of Māori isn't Māoris. New Zealanders are mature enough to accept correct usage of te reo Māori and just get on with it.
Ultimately, arguments against the use of macrons are spurious ("Māori wasn't a written language"), lazy ("We're doing fine without them"), or borderline racist ("It's politically correct nonsense").
Correct use of te reo Māori should be seen as inclusive – a celebration all New Zealanders can join.
Many place names take macrons, from Whangārei to Ōamaru. And other Māori words with macrons are in common usage among English speakers – for instance, kōrero, mōrena, and whānau. Getting them right should be just as important to Pākehā as to Māori.
That does take some education though. Despite our best intentions, it's inevitable we'll make mistakes using macrons. Sometimes we'll add them where they're not needed, and sometimes we'll omit them where they are.
But it's better to be inconsistently correct than consistently wrong.