Nē? – A Podcast

While I was randomly browsing The Spinoff, I found their new podcast, Nē? A Te Ao Māori Podcast. There are 3 episodes so far, 30-40 minutes long. They look like they come out every fortnight. The first episode is about learning and speaking te reo Māori, but they are quick to say that’s not the topic of the podcast series which is about all things in te ao Māori (the Māori world).


The podcast is in English, but of course they use Māori kupu (words) interspersed throughout, and some mihi (introductions) as well.

I’ve only listened to one episode so far as I find podcasts very difficult – I zone out or sometimes I even forget I’m listening and go do something else – but the first one provided some interesting perspectives and the next two topics look interesting as well.

The podcast is funded by NZ On Air which is pretty sweet.

This Blog – An Update

Tēnā koutou, e hoa mā!

Ko tēnei te wiki o te reo Māori – its Māori Language Week. I guess that’s why I’ve started thinking about this blog again? Or maybe its because i’ve had a more time and energy being home in the recent lockdown.

I have been putting off doing anything with the blog for many months (years?!) because I know there’s a bunch of stuff on here that I want to take down or need to change – where I’ve learnt more or changed my views. But I’ve been procrastinating on it for a long time.

I’m also not sure of the purpose of the blog – it was originally going to be a language learning blog about my language learning journey (I used to read a lot of these kinds of blogs but could never find one for te reo) but then I posted some lessons and explanations, and I got confused as to what my goal was here, and how to combine the two types of content.

Also I now teach people te reo Māori in various settings so I’m feeling unsure about the existence of the blog in combination with the professional side.

Lots of things that just made it easier to ignore the whole thing.

I have some ideas though, and will probably make at least one post before ignoring the whole thing again lol.

Ngā mihi.

Memrise Course for “Language of the Environment”

In 2018, Te Taura Whiri and DOC produced a really lovely booklet called “Kia Kaha te Reo Taiao” which contains vocab and phrases relating to the environment. You can read more about the booklet in this press release.

I’ve used the booklet to make a course on the Memrise website, which is available for free for anyone who is interested in using it to. I’ve resisted the urge to alter anything from the booklet – for example, some of the words have more than one meaning but I’ve left them the same as they are in the official booklet. The vocabulary includes words relevant to the environment, such as ākau (rocky beach) and hīrere (waterfall), as well as words for animals, like paikea (humpback whale), and plants like tātarāmoa (bush lawyer vine).

The booklet itself is very beautiful. I don’t know if there are still physical copies available, but you can download a digital copy of the booklet here.

The Memrise course is divided up into the same four sections as the booklet – Marine, Fresh Water, Flora, and Fauna. For each section there’s a level for the vocab, a level for the phrases, and a level containing selected words from the paragraph at the end of each section, to help you learn the less common words and be able to read the paragraph. The phrases level is bit tricky using the Memrise format, so if you want to give the course a go, just do the levels that are useful to you.

I’ve added images for most of the animals and plants. The images are shown when you first encounter the word. I found that although I knew the English words for these things, I didn’t actually know what one looked like. I imagine many people are in the same situation, so hopefully the images will help. Each image I’ve ensured is of a NZ species, except for the whitebait (which is Italian), and all are taken from Wikipedia so shouldn’t have broken any copyright laws.

These words are fun to learn and allow you speak much more effectively about our NZ environment. I encourage you to both download the booklet and check out my course! If the link to the course doesn’t work, you can search on Memrise for the course name – Kia Kaha te Reo Taiao.

Image showing the cover of the booklet. The cover has a silhouette of a tui and says: Kia Kaha te Reo Taiao, Language of the Environment, Give it a Go!

Kia Kaha te Reo Taiao booklet


P.S. Please let me know of any issues with the course and I will try to fix them.

What I’ve been doing – Teaching

I was thinking about how I hadn’t posted anything on here for a long time, although I’ve been intending to. But then I remembered that for the last two months I have been preparing teaching materials for a couple of other things, so its not like I haven’t done any Māori language education or “outreach”.

One of the “other things” is that I have been teaching beginner’s classes at Petridish, a shared office space in Dunedin. We’re just reaching the end of the 6 week course, and then will be starting up again in a few weeks. Its tricky to work out how to create a sensible set of work to be done in only 6 hours. I want them to have time to actually learn and practice the material in class, but I also want them to get a broad enough knowledge base to feel they got something useful out of it. I think ideally I would spend twice as long on each topic, but that would seem like a very sparse set of classes. I’d also like to be able to fit in tikanga and cultural stuff (aside from that which is inherent in the language), but then you wouldn’t get nearly as much reo.

The other “other thing” is a business that me and a couple of others are starting, teaching Māori to individuals. These classes are quite different, being half tikanga, half reo.

I guess I could also mention that I have been a tutor for MAOR 110, another beginner’s class, at the University of Otago, but I don’t have to prepare that work myself. I also did a bit of individual tutoring of students of the 100 level Māori courses through Disability Information and Support.

So I guess I’ve been doing a lot through other mediums.

Using Morae with ‘e’

In this post I’m going to talk about how we can use our understanding of morae to better understand some grammar rules. You can read about morae in the previous post.

Even if you have just started learning Māori, you will have learnt about the little word “e” which is used at the start of certain phrases – but only in front of some words and not others. Well, whether or not to use “e” is determined by the number of morae! Note: we’re not talking about “e” as a tense marker like in e…ana, but rather like in the examples below.

Here’s some examples of the types of sentences we’re talking about:

  1. Greetings:  Kia ora, e Hone. vs. Kia ora, Anahera.
  2. Commands:  E tū! vs. Haere mai!
  3. Numbers:  E rua aku pene. vs. Tekau aku pene.

The rule is:

If there are fewer than 3 morae, use ‘e’; if there are 3 or more morae, skip the ‘e’.

You can kind of see it as making sure the word is long enough – if there’s not enough morae, you need to add one in in the form of ‘e’.

These structures are sometimes explained in terms of having “2 or fewer syllables” which as we know from the previous post, is close but not quite right as you can have a single syllable with two (or more) morae. The rule is also often explained in terms of the number of vowels – if there are 2 or fewer vowels then use ‘e’. This is actually correct because our definition of a mora is that it is of the form (C)V, i.e. one vowel and an optional consonant. So you can count the vowels and you will be counting the morae – so long as you remember letters like ā represent two vowels: aa.

I’m not going to go into the grammar structures in detail as I just want to highlight the use of morae with them and hopefully you already know them, or if not they are covered in any text book.

Our grammar rules for the three cases are as follows:

  1. Use e before a (Māori) name or a term of address if there are fewer than 3 morae, e.g. Kia ora, e Hone (2 morae: Ho – ne)
  2. In a command, use e before the verb if it has fewer than 3 morae, e.g. E tū! (2 morae: tu – u)
    • This is only for single word verbs without any additional words added, e.g. if it was Tū mai then we don’t use e
  3. When saying how many things there are, use e before the number if it has fewer than 3 morae, e.g. E rua (2 morae: ru – a)

Even if you already knew the rule “use e for fewer than 3 vowels” hopefully it was interesting to learn about the rule in terms of morae as it encompasses the structure of the whole word rather than just the vowels. For me personally, it seems more concrete and less arbitrary to think in terms of morae rather than vowels.

Syllables and Even Smaller Things

This post is an explanation of what morae, syllables and diphthongs are and how they are formed. In a sense it is a beginner’s topic because it deals with some absolute basics, but on the other hand its probably more interesting later on when you can form your own connnections to the rest of your te reo Māori knowledge. I found it interesting because it revealed a lot to me about how the language works.

The topic of mora/morae isn’t something that is mentioned in te reo Māori text books, but is rather a concept discussed in the phonology section of grammar books. This doesn’t mean that it is complicated but I think that it is something that becomes clearer over time as you get used to the concepts.

What is a mora in Māori?

The smallest units from which Māori words can be created are morae (singular: mora, plural: morae). A mora consists of a vowel, and an optional consonant – so the form of morae can be depicted as (C)V. Examples of a single mora include: i, u, ki, ta.

>In Māori, wh and ng are a single consonent – we’ve just chosen to depict them as two letters. So whe and ngo are one mora, consisting of one consonant and one vowel.

In Māori we have 5 vowels – a, e, i, o, u – but these vowels can be combined in pairs to create long vowels which we write with a macron: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. Each of these vowels-with-macrons are two vowels, we’ve just chosen to depict them as a single letter. Thus all the long vowels using a macron are 2 morae of the form VV, e.g. ā is actually aa.

The word “Māori” has 4 morae: Ma – a – o – ri.


A mora is NOT exactly the same as a syllable. This is why the concept of morae is so useful in Māori. There are a couple of things that people get a bit confused trying to understand or explain because they are using the concept of a syllable, which is almost right but not quite; having the concept of a mora helps to understand some Māori grammar rules better.

The mora has been defined by James D McCawley (linguist) as “something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one”.

As an aside, I felt SO gratified when I read this definition because ever since I first learnt about syllables (in English), I’ve been puzzled about why some are longer than others. I’d taken to calling long syllables as “one and a half” syllables because I didn’t have any other words for them. I now know they are one syllable with 2 (or more) morae!

Here are some examples of syllables in Māori: a, ki, o, ta, kī, ai, tai, mā, māo, tēi.

A syllable may consist of one mora (V or CV), two morae (VV or CVV) or even 3 morae (CVVV) – you can see examples of each in the list above. Here we have short syllables which have only one mora, and long syllables that have 2 morae – or longer ones consisting of three, not mentioned by McCawley in his famous definition.

The word “Māori” consists of 2 syllables: Māo – ri.

Try saying some of the multi-morae syllables out loud; if you say “ai” can you hear and feel that this consists of two parts. Can you see why I used to get confused and call this “1.5 syllables”?

Note that not all combinations of vowels will create a single syllable – i.e. just because it is of the form (C)VV doesn’t mean it is one syllable – it might be two, as explained in the next section.

Diphthongs and vowel combos

Not all sequences of vowels will combine into one syllable. The combinations “ai” and “ia” both consist of two morae in the form VV. However, “ai” is one syllable whereas “ia” is two. Try saying these out loud to hear the difference.

The combination “ai” flows together into one sound and forms a single syllable consisting of 2 morae. When this happens the vowel combination is called a diphthong. The combination “ia” maintains the i and a as distinct sounds, creating two syllables (each consisting of one mora).

Of course you can combine consonants with the vowels too: thus kai is a one syllable word, kia is a two syllable word.

The diphthongs in Māori are: ae, ai, ao, au, oe, oi, ou, ei, eu. These create a single syllable. You can also have long diphthongs – these are when the diphthongs listed above contain a long vowel, for example āe or āo.

Other vowel combinations not listed in the diphthongs are two syllables.

Knowing about morae helps you understand how Māori is put together, and gives you a better understanding of the pronunciation of vowel combinations. If you go on to get into some really nitty-gritty parts of Māori linguisitics then you will want to understand morae too. The next post is about how the number of morae comes into play in some common Māori sentences.

Note: mora and morae are not Māori words, they just look like them!

Haumi e, Hui e, Taiki e

One thing about learning a language like Māori is that you will also encounter various elements of Māori culture besides the language. In fact, even if you aren’t learning Māori, if you live in New Zealand, you will likely (hopefully) encounter these things anyway. This doesn’t happen so much if you’re learning French in New Zealand, for instance. You can get away with just learning the French language and book-learning the cultural elements as you likely won’t encounter them in your everyday life here.

This post is about the words that you might hear at the end of a karakia (prayer, blessing, chant, or similar). This might be at a marae or in a Māori class, but also might be said at the end of a speech opening a conference or at an end-of-year work dinner.

Even if you have no idea what the rest of the korero (speech) was about, after hearing a few you might start to recognise a common refrain at the end of the karakia that goes “haumi e, hui e, TAIKI E.” The parts in capital letters are said by everyone, whereas the lower caps section is said by the speaker. So it goes thus:

  1. Speaker: (some words in Māori…) haumi e, hui e
  2. Everyone: TAIKI E

This is basically a ritual ending which is pretty impossible to translate meaningfully, but is a bit like everyone saying “Amen” together at the end of a prayer, but means something along the lines of “join, gather, unite”. Its just something you say.

The pronunciation of “taiki e” is like “tie key e” with the “e” being said like the first “e” in “everyone”.  Say it with feeling, and fairly slowly.

There are a few options for the line immediately preceeding “haumi e, hui e, taiki e” but one is “kia tina, TINA” which provides another opportunity to join in and goes like this:

  1. Speaker: (some words in Māori…) kia tina
  2. Everyone: TINA
  3. Speaker: haumi e, hui e
  4. Everyone: TAIKI E

The word “tina” is also relatively untranslateable here, but means something like “fix it” or “make it firm”. The pronounciation of “tina” is like the name “Tina” but make sure you pronounce both syllables strongly and clearly, a bit like you were angry at Tina – Tina!

If you want to hear what these sound like, this short video on YouTube provides two examples of karakia said by a group of people, finishing with these words. The second example in the video as a fantastic, emotive example of a guy calling out the words for everyone to respond to.


A Name for Poles (People from Poland…)

So I have decided on a new Māori name for Polish people/people of Polish descent.  This was done in consultation with zero Māori people and one Polish person (me), so it’s not exactly official. I’m not sure how many Polish speakers of Māori there are – there’s at least one other than me – but hopefully they will like this name.

If you have followed the Ngāti/Ngāi series (or just already know these things) you will know that Ngāti indicates the iwi’s founder from whom the iwi is descended, and that Ngāti is also used nowadays to designate and name non-iwi groups. So, the name for people of Polish descent should be Ngāti … but Ngāti what?

There is a legend that goes as follows.  One day there were three brothers who went on a hunting trip together, named Lech, Czech and Rus. Each brother followed a different prey and headed in a different direction. Rus went East, Czech went West, and Lech, the eldest, went North. There Lech found himself face to face with a white eagle silhouetted against the red sky of the setting sun. Taking this as a good sign, he settled there, and in doing so, founded Poland.

As it turned out, he made a very poor choice as despite the fertile land, the country was pretty indefensible as well as a major thoroughfare for many armies in the area. That’s not part of the legend but its always good to know where to place the blame, and the blame is on the shoulders of Lech, who could be said to be the ancestor of Poland.

Now that we have the name of the ancestor, we need to make it fit as a Māori word. The only sound within his name that exists in Māori is the “e”, so we have to translate the “l” and the “ch” into Māori sounds. The letter “l” usually becomes an “r”. The “ch” is a kind of cross between a “k” and a “h” sound – I feel more of an “h” personally. You can’t end a Māori word in a consonant, so we need to add a letter on to the end, resulting in a transliteration of “Lech” to “Reha”. You can see also that if we went with a “k” for the “ch” we’d end up with “Reka” which would just be confusing. The word “reha” does not appear to already exist, although there are a few Māori people named Reha. And thus, I have coined the term Ngāti Reha for those of Polish descent, barring any discoveries that it is somehow horribly inappropriate.

Polska – Ngāti Reha

Image result for Polish flag
Picture of Polish flag (white at top, red on bottom) with the Polish crest feat. a crowned eagle in the centre of the top white section


Ngāti/Ngāi Series of posts:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 4

Creating new group names with Ngāti

In the previous posts about Ngāti and Ngāi, we have seen that most iwi and hapū will use one or the other of these words – usually Ngāti – in their iwi name to indicate that they are the descendents of the same eponymous ancestor. Identifying yourself as a member of a particular iwi establishes that you are part of a particular group, and this is another way in which Ngāti is now being used.

Wikipedia says “Ngāti has become a productive morpheme in New Zealand English to refer to groups of people” – i.e. Ngāti has become part of our language and is now used to create new words. The examples provided on Wikipedia include Ngāti Pākehā – referring to Pākehā as a group; Ngāti Rānana – Māori living in London; and Ngāti Tūmataunga – the Māori language name for the NZ army.

As we saw when talking about Ngāti vs. Ngāi, Ngāti is the correct word to use to create these new group names as Ngāi is only used in certain cases – useful to know as otherwise its easy for beginners, particularly non-Māori beginners, to forget which to use when identifiying as part of a non-Māori group, e.g. Ngāti Pākehā, Ngāti Kōtimana (Scottish), Ngāti Tiamana (German), etc.


Other posts in this series:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 3

When neither Ngāti or Ngāi are used

In the list of iwi I used in my previous two posts, you might have noticed I was quite particular about which examples I used and how I wrote them. What if my list had been like this:

  • Kāi Tahu
  • Kāti Mamoe
  • Tūhoe
  • Te Arawa

Where’s all our Ngāi and Ngāti now, eh?!

So, first up are Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe. These are two South Island iwi, Kāti Mamoe being an historic iwi present before Kāi Tahu, and many Kāi Tahu Māori whakapapa (link genealogically) back to Kāti Mamoe. Kāi Tahu uses a different dialect of te reo Māori, one of the most noticable differences being the lack of the “ng” sound, and the usage instead of “k”. This transforms Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe into Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe.

Next is Tūhoe. I’m not sure why, but some iwi are commonly known by their name without the Ngāi/Ngāti signifier on the front. However for these iwi, like with Tūhoe, you can still use their “full name”, e.g. Ngāi Tūhoe.

Lastly, we have Te Arawa. Although generally used in the same way as an iwi name, Wikipedia informs me that Te Arawa is actually a “confederation of iwi and hapu” who trace their ancestry back to the Arawa waka. Thus it would not make sense to use Ngāti or Ngāi in the name as Te Arawa is a waka and not the eponymous ancester from which they are descended. Similarly, the Waikato-Tainui iwi, a.k.a. Waikato, take their name from the Waikato river, and the Tainui waka.

So as you can see, although using Ngāti/Ngāi is the most common way to identify an iwi or hapū, it is not the only way.


Other posts in this series: