One really important thing to get the hang of early on in learning te reo Māori is the use of LONG vs SHORT vowels.
The vowels in Māori are written as follows, with a macron or tohutō over the top to indicate the long vowels:
- a, ā
- e, ē
- i, ī
- o, ō
- u, ū
The long vowels should be pronounced twice as long as the short vowels. This is why you will also see the long vowels written as aa, ee, ii, oo, uu – especially in older writing, and in situations where it’s difficult to type the tohutō. The double letter is a nice way of indicating long vowels because it is very clearly two in a row! But I find that having a line over the top also creates the feeling of “length” in my mind.
When you’re just starting off, the difference in the vowels might not seem important – but the vowel length changes the meaning of the words, as well as affecting the rhythm of the language.
Here’s some examples of change in meaning:
- keke (cake) vs. kekē (creak) vs. kēkē (armpit)
- pahi (bus) vs. pāhi (purse)
- tata (close) vs. tatā (to bail out water) vs. tātā (to strike repeatedly)
- kaka (clothing) vs. kakā (hot) vs. kākā (parrot)
As you can see, there’s a lot of difference! To save yourself trouble later on, practice writing and saying words correctly when you learn them. Unlike English, Māori words are said like they’re written, and written like they’re said. So once you learn how to pronounce a word correctly, you can automatically spell it too!
For this Māori Language Week 2017, news site Stuff announced that they would now be using macrons, recognising their importance, which is a great move.