How do you pronounce ‘māmā’?

So I was walking along listening to a Māori recording today, and I realised I was pronouncing a word incorrectly.

As an aside, I think one of the benefits of listening to recordings while walking is that you don’t have any pressures on you like you do in a conversation or when studying, so you can just chill and mull over the words. If you don’t understand it all properly this might be even better as you are really focussing on the words you do understand.

Anyway, one of the kuia used the word māmā (easy) at the end of a sentence, so it stood out very clearly, and I suddenly realised that I had been saying it wrong! And I think many of my fellow second language learners will find the same thing.

If you look at the word māmā, you will see it has two macrons, one over each ‘a’. But if you say māmā to yourself, what do you say? If you are like me, you actually say māma – what I do, and what I have heard meany others do, is pronounce the first ā long, and then make the second ‘a’ sound very short. We’ve made up an entirely new word that doesn’t exist. Basically, this is English-style pronunciation!

I think there is a general reluctance amongst NZ English speakers to pronounce two long vowels in a row, because we don’t do it when speaking English so it sounds and feels weird to us. So this week my challenge to you is to keep an eye out for those pairs of long vowels and check if you are pronouncing them both long and both the same length.


Long vs. Short Vowels – It’s Important!

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.



Kia Ora!

In my post The Most Basic of Basics I briefly talked about using kia ora to say hello to someone.

However, kia ora is a very useful word, beyond saying hello. It kind of also functions as a general word for politeness and acknowledgement.

You may find that these uses fill a gap that you weren’t sure how to express in te reo Māori, as these types of colloquial uses aren’t usually covered in textbooks or classes.

Hello – to start with, we can frame hello as part of the acknowledgement theme as saying kia ora to someone as a greeting is in effect an acknowledgement.

Thank you/thanks – you can say kia ora to thank someone and to acknowledge their action. For example, if someone hands you something, or does something for you. Similarly, if someone has just given an answer or volunteered in class, it might be acknowledged with kia ora.

Good work/I respect or admire that – if someone has done something worthy, you can say kia ora to acknowledge that. For example, someone says they’ve started studying, or they’re volunteering at a charity, or done something you think is impressive or cool, you can interject with kia ora in a tone of admiration.

Good point/I agree – similar to the above, but in this case used when you are listening to someone speaking or actually giving a speech and feel they made a good point, or you support or agree with what they are saying.

Bye/see ya – if someone is leaving and you have to throw out a quick good-bye-nice-to-see-you-I’m-not-ignoring-you, you can use kia ora. You can also just use kia ora as a general good-bye.

Thanks for reading and see you later – Kia ora!


Word Wednesday – hinga vs. taka

Today we are talking about these two different words, hinga and taka which can both be used to mean “to fall” (although they each have a variety of other meanings, too). It is important to understand the difference between the meaningd in order to use them correctly, but luckily, it’s not a complicted distinction.

In the simplest form:

  • hinga – fall over/topple
  • taka – drop/fall off/fall down

So hinga can only be used to mean when things fall over, i.e. like when something goes from upright to horizontal. For example, a tree which falls over, or a person who trips.

Whereas taka is when something drops or falls down, or falls off something. For example, a cup falls off a table, or a stone falls down a well, or you simply drop something out of your hand.

If you have trouble remember which is which, try thinking of hinga as “topple”, but taka as “drop” and see if that helps, rather than remembering them both as “fall” and getting confused between the two.


Image: Kua taka te kapa –  The penny has dropped (this is a phrase taken from the English to mean the same thing, but the grammar is correct for a literally falling penny too)



Image: Kua hinga te jenga – The jenga has toppled/fallen over (remember that the jenga tower has to actually be falling over like in the picture, not simply dropping the pieces)




Useful Word Wednesday – Pukumahi

Today’s useful word is pukumahi, which means busy.

pukumahi – busy

Ok, so that’s kind of useful to know. Now you can say, “I’ve had a busy week” – right?

Ah, no, there’s the trick. You can’t use pukumahi to say you’ve had a busy week, or a busy day, you can only say that you’ve been busy this week. In other words, pukumahi can only apply to a person – you’re saying that the person is busy. This is a bit more obvious when you look at some of the other meanings for pukumahi – industrious, hard-working, diligent. You can’t say that your week was hard-working! So, perhaps our useful word should be remembered as follows:

pukumahi – industrious, hard-working

So, for example, a conversation could go like this:

  • Kei te pēhea koe? – How are you?
  • E pukumahi ana au! – I am/have been busy!

So, if you want to say you’ve been busy lately, which is something we in our society often want to say, then you can use pukumahi and people will know what you mean.

For myself though, I actually don’t like to use it because it seems like a bit of a brag to say that I’ve been so hardworking! (Plus that’s usually not even true…) Below are some examples from two of the online Māori dictionaries using pukumahi to describe another person as hard-working.

From Māori Dictionary online:

  • He tino pukumahi hoki ō mātau mātua. –  And our parents were really hard-working.
  • He wahine pukumahi a Te Paea… – Te Paea was a hard-working woman…

From Ngata Dictionary online:

  • He tauira pukumahi a ia. – She is a hard-working student.
  • He tangata pukumahi taku matua. – My father was an industrious man.

I think the word pukumahi also provides an interesting opportunity to reflect on what we mean when we use the word “busy” – sometimes we make ourselves busy regardless of the amount of work present, sometimes we take pride in being busy, other times we really mean that we were over-whelmed, some times “chaotic” is a nice word to describe our week.

If anyone knows the “correct” way to say you’ve had a busy week in Māori, please leave a comment! I normally make up a sentence about there having been a lot of work, but I don’t know what the natural, idiomatic Māori might be.

Koe, Kōrua, Koutou

So, last week I mentioned how you could say hello to people using tēnā koe/kōrua/koutou, which are all different words for “you” when speaking to different numbers of people.

So here’s a couple of little mnemonic things to help you remember – not the words themselves – but just to remember kind of which words refer to which number of people.

If we write the words out like this:

  1. Koe
  2. Kōrua
  3. Koutou

Then you can see that the words get longer the more people they refer to! So, just like in the numbering of the list, koe refers to 1 person, kōrua to 2 people and koutou to 3 or more, and the words themselves get longer as they refer to more people.

They also all have one more vowel than the word before – so koe has 2 vowels, kōrua has 3 vowels, and koutou has 4. Of course, all the words begin with “k” as well, so that’s one less thing to remember because that is consistent.

For some people this will just be really confusing, and they will be able to remember the words quite easily just as they are, but personally I find it easier to remember a rule like this than to memorise the spelling (initially of course – later I know the word well enough to know it automatically). A lot of people don’t notice these rules and connections, so I just want to point them out in case they turn out to be useful to someone.

Note: these mnemonics only work with this method of spelling/writing Māori words! If you use the double-vowel method rather than macrons, they will be written koe, koorua, koutou and they no longer create the useful pattern!


This is a quick bonus post in my current series about greetings!

“Mōrena!” is a quick and easy greeting meaning “Morning!” You can click this link to hear a rather uninspriring rendition of this greeting. I encourage you to say it with more enthusiasm!

Mōrena is a transliteration of the English word “morning”, and its pretty easy to pronounce as the first sound is the same in both words. Be careful though – you can only use this word to mean “(good) morning” – you can’t use it to mean “morning” in any other contexts (for example, you couldn’t use it in the phrase “see you in the morning”).