Transcription – Helps with the Little Words

So on Monday this week we had our first class for the year, for our course Te Aupikitanga. As is usual for these kinds of things, we all had to go round and introduce ourselves. And I noticed an interesting thing, which is that some people were missing out particles, the little grammar words like i, and ki. 

Now, the interesting thing is not so much that they were doing this – speaking on the spot in a second langauge can definitely make you miss out a few, if not many, words – but rather that I noticed it, and I think this might be due to the practice I was getting with my transcription work.

What often happens, when I’m listening to te reo Māori can be shown in this English example:

  • I (am) go(ing) (to) the shop (to) buy some chip(s)

So what I frequently hear is just the key words like “I go the shop buy some chip” and I don’t register all the grammatical points in brackets. (As you can see, in a relatively uncomplicated example, you can still get plenty of information to understand the sentence.) What happened on Monday is that I was listening and thinking, why do they keep missing out words?! Which is great – because previously I would never have known they were missing out words because I usually didn’t fully register all the words anyway!

I think that by working on transcription, where I had to write down every single word and couldn’t get away with just “I go the shop buy some chip”, where I kept rewinding to check if that was i or ki, has helped train my brain to pay attention to and listen to those “little words” (at least a bit – we still have some way to go yet).

So, I think that if you notice that in your own listening you are missing certain things, try to really focus on practising hearing those things. I think that actually writing it down is better than thinking “oh, I’ll just listen harder” because there’s not much motivation there for your brain to do the work (brains are naturally lazy, this is an actual science fact). If you write it down, it knows it actually has to make an effort and can’t fake it. For this kind of exercise, you don’t need to be able to check if you’re correct – and you don’t even need to understand what’s being said! – because you are only focusing on training your brain to hear and pay attention.

Let me know if you have had any similar experiences (in any language)!

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A Theory – ko-rua, ko-toru?

So, as no doubt every learner of Māori has noticed, there’s the curious correspondance between kōrua – meaning you (2 people) – and rua – meaning two. Is this a coincidence or is it actually part of the meaning of the word? ahuamohio commented that they have a theory that the tou in koutou is actually toruthree – which has been shortened over time. In which case the idea I have come up with for koe is that it the e is the same e that you use in phrases like e hoa or e te rangatira.

So, perhaps, back in the distant past, the 3 words/phrases for “you” were:

  • ko-e
  • ko-rua
  • ko-toru

Ko would not be used quite like this now-a-days, but since it is a particle used to indicate that you are talking about something specifically, it does kind of fit.

Does anyone know of any other etymological theories for these words?

What You Hear vs What’s Really There

I am doing some transcribing work at the moment, transcribing some recordings in te reo Māori. I really wonder how much what I’m writing matches what’s really there… Some of it is fine – there are various types of phrases which are definitely what I think they are. They’re familiar enough, despite my relatively limited experience, to be easily, sub-consciously recognised by my brain for what they are – not necessarily the meaning, but the combination of sounds. There’s probably another type of stuff that my brain doesn’t know but that it is interpreting correctly by directly identifying the sounds that make up the words. And then there’s the last type.

This is best illustrated by when I was transcribing a song. I wrote down what I thought I heard, and then I tried looking it up to see if I could find the words. I found a different version of the song – fairly different in details of sentence construction, but all the major words and names were there. So I read that and listened to the song again and although some of it was fine, woah, some of it was SO different. But once I knew what the words were supposed to be, that’s what it sounded like, and it was so obvious. Even though 10 seconds before it had sounded radically different – suddenly I could correctly delineate the words, identify the previously unintelligible sounds and distinguish between similar consonants.

This to me makes two important points. One is that it is very important to be exposed to a lot of different speech – real people, recordings, TV, etc – when learning in order to load your brain up with those first type of sentences that it can easily recognise as set word combinations and phrases. Just having heard various words before, and particularly hearing them in context with other words (for example hearing “ka (verb)”, a correct verbal construction), enables you to process them when you hear them again.

Secondly, I think it would be really beneficial to practice listening to things a few times, then reading a transcript, and then listening again, in order to help develop your ear, and to train your brain by providing it with feedback (as opposed to never getting feedback, a more common occurrence). This kind of material is very difficult to find however. In Te Whanake, if you get hold of the teacher’s manuals, then you can get a few transcripts for some of the listening exercises, but that’s about it. On many language learning websites they recommend getting a book both as an audio book and text, and finding movies with captions or transcripts (which are supposedly easily available as they have to be produced by law in various countries), but I haven’t been able to find either in te reo Māori – let me know in the comments if you know of any!

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!

Mōrena!

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”).

Tēnā koe, Tēnā kōrua, Tēnā koutou

In my last post, I mentioned that when I was in primary school I found it very confusing to learn different ways to say “hello” to different numbers of people. However, I think that as adults we can probably handle it ok, and it does provide a useful introduction to the different words used.

I think it is important, before starting, to mention that the 3 forms for “you” used in these greetings are not unique to these phrases; these words are useful in all sorts of sentences, this is just an easy way to introduce them and learn one thing at a time.

So, without further ado:

(Each of the Māori greetings above has a link to Māori Dictionary where you can hear them spoken, but there are many more places where you can find sound files and videos too.)

These ways of saying “hello” are a bit more formal than simply saying kia ora (kia ora is more like “hi”). Literally these phrases mean “there you are”. The koe/kōrua/koutou is the “you” part of the phrase, and koe/kōrua/koutou are used in any sentence when in English you would use the word “you” – but in te reo Māori you have to think about how many people you’re referring to. In English we did used to use thou for singular “you” and you for plural “you”, but eventually thou was dropped. So using different words for “you” is a bit of a change for a modern English speaker!

Here are some examples to start you thinking about using these greetings:

  • So if you are saying “hello” to just one person,  maybe your boss, you say Tēnā koe
  • If you are saying “hello” to two people, maybe two guests waiting at reception, you would say Tēnā kōrua
  • And if you were saying “hello” to a group of 3 or more people, for example  at a meeting with your colleagues or to a room of people at a conference, you would say Tēnā koutou

For some people, it can seem like a lot to be learning so many ways to say “hello” rather than just learning one and then moving on to something else, but (besides the fact that you need to learn these at some point anyway) it is useful to start thinking about using these 3 different versions of the pronoun “you” as this is a big concept to get used to in te reo Māori.

 

The Most Basic of Basics

I remember that when I was at primary school, we learnt some Māori. I was not impressed. We learnt multiple ways to say hello and goodbye, and I couldn’t understand why you had to use different words for different numbers of people, or for if they were staying or going. I couldn’t remember them, and it made no sense to me.

So that’s why I’d make this my introductory lesson in te reo  Māori:

Kia ora! A nice simple way to say hello. It literally means “be well” which makes it a really positive thing to say. Say it to as many people as you like, to whomever you like. Its more informal than the other options, but for the most part this’ll be fine. Just like you probably say “hello” rather than “good morning”, informal is the Kiwi way. You’ll hear Kia ora said in a variety of different ways, but use the link above to hear one way.

Ka kite! A simple say to say bye, see you. Literally this means “(I) will see (you)”. This is also very informal, but when you’re a beginner, “ka kite” is easy to remember and easy to pronounce . It also provides a foundation to learning longer variations later, and leads into some of the initial grammar. I couldn’t find an audio file for just ka kite but you can click here to hear kite and a longer phrase beginning with  ka kite.