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.

 

 

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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!

 

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.

Kia ora, te whānau

Note: I have checked 3 beginners books on te reo Māori and none of them have brought up this point, because they all only address greeting an individual or “you” (kōrua/koutou). So, I don’t know if this might be a bit controversial and if the “wrong” option might not be considered wrong by everyone? I will go with my teacher’s guidance on this. 

One of the mistakes that our kaiako picked up in our weekend noho was the common use of phrases in the incorrect form “Kia ora, whānau” rather than the correct “Kia ora, te whānau”. I had picked up on this usage a while back, but this is the first time anyone had mentioned it, and after thinking about it, I would say that “Kia ora, whānau” is not always wrong as such…

One of the things I find very interesting is the use of Māori words when speaking English, and twice as interesting is the transposition of those English versions back into te reo Māori. When speaking either English or Māori, whānau means family, both in the literal sense, but also in the sense of any connected group of people, for example your language learning class, or perhaps a club. In te reo Māori, whānau also means to be born, but this meaning hasn’t come over into the English usage of the word. I’m sure someone’s done a study on it, but it seems that its mainly nouns that transfer over into English, not the verbs.

So, if we look at English, we know you can say any of the following:

  • Hello, George
  • Hello, guys
  • Hello, class

Thus it follows that, when speaking English, you can also say (where kia ora means hello):

  • Kia ora, George
  • Kia ora, guys
  • Kia ora, class
  • Kia ora, whānau

So, in English, the phrase Kia ora, whānau is correct – even though those are both Māori words, they’re effectively being used “in English” and this is how we structure English. Therefore I think it is technically acceptable to say, “Kia ora, whānau, this evening we’re going to …” because we are speaking English and using the words in their English usage and meaning.

However, when speaking te reo Māori, you can’t just have nouns hanging out unsupported; although there’s bound to be some sneaky exceptions, as a general rule you need a definite or indefinite particle (te, ngā, he), a possessive (taku, tōna, etc), and so on before your noun, supporting it. So in te reo, you need to say something like one of the following:

  • Kia ora, te whānau
  • Kia ora, e te whānau

So “in Māori” you might say, “Kia ora, te whānau, ā tēnei pō …”.

However, what tends to happen is that the “English usage” is used by people speaking te reo, where it is no longer correct. For this reason, even though it might be technically correct to use the English usage when speaking the English language, I think it is better to get into the habit of using “te whānau” in English, even if you’re just throwing it in there as a greeting to a bunch of English-only speakers.