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The Maori language of New Zealand is a Malayo-Polynesian language, a family of languages commonly divided into four sub-families, namely, Indonesian, Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian. The New Zealand Maori language is part of the Polynesian sub-family of languages which form a very closely related group spoken for the most part within the Polynesian triangle. Thus Maori speech is a dialect of the language spoken throughout Polynesia and hence conveniently called the Polynesian language. The Polynesian group can be divided into east and west Polynesian sub-groups. New Zealand Maori is an eastern Polynesian language. The Maori dialects of Rarotonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, and all the islands of French Polynesia are very closely related to the Maori language spoken in New Zealand. There is rather less relation with the western Polynesian languages in Tonga, Samoa, and Niue, and still less to the Melanesian languages of Fiji.
New Zealand marks the southernmost limit of the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. Within the last thousand years, either through accidental voyages or by purposive migration using traditional navigational methods, Polynesian speakers fanned out from the Society and Cook groups to Hawaii in the north, to the eastern Archipelagoes of French Oceania, and to New Zealand in the south.
In respect to actual origin, in spite of comparisons that have been made between selected words from Polynesia and the speech of some American groups, the linguistic evidence suggests that the spread of the Polynesian language was from the direction of Asia and not America. The existence of different dialects in New Zealand points to the speculation that the different waves of early settlement were from different dialect areas in central Polynesia. Only intensive archaeological and linguistic research within Polynesia as a whole can determine this.
The unwritten Polynesian language was reduced to writing by early missionaries in various island groups during the first half of the nineteenth century, with the Polynesian sounds represented by English letters. Earliest records of the Maori language can be found in the
vocabulary and grammar was made and published in 1815 by the missionary Kendall. In 1820 the first step towards a dictionary of the Maori language was taken when the vocabulary of 100 pages was published by the Church Missionary Society with theGrammar. Probably the most important of the early works was the first edition of Williams's Maori Dictionary, published in 1844. The Williams family were to produce the best dictionary of any Polynesian or Melanesian language.
During the last half century there has occurred a significant advance in Maori linguistic study. Appropriate techniques have been developed, especially by Bruce Biggs, for establishing the significant sound contrasts in the Maori language. His system, which is based on an inventory of phonetic symbols, provides the most efficient writing system for the Maori language; it provides a means of indicating in writing every meaningful distinction in the sounds of the
The Maori language is almost devoid of grammatical inflexions; most words may be used in more than one of the classes of parts of speech. As grammatical relations exist in Maori which have no exact counterpart in English grammar, terms have had to be adopted to express these relations.
1. Eight consonants, h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w.
2. Two digraphs, wh, and ng, which may be included with the consonants.
3. Five vowels, a, e, i, o, u.
It will be observed that the voiced consonants b, d, g, are wanting, also the voiced and voiceless pairs v, f and z, s, l. The only consonants are the voiceless p, t, k, the voiced and voiceless pair w, wh, the three nasals m, n, ng, the liquid r, and the aspirate h. The combinations of 10 consonants and five vowels form 55 open syllables, four of which, however, wo, wu, who, and whu, do not occur in any genuine Maori word.
The above table contains every letter and syllable used in Maori, but those syllables in italic are not found in genuine Maori words, although they are used in modern Maori introduced words, such as wuru (wool) and whuru (flu).
To a student who speaks English only, the chief difficulty in pronunciation is the vowel sounds. Every vowel is pronounced and has a long and a short sound. Every syllable ends in a vowel. When two vowels occur together, each has its own sound, but there is no break as one merges into the other. Maori is a phonetic language, that is, a word is spelt according to the sound. To learn how to pronounce Maori, the sounds of the vowels, a, e, i, o, u, must be mastered.
sound. It is not a compound ofw andh, but represents the single voiceless consonant corresponding withw and is pronounced by emitting the breath sharply between the lips. Most tribes in New Zealand today assimilate the sound to that off in English. From the phonetic spelling that was adopted by the early missionaries and settlers it would appear, however, that the use of the soundf forwh is a comparatively recent innovation. This is the view supported by Buck who contends that the use of the Englishf sound forwh, such asfafa i forwhawhai (to fight), is a post-European development adopted by some tribes. The student should practise the sound by pronouncing thewh as in the English word \u201cwhen\u201d; it is pronounced without letting the teeth touch the lower lip.
first syllable of each normal disyllablic element of a word. This stress gives way to a strong accent on the first syllable of a trisyllabic word, but survives as a secondary accent in polysyllabic words. The causative prefix whaka is unaccented and so also are the articles he, nga, te, the prepositions, the verbal particles, and the particle ko. The nominal particle, a, is ordinarily unaccented, but if used with one of the pronouns au, koe, ia, mea, wai, following a preposition, it carries the accent which disappears from the pronoun.
some of the vowels three or even more grades of prolongation may be detected in speech. In some words the quantity of a vowel may vary in different districts, and strange vagaries are practised in this respect in songs.
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