Maori language


Māori (Te Reo Māori)
Spoken in: New Zealand
Total speakers: 100,000-160,000 (est)
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Austronesian

   Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
     Central-Eastern Oceanic
      Remote Oceanic
       Central Pacific
        East Fijian-Polynesian

Official status
Official language of: New Zealand
Regulated by: Māori Language Commission
Language codes
ISO 639-1mi
ISO 639-2mao (B) / mri (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

Māori (or Maori) is a language spoken by the native peoples of New Zealand and the Cook Islands.



Māori was brought to New Zealand by Polynesians coming most likely from the area of Tahiti, who likely arrived in sea-faring canoes which were double-hulled and very probably sail-rigged.

In the last 200 years the Māori language has had a very tumultuous history, going from the position of predominant language of New Zealand until into the 1860s, when it became a minority language in the shadow of the English brought by white settlers, missionaries, gold-seekers and traders. In the late 19th century, the English school system was introduced for all New Zealanders, and from the 1880s the use of Māori in school was forbidden (see Native Schools). Increasing numbers of Māori people learned English because it was required at school and because of the prestige and opportunity associated with the language. Until World War II, however, most Māori still spoke Māori as a native language. Worship was in Māori, it was the language of the home, political meetings were conducted in Māori, and some newspapers and some literature was published in Māori. As late as the 1930s, some Māori parliamentarians were disadvantaged because the Parliament's proceedings were by then carried on in English. In this period, the number of speakers of Māori began to decline rapidly until by the 1980s less than 20% of Māori spoke the language well enough to be considered native speakers. Even for many of those people, Māori was no longer the language of the home.

By the 1980s, Māori leaders began to recognize the dangers of the loss of their language and began to initiate Māori-language recovery programs such as the Kōhanga Reo movement, which immersed infants in Māori from infancy to school age. This was followed by the founding of the Kura Kaupapa, a primary school program in Māori.


The Māori language belongs to the Austronesian family of languages. A member of the Tahitic branch of the Polynesian languages, it is most closely related to Tahitian, spoken in Tahiti and the Society Islands, and to Rarotongan, spoken in the southern Cook Islands.

Geographic distribution

Māori is spoken almost exclusively in New Zealand, by upwards of 100,000 people, nearly all of them of Māori descent. Estimates of the number of speakers vary: the 1996 census reported 160,000, while other estimates have reported as low as 50,000. The only other country with a significant portion of Māori speakers are the Cook Islands, which used to be part of New Zealand, but have been independent since 1965, albeit still closely associated with New Zealand.

Official status

Māori is one of three official languages of New Zealand, the other two being English and NZSL. Most government departments and agencies now have bilingual names, for example, the Department of Internal Affairs is known as Te Tari Taiwhenua, and bodies such as local government offices and public libraries also have bilingual signs. New Zealand Post recognises Māori place names in postal addresses.

Māori Language Week

In 2004 Māori Language Week was celebrated between 26 July and 11 August


The 1894 (Fourth) edition of Grammar of the New Zealand Language (by the Archdeacon of Auckland, R. Maunsell, LL.D., described seven distinct dialects for the North Island alone — Rarawa, Ngapuhi, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, East Cape, Port NicholsonWanganui, and WanganuiMokau — but mentioned some variations within some of those)

By 2004, many of the minor dialects have probably declined almost to extinction, and most new students and speakers can be expected to use the official and/or Māori Television standards. However, regional variants ( are still apparent, on different websites and even between speakers and subtitle-writers on Māori Television.

A Māori phrasebook which is a useful general guide for visitors is here ( at Wikitravel.

Kāi Tahu (Southern) Māori

One dialect that has returned to prominence in recent years is the Kāi Tahu dialect, often referred to as Southern Māori. The most obvious feature is the substitution of k for ng, as evidenced in the tribal name (Ngāi Tahu is the name used in certain acts of Parliament, leading to the common usage of both versions of the name).

Other variations from more northern dialects include the presence of extra consonants g (as distinct from ng or k, e.g., Katigi, Otago), and l which substitutes for r (e.g., Little Akaloa, Kilmog, Waihola, Rakiula (a variation of Rakiura or Stewart Island). The "wh" of northern Māori is also often replaced by a simple "w" or even "u", as in (e.g., Wangaloa).

Southern Māori also has apocope as a frequent feature, with the final letters of words often being pronounced as schwas or remaining unvoiced. For these reason, early European settlers to New Zealand referred, for example, to Lake Wakatipu as "Wagadib", and many locals still refer to Otago as Otaguh.

Until the last decade or so, Southern Māori was discouraged in favour of standard (Waikato) Māori, but has gained in acceptance in recent years, leading to changes in the official names and translations of several southern places and institutions. Mount Cook, for example, was also known as Aorangi for many years, but now is graced by the alternative name of Aoraki. Similarly, Dunedin's main research library (the Hocken Library) is now given the alternative name of Te Uare Taoka o Hākena, rather than Te Whare Taonga o Hākena.

Southern Māori still leads to some confusion among general Māori speakers, who will frequently persist in using standard Māori pronunciation rather than Southern Māori for southern place names, notably the town of Oamaru (pronounced with four syllables in standard Māori, but only three in Southern Māori).

Cook Island Maori

See main article Rarotongan language



Of all of the existing Polynesian languages, Māori is the only member of the group where compound nouns are formed extensively. Long compound nouns are possible in Māori, but unlike German, compound nouns are not heavily used.



Front Central Back
Close i
i ī
u ū
Close-Mid e
e ē
o ō
Open a
a ā

Māori has seven diphthongs: /ae/, /ai/, /ao/, /au/, /oe/, /oi/, and /ou/.


Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p
Nasal m

Semivowel w

<ng> is pronounced , that is, like the ng in English "sing." The pronunciation of <wh> varies, but it is generally pronounced , an "f" or "h" sound made by putting the lips together as if to make a "w" sound. Māori <r> is a tap, like the <r> in Spanish, or like the t in the American English pronunciation of "city."

Writing system

There is no native writing system for Māori. Missionaries made their first attempts to write the language using the Roman alphabet as early as 1814, and Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University worked with chief Hongi Hika and his junior relative Waikato to systematize the written language in 1820. Literacy was an exciting new concept that the Māori embraced enthusiastically, and missionaries reported in the 1820s that Māori all over the country taught each other to read and write, using sometimes quite innovative materials, such as leaves and charcoal, carved wood, and the cured skins of animals, when no paper was available.

There has been speculation that the petroglyphs once used by the Māori developed into a script similar to the Rongorongo of Easter Island, but there is no evidence that these petroglyphs ever evolved into a true system of writing.

Reo Māori and its role in the mental health system

Reo Māori allows oranga hinengaro (mental health) workers to provide Māori clients with personalised therapy. Being able to communicate and explain whakaoranga (therapy) procedures and outcomes allow both kaimatai hinengaro as well as Māori clients to understand and clarify any areas of concern. Māori clients are able to communicate their expected outcomes of whakaoranga using Reo Māori and kaimatai hinengaro are able to utilise Reo Māori concepts of health, such as Whare Tapa Wha model in their whakaoranga sessions. Being able to speak the same language not only acknowledges the ahautanga whakatipu (upbringing) of Māori clients, it also allows Māori clients to relate better to their kaimatai hinengaro.

External links


de:Maori (Sprache) eo:Maoria lingvo es:Lengua Maor gl:Lingua maor he:מאורית la:Lingua Mauris mi:Te reo Māori ja:マオリ語 nl:Maori (taal) ru:Язык маори sv:Maori wa:Mawori


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