Ko Te Reo – The Māori Language is the foundation language of the tangata whenua and is a taonga which is guaranteed protection under the
Treaty of Waitangi.


General Information

Māori language is the indignous laguage of New Zealand. It can be seen all around us, in place names of, mountains, rivers, plants and fauna. Almost all Māori speakers are bilingual speaking both English and Maori languages. Even though an official language of New Zealand, not all New Zealanders, including Māori, can speak the Māori language. Incorrectly pronounced Māori words, sounds like fingernails scratching on a blackboard, but a tolerable and halting attempt at the correct pronunciation is better than a poor guess – your effort to get it right will be appreciated and accepted. For the Māori language to continue, it must have people who speak Māori as their first language. An estimation that today only 50,000 people are fluent speakers of Maori; 1.5 percent of the total population, or 12 percent of the Māori population. However, the true state of the Maori language becomes clearer when one realises that the majority of these 50,000 speakers are middle-aged or older.
Language is the very life-breath of being Māori.


In the last 200 years the Māori language has had a very turbulent history, going from the position of the dominant language in New Zealand until the 1860s, when it became the minority language in the shadow of the English. In the late 1800s, the English school system was introduced for all New Zealanders, and from the 1880s the use of Māori in school was forbidden. Increasing numbers of Māori learned English, a requirement in schools, and also of the prestige and need associated with using the language in general society. By the 1980s, Māori leaders and communities began to recognize the dangers of losing their language, and began initiatives to revitalise the Māori language. Using programs such as Te Ataarangi (a language learning system), Kohanga Reo (language nests) movement (established in New Zealand 1982) 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 as well as Māori Broadcasting. In 1987, the Māori Language Act declared Māori to be an official language of New Zealand alongside the English language.

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Macron Usage

One of the key features of written Māori is the macron – a small horizontal line above a vowel indicating a long sound. The use of one or the other of these sounds can completely alter the meaning of the word.

It is a pronunciation aid and is particularly useful for helping learners of the language become familiar with stress, intonation and emphasis. In written Māori, the long vowels are often denoted by macrons (bars over the letters) or whatever similar characters were available to the typesetter. Sometimes the vowel letter is repeated for long vowels.

Macrons are not normally used when a Māori word has been adopted into English and they do not generally appear on direction signs or maps.
Thus Māori, Maaori and Maori all represent the same word.

Some words which look the same have different meanings, according to their vowel length. Some examples:

  • short vowel matua – father.
  • long vowel mātua – parents
  • short vowel ana – cave.
  • long vowel anā – there
  • short vowel kaka – clothes
  • long vowel kākā – parrot
  • short vowel keke – cake
  • long vowel kēkē – armpit


There are only 10 consonants in Māori: h, k, m, n, p, t, w, these
eight are pronounced as in English
r is lightly trilled as in the Māori name for Stewart Island, Rakiura.
ng being pronounced as the ng in singer and not as in finger
wh is said as the English F as in feather.

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The main stumbling block for anyone who has not grown up hearing Māori spoken is the pronunciation of the vowel sounds. It is possible however with only a little care to pronounce the language correctly and in a way which is pleasing to the Māori ear. Māori consists of five vowels each have a long and short form. The five vowels are:

  • short a – is said as AH as in car
  • long ā – sounds like the a in father
  • short e – is said as EH as in bed
  • long ē – sounds like the ai in pair
  • short i – is said as EE as in eel
  • long ī – sounds like the ee in feet
  • short o – is said as OR as in fork
  • long ō – sounds like the o in store
  • short u – is said as OO as in zoo
  • long u – sounds like the oo in boot.


Breaking Māori words into syllables at each vowel or consonant-vowel pair makes it easier for the learner to quickly get a grasp of proper pronunciation
For example:

  • Māori is pronounced Maa/ o/ ri
  • Paraparaumu is pronounced Pa/ ra/ pa/ ra/ u/ mu
  • Petone is pronounced Pe/ to/ ne
  • Whangarei is pronounced Wha/ nga/ re/ i
  • Nau mai is pronounced Na/u ma/ i

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Common Greetings/Phrases

Aua hoki! – I haven’t a clue
Aroha mai – I’m sorry/Excuse me
E noho ra – Goodbye to someone staying
E noho –Sit down
E tu –Stand up
Haere mai – Welcome
Haere ra – Goodbye to someone leaving
Hei kona ra – Goodbye (less formal)
Ka kite ano – See you again/ See ya!
Ka kite – See you
Ka mau te wehi – Wow! Excellent!
Ka pai – Great
Kei te pehea koe? – How are you?
Kei te pai – That’s OK
Kei whea te – Where is the (item)
Kia kaha – Be strong
Kia ora – Hello/Thank you
Morena – Good Morning
Po marie – Good Night
Tena koe – Greeting to one person (formal)
Tena korua – Greeting to two people (formal)
Tena koutou – Greeting to many people (formal)
Tino pai – Very good
Whakarongo – Listen

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Tribal Dialects

The Māori language accommodates a variety of regional dialects.
The word: Whakarongo – listen, will be used for an example
Taitokerau – Northland
The w is dropped from the word.
Example: hakarongo
Te Arawa/Tainui/Te Tai Rawhiti – Waikato/East Coast
The pronunciations of words are the same.
Example – whakarongo
The h is dropped from the word.
Example: wakarongo
Tuhoe – Bay of Plenty
The g is silent in a word.
Example: whakarono
Kai Tahu/Ngai Tahu – South Island
The ng is substituted by a k.
Example: whakaroko
Some parts of the South Island, particularly the Nelson and
Blenheim areas, have dialects from Taranaki and Waikato regions.


Maori was once a vibrant and living language that was spoken in the home 
and within the wider community. 
It is possible for the Maori language to again become a vibrant, living language
but that requires the effort of all of us.