Māori influence on New Zealand English

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A kiwi on an 1898 New Zealand stamp. The bird, which is a national icon of New Zealand, takes its name from the Māori language.

During the 19th century, New Zealand English gained many loanwords from the Māori language, mainly the names of birds, plants, fishes and places, but the flow stopped abruptly around the beginning of the 20th century.[1][full citation needed][why?] From the last quarter of the 20th century onwards this flow resumed, this time with a focus on cultural concepts. The use of Māori words is increasing[when?], particularly in the North Island.[why?][citation needed]

Plants and animals[edit]

Large numbers of native plants and animals retain their Māori names in New Zealand English. Examples include:

Other terms[edit]

"Kia ora" (literally "be healthy") is a Māori term of greeting, meaning "hello" or "welcome". It can also mean "thank you", or signify agreement with a speaker at a meeting. The Māori greetings "tēnā koe" (to one person), "tēnā kōrua" (to two people) or "tēnā koutou" (to three or more people) are also widely used, as are farewells such as "haere rā".

The Māori phrase "kia kaha", "be strong", is frequently encountered as an indication of moral support for someone starting a stressful undertaking or otherwise in a difficult situation. Although previously in common usage it became an iconic phrase of support following the 2010 Canterbury earthquake.

Some hybrid words, part English and part Māori, have developed, the most common of which is probably half-pai — often written half-pie — meaning incomplete or substandard quality, pai being the Māori word for "good". (The portmanteau form half-pied is also used, derived from half-baked.) Similarly, the Māori word ending -tanga, which has a similar meaning to the English ending -ness, is occasionally used in hybrid terms such as kiwitanga (that is, the state of being a New Zealander).

Several Māori words are used in English as lighthearted, or even slang, equivalents of their more common English counterparts. The term puku for stomach, for example, is more likely to be encountered during a friendly chat than in more formal circumstances, with one of its uses being a euphemism for a large belly.


  1. ^ According to New Zealand English specialist Elizabeth Gordon

Further reading[edit]