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][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.

Word list[edit]

A meeting house on a marae

Many Māori words or phrases that describe Māori culture have become part of New Zealand English and may be used in general (non-Māori) contexts. Some of these are:

  • Aotearoa: New Zealand. Popularly interpreted to mean 'land of the long white cloud', but the original derivation is uncertain
  • aroha: Love, sympathy, affection[2]
  • arohanui: "lots of love", commonly as a complimentary close[3][4]
  • haere mai: welcome
  • haka: a chant and dance of challenge (not always a war dance), popularised by the All Blacks rugby union team, who perform a haka before the game in front of the opposition
  • hāngi: a method of cooking food in a pit; or the occasion at which food is cooked this way (compare the Hawaiian use of the word luau)
  • hongi: traditional Māori greeting featuring the pressing together of noses
  • hui: a meeting; increasingly being used by New Zealand media to describe business meetings relating to Māori affairs
  • iwi: tribe, or people
  • kai: food[5]
  • kapai: very pleasant; good, fine. From Māori 'ka pai'[5]
  • kaitiaki: guardianship of the environment
  • kaupapa: agenda, policy or principle[6]
  • kia ora: hello, and indicating agreement with a speaker (literally 'be healthy')
  • koha: donation, contribution[7]
  • kōhanga reo: Māori language preschool (literally 'language nest')
  • kōrero: to talk; to speak Māori; story
  • Kura Kaupapa Māori: Maori language school
  • mana: influence, reputation — a combination of authority, integrity, power and prestige[8]
  • Māoritanga: Māori culture, traditions, and way of life. Lit. Māoriness.
  • marae: ceremonial meeting area in front of the meeting house; or the entire complex surrounding this, including eating and sleeping areas
  • Pākehā: Non-Maori New Zealanders, especially those with European ancestry
  • piripiri: clinging seed, origin of New Zealand English 'biddy-bid'.
  • pōwhiri: ceremony of welcome[9]
  • puku: belly, usually a big one[10]
  • rāhui: restriction of access
  • tāngata whenua: native people of a country or region, i.e. the Māori in New Zealand (literally 'people of the land')[11]
  • tapu: sacred, taboo; to be avoided because of this; (a cognate of the Tongan tabu, origin of the English borrowing of taboo)
  • tangi: to mourn; or, a funeral at a marae
  • taniwha: mythical water monster
  • te reo: the Māori language (literally, 'the language')
  • waka: canoe, boat[12] (modern Māori usage includes automobiles)
  • whānau: extended family or community of related families[13]
  • whare: house, building

Other Māori words and phrases may be recognised by most New Zealanders, but generally not used in everyday speech:

  • hapū: subtribe; or, pregnant
  • kapa haka: cultural gathering involving dance competitions; haka team
  • karakia: prayer, used in various circumstances including opening ceremonies
  • kaumātua: older person, respected elder
  • kia kaha: literally 'be strong'; roughly "be of good heart, we are supporting you"
  • Kīngitanga: Māori King Movement
  • matangi: wind, breeze ("Matangi" is the name for a class of electric multiple unit trains used on the Wellington suburban network, so named after Wellington's windy reputation).
  • mauri: spiritual life force
  • mokopuna: literally grandchildren, but can mean any young children
  • pakarū: broken, damaged
  • rangatira: chief
  • rohe: home territory of a specific iwi
  • taihoa – not yet, wait a while
  • tamariki: children
  • tohunga: priest (in Māori use, an expert or highly skilled person)
  • tūrangawaewae: one's own turf, "a place to stand"
  • tutū: to be rebellious, stirred up, mischievous [14] Used in New Zealand English to mean "fidget" or "fiddle" e.g. "Don't tutū with that!"
  • urupā: burial ground
  • utu: revenge (in Māori, payment, response, answer)
  • wāhi tapu: sacred site
  • whaikōrero: oratory
  • whakapapa: genealogy
  • waiata: song
  • wairua: spirit


  1. ^ According to New Zealand English specialist Elizabeth Gordon
  2. ^ "Kiwi in Boston feeling the 'aroha'", 3news.co.nz
  3. ^ 'Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Farewell from Ambassador McCormick", US Embassy
  4. ^ 'Arohanui Howard Morrison, New Zealand Woman's Weekly
  5. ^ a b "Kiwis say ka pai to pie kai". The New Zealand Herald. 3 October 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Our Kaupapa: We value parental choice and...", Early Childhood on Stafford
  7. ^ Benson, Nigel (2 April 2009). "Festival goes glam today". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011. There is also a 2pm matinee today. Entry is by koha 
  8. ^ "Rugby: Fitzy gracious as record set to fall". Otago Daily Times. NZPA. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  9. ^ Constantine, Ellie (18 February 2009). "New commander for district". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  10. ^ George, Garth (2 November 2006). "Garth George: Beware decrees from little dictators about what to eat". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  11. ^ Conway, Glenn (7 March 2008). "Local Maori excited about fishing reserve decision". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Gay, Edward (6 February 2010). "New and old waka celebrate Waitangi". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  13. ^ Fox, Rebecca (26 April 2008). "Whanau given POW journal". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "Maori Dictionary". Retrieved 26 August 2011. 

Further reading[edit]