New Zealand Languages
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Description[edit | edit source]
There are three Official Languages Spoken in New Zealand: English, Maori, New Zealand Sign Language.
Most records used in New Zealand research are written in English. To use and understand Maori records, it will be helpful to know some key words and phrases.
Maori oral pedigrees go from ancient times, down to the present time. The pedigrees are often written in the English alphabet but spelled phonetically, in the Maori language.
The Maori grammar may affect the way names appear in genealogical records. For example the names of your ancestors may vary from record to record in Maori.
Word List (S)[edit | edit source]
Alphabet and Pronunciation[edit | edit source]
Maori is a Polynesian language spoken in New Zealand and the Cook Islands by about 136000 people.
The Māori alphabet or Te Pū Taka Māori consists of 10 consonents and 5 vowels.
In alphabetical order they are
a, e, h, i, k, m, n, ng, o, p, r, t, u, w, wh
There are five vowels: a, e, i, o, u
ten consonants: h, k, m, n, ng, p, r, t, w, wh
two of the consonents are digraphs (two letters that combine to form one sound): wh, ng 
The Māori alphabet song Listen here
Language Aids and Dictionaries[edit | edit source]
English[edit | edit source]
English is spoken by the majority of the population. It has long been the predominant language and the de facto official language. It is the primary language used in parliament, government, the courts, and the education system. Its official status has been presumed and is not codified in statute. In 2018, New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell introduced a bill to parliament to statutorily recognise English as an official language.
New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic with the exception of the "southern burr" found principally in Southland and parts of Otago. It is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the two accents apart. In New Zealand English the short i (as in kit) has become centralised, leading to the shibboleth fish and chips sounding like "fush and chups" to the Australian ear. The words rarely and really, reel and real, doll and dole, pull and pool, witch and which, and full and fill can sometimes be pronounced as homophones. Some New Zealanders pronounce the past participles grown, thrown and mown using two syllables, whereas groan, throne and moan are pronounced as one syllable. New Zealanders often reply to a question or emphasise a point by adding a rising intonation at the end of the sentence. New Zealand English has also borrowed words and phrases from Māori, such as haka (war dance), kia ora (a greeting), mana (power or prestige), puku (stomach), taonga (treasure) and waka (canoe).
Māori[edit | edit source]
The Māori language of the indigenous Māori people has been an official language by statute since 1987, with rights and obligations to use it defined by the Maori Language Act 1987. It can, for example, be used in legal settings, such as in court, but proceedings are recorded in English only, unless private arrangements are made and agreed by the judge.
An Eastern Polynesian language, Māori is closely related to Tahitian and Cook Islands Māori. After the Second World War, Māori were discouraged from speaking their language in schools and workplaces and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas. As a consequence of this, many Māori came to view te reo Māori as a language without purpose and chose not to teach their children. Since the 1970s, the language has undergone a process of revitalisation and is spoken by a larger number of people. Of the 148,395 people (or 3.7 percent of the total New Zealand population) who claimed they could hold a conversation in Māori in 2013, 84.5 percent identified as Māori. No adult Māori alive in New Zealand today does not also speak English.
New Zealand Sign Language:[edit | edit source]
New Zealand Sign Language or NZSL (Māori: Te Reo Turi) is the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand. It became an official language of New Zealand in April 2006 under the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006. The purpose of the act was to create rights and obligations in the use of NZSL throughout the legal system and to ensure that the deaf community had the same access to government information and services as everybody else. According to the 2013 Census, over 20,000 New Zealanders speak NZSL.
New Zealand Sign Language has its roots in British Sign Language (BSL), and may be technically considered a dialect of British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language (BANZSL). There are more similarities found in British Sign Language and NZSL, compared to NZSL signs found in American Sign Language.
Like other natural sign languages, it was devised by and for deaf people, with no linguistic connection to a spoken or written language.
It uses the same two-handed manual alphabet as BSL (British Sign Language) and Auslan (Australian Sign Language).
It uses more lip-patterns in conjunction with hand and facial movement to cue signs than BSL, reflecting New Zealand's history of oralist education of deaf people. Its vocabulary includes Māori concepts such as marae and tangi, and signs for New Zealand placenames.
The Family History Library has several published dictionaries for the Maori language. These can be found in the FamilySearch Catalog, Place Search, under:
The following books on the Maori language can aid you in your research. You can find these and similar material at many research libraries.
- Briggs, Bruce. English-Maori Dictionary. Wellington: A.H. 7 A.W. Reed. 1966. (Family History Library book 499.4 B484e.)
- Williams, Herbert W. A Dictionary of the Maori Language. Wellington: A.R. Schearer, Government Printer, 1971. (Family History Library book 499.4 W672d.)
Additional Resources[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]