New Zealand Languages
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There are three Official Languages Spoken in New Zealand: English, Māori, (Listen to Māori pronunciation) and as of April 2006 the New Zealand Sign Language became an official Language. With the world moving from one place to another the New Zealand 2013 census indicated that at least an additional 35 languages are spoken to some extent.
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. 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.
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.
Days of the week and Months in Māori
|Days of the Week|
|Months of the Year|
Words for family members and other relatives in Māori (Te Reo Māori), a Polynesian language spoken in New Zealand
|Māori (Te Reo Māori) Language|
|English Meaning||Māori (Te Reo Māori) Meaning|
|parents||mātua, (sg. matua)|
|father||matua, matua tāne, pāpara|
|mother||kowhaea, kōkā, māmā, whaea, whaene|
|husband||hoa tāne, tāne, tahu, tau|
|Māori (Te Reo Māori) Language|
|English Meaning||Māori (Te Reo Māori) Meaning|
|uncle||matua, matua tāne, matakēkē|
|aunt||whaea, whaene, kōkā, matakēkē|
|nephew||tama, irāmutu, tamaiti whakaangi|
|niece||irāmutu, tamaiti whakaangi|
|grandfather||tupuna tāne, tipuna tāne|
|grandmother||tipuna wahine, tupuna wahine, tāua|
||hūngoi, hungawai, hungarei|
|foster father||matua whangai|
|foster mother||whaea whāngai|
Alphabet and Pronunciation
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 consonants are digraphs (two letters that combine to form one sound): wh, ng 
|A a||Ā ā||E e||Ē ē||H h||I i||Ī ī||K k||M m|
|N n||Ng ng||O o||Ō ō||P p||R r||T t||U u||Ū ū|
|W w||Wh wh|
Diphthongs: meaning a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, in which the sound begins as one vowel and moves toward another
- Vowels can be long or short. Long vowels are written with a macron (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū). If no macron is available, a diaresis or circumflex (ä/â) can be used instead, or the vowels are doubled. So Māori can also be written Mäori, Mâori or Maaori. Sometimes the macrons are omitted altogether and Māori is written Maori.
- H is pronounced [ç] in some regions
- R is usually pronounced [d̪] before i and u
- Wh is usually pronounced [ɸ] or [w]
Sound of letters and vowels Click on the boxes to hear the pronunciation of the Māori alphabet – short and long vowels, and consonants – and of a number of words ... 2 pages
some word list in 5 languages including Māori.
The Māori alphabet song Listen here
Language Aids and Dictionaries
ENGLISH into MāORI Māori Dictionary
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 recognize 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).
The Māori language of the ancestry 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 which is spoken in Tahiti and the Society Islands, and Rarotongan, which is spoken in the southern Cook Islands.
Before 1840, Māori was the predominant language of New Zealand. It was extensively used in social, religious, commercial and political interactions among Māori, and between Māori and Pākehā (Whites). Māori was also the language of instruction in the schools set up by missionaries.
After the World War II, The Māori language was discouraged from being spoken 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 (3.7% 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. 
- The Māori language is undergoing yet another change.
The New Maori script is a creation of Ian James. It is an alternative to the Roman alphabet normally used for the otherwise script-less Māori language of New Zealand.
Part of the aim was to suggest a 'formal' or 'sacred' alphabet for the recording of special poems and songs, while maintaining a local aesthetic in the visual form. In the case of Māori - unlike some languages given it by missionaries - the Roman system is quite effective. So New Maori does not offer benefits of efficiency, simply those of cultural identity.
They have added another consonant The Maui script was invented by Ian James as an alternative way of writing Pacific languages such as Maori. It is a kind of syllabary where syllables are assembled phonetically from parts, and made to form distinct, singular forms. There is also a sense of the third dimension in the syllabic shapes, and they look a little like carved beads.
The Maui script is named after the great god-hero of Maori mythology, who - among other things - pulled New Zealand out of the ocean on the end of his fishing line. There is a suggestion of small marine animals or plants in the shapes of the assembled syllables, as things Maui himself may have shaken off his line. There is also an aesthetic perhaps reminiscent of the Easter Island script (Rongorongo), or the more complex Mayan glyphs.
For more information on this new written Maui script you can click here
New Zealand Sign Language:
Until the 1940s sign language skills were passed on unofficially between deaf people often living in residential institutions. Signing was actively discouraged in schools by punishment and the emphasis in education was on forcing deaf children to learn to lip read and finger spell. From the 1970s there has been an increasing tolerance and instruction in BSL in schools. The language continues to evolve as older signs like alms and pawnbroker have fallen out of use and new signs like internet and laser have been coined. The evolution of the language and its changing level of acceptance means that older users tend to rely on finger spelling while younger ones make use of a wider range of signs.
On 18 March 2003 the UK government formally recognised that BSL is a language in its own right.
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.
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.
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.)