Maori language

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Māori (Te Reo Māori)

Spoken in

New Zealand
speaker 60,000 (2011); 100,000 understand it, but cannot actively speak it (1995)
Official status
Official language in New ZealandNew Zealand New Zealand
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2 ( B ) mao ( T ) mri
ISO 639-3


The Maori language ( Māori , Te Reo Māori ) is the Polynesian language of the indigenous Māori people in New Zealand and has been recognized as the official language there since August 1, 1987 .

The language was spoken by around 157,500 people in New Zealand in 2006, 131,600 of whom were of Maori descent. With a population of around 565,300 Māori, in 2006 only 23.3% of the Māori were able to use the language in everyday life. The language is more closely related to the Cook Islands Māori and Tahitian .

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Māori was a scriptless language; today it is written in the Latin script.


Māori is one of the endangered languages . This is mainly due to the contact of the population with the Europeans: While the first whalers and sailors of the surrounding islands hardly influenced the Māori with their own pidgin languages , 1,800 missionaries from other European countries arrived. They first recorded Māori in writing, for example through a Bible translation, and introduced schools for the local population. From 1867 onwards, lessons there were only in English, the use of the Maori language was punished and parents were also told to speak only English with their children at home. This, as well as the increasing urbanization of the Māori, the modern mass media and education led to a steady decrease in the number of Māori speakers: in 1978 there were only 70,000, but most of them consisted of older, over 45-year-olds or small isolated communities. Today 90% of the Māori population is English-speaking; especially the younger generation is no longer in command of the Māori. It is only used in ritual customs or in church.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the language experienced a renaissance , popular interest increased, and efforts were made to save it. Māori was introduced in preschools, there are bilingual classes, Māori-only elementary schools, radio and TV broadcasts in Māori, and publications in the language that are particularly aimed at younger readers and learners. In 1987 Māori was an official language of New Zealand and the Te Taura Whiri i te Rēo Māori ( English Maori Language Commission , German about Māori Language Commission ) was founded.

Even so, Māori remains an endangered language. Only older speakers can still be called native speakers , the younger generations are semi- speakers or speak it as a second foreign language. Much can no longer be expressed in Māori these days, so there is a mix of English and Māori in terms of vocabulary, grammar and intonation. In the past few years, around 20,000 new words have been created to adapt the language to modern times. Many of these words are borrowings from English, such as maki for English monkey 'Affe', Anuru for the first name Andrew or Tiamani for English Germany 'Deutschland'.

Dialects had developed across the many regions of New Zealand, but their differences can now be found in the details. There are some phonological and phonetic variants, but most of them are lexical . Today, variants of the Maori language can still be found mainly between the North and South Islands . So the nga of the North Island is a ka of the South Island.

The language has survived best among the members of the Ngāi Tūhoe tribe in the east of the North Island.

The standard language is that of the Bible translation, which is based on the dialect in North New Zealand, since the missionaries were active there first.


The Māori has best preserved the original (East) Polynesian sounds .

In the language there is a special emphasis on the vowels , which are pronounced similarly to German. The number of consonants is lower, so there is no s and no d . As a rule, in every syllable a consonant is always followed by a vowel, or the syllable consists of just one vowel. There are never two consonants in direct succession. (The wh is only an exception in writing, it is pronounced very similar to a German f, sometimes as a so-called "soup-blown loud", i.e. bilabial. The ng is a consonant and is also pronounced as in German, i.e. as in singen . Sa Syllable structure, word stress and spelling)


The Māori has the five vowels a, e, i, o and u . The combination of the same vowels results in a long vowel, the combination of vowels in close proximity to each other a diphthong . With the latter, however, there are differences from speaker to speaker as to whether the two vowels really form a diphthong or whether the second vowel is pronounced more fully (for example au as / au̯ / or / au /).


There are ten consonants in Māori: the plosives p, t and k, the nasals m, n and ŋ, the approximants w, the flap r and the fricatives h and f . The latter is also spoken as such in modern Māori, but often as a so-called Thorn sound in northern New Zealand, comparable to the English th . The r is not rolled and corresponds most closely to a d hit very quickly.

Syllable structure, word stress and spelling

The general syllable structure is (C) V (V (V)). Since there are no final or connected consonants, this leads, as already mentioned above, to phonological adaptations of loan words from English: aihi kiriimi = ice cream . Except for individual particle words, all words in Māori are at least two-core (a More consists of (C) V, where V is a short vowel). The accent takes place on the first more except for a long vowel (barelyáatua, tutúu) or a non- final diphthong (fakáeke; but: márae). The Māori alphabet uses Latin letters and is a, e, h, i, k, m, n, ng, o, p, r, t, u, w, wh, where ng and wh are digraphs for [⁠ ŋ ⁠ ] or [⁠ .phi ⁠] are. The macron for long vowels ā, ū, ō, ē, ī is usually the orthographic standard, although some writers use double vowels and in some, especially older texts, there is no length designation at all: whānau, whaanau, whanau "family". The word Māori itself is pronounced with an emphasis on the a, the o is spoken very briefly and sometimes hardly audible. To make this clear, the spelling Māori, i.e. with macron above the a, has established itself. The r is a single blow with the tip of the tongue, similar to a very fast d.


Sentence structure

The Māori is one of the verb-subject-object languages ​​(VSO), i.e. H. the verb or predicate is at the beginning of the sentence, followed by the subject and the object. This rather rare word order can be found e.g. B. also in Arabic or the Celtic languages . The subject can be omitted if it is clear from the context.

Māori is an accusative language .

As in other Polynesian languages, the phrase rather than the individual word is the basic unit of the Māori sentence structure. The clauses are divided into three categories: the noun phrase NP, the prepositional phrase PP and the verb phrase VP. Phrases in Māori consist of a nucleus and two peripheries, one above VrP and one below NaP. In the following example all three mentioned phrases are present:

E haere mai ana te ope rā ki te marae.
"The group of guests comes to the marae."
(([E] VrP [haere] NUCLEUS [mai ana] NaP)) VP (([te] VrP [ope] NUCLEUS [rā] NaP)) NP
(([ki te] VrP [marae] NUCLEUS [Ø] NaP)) PP

The nucleus can also consist of several bases, the first being the "head" and the other modifying the previous one.

(he) pukapuka reo Māori (Ø) - (VrP) Book Language Māori (NaP)
"A Māori language book"

Particles, prepositions and determiners

The above and below peripheries consist of particles, which are assigned to the respective phrase and have certain meanings and make up an important part of the Māori.

The following particles

There are only a few subsequent particles with the following meanings:

way direction place
tonu "still" may "towards the speaker" no "here" anō "again" hoki "too" pea "maybe"
rawa "very" ake "upwards" "with you"
noa "without restriction" atu "away from the speaker" "there"
"different" iho "downwards" ai
buy "alone" ana

Usually there is only one particle in a phrase; however, if there are more than one, they appear in the above order.

(([E] VrP [haere] NUCLEUS [tonu mai nei pea] NaP)) PHRASE
"Maybe come here"

Protruding particles

The much larger amount of the above particles is based on the three phrase categories. Only those that appear most frequently are mentioned.

Verbal phrase

The particles here have temporal, aspectual (= subjective view of the speaker) and modal meanings.

  • ka: only indicates that it is a TP; mostly present
  • i: strictly indicates the past
  • kua: indicates the perfect tense, ie the result / completion of an action; also in unreal conditional sentences
  • kia: a) imperative of adjectives, tripod verbs and verbs of experience
b) future
c) together with the following ai
d) Complement of verbs of wanting, demanding, asking
  • e… ana: shows the course of an action in every tense
  • me: "weak imperative" (should, should, should have)
  • kei te / i te: also progressive form in the past and present
  • e / Ø: imperative of transitive and intransitive verbs, Ø is used for subsequent particles or more than two-core verbs
  • ai: as a protruding particle it also marks a TP in modern Māori, for example when a regular action is represented
Nominal phrase

Here the particles act as determiners of the core of the phrase.

  • Article with prefix t- for singular / Ø for plural
    • Te / ngā: as a definite article corresponding to the singular / plural
    • he: indefinite article
    • tētahi / ētahi, also: ngātahi: indefinite, specifying, something definite, one / the other
    • taua / aua: referring to previous speakers.
    • a: personal article for proper names, pronouns and sometimes place names
  • Demonstrative

A distinction is made between three “places” in Māori: “near the speaker”, “near the listener” and “apart from both” (see also the following particles )

    • Local nouns: konei "here", konā "there with you", korā "over there"
    • Adjectives: pēnei "like that (here)", pēnā "like that of you", pērā "like that over there"
    • tēnei / ēnei "that / these", tēnā / ēnā "that / these with you", tērā / ērā "that / these over there"
  • Possessive

The basic formula for property-indicating determiners is t- / Ø for SG / PL property + ā / ō + owner + property

Ø - ō - ku hoa "my friends"
t - ā - māua tamaiti "our child"
  • question
    • tēhea / ēhea: "welch" SG / PL
Prepositional phrase
  • i: for direct object, reason, agent after tripod verbs, location, time, etc.
  • ki: in the sense of “to” when moving to a place, indirect object, time limit; Instrumental, object in verbs of experience
  • e: Marking for the agent in passive constructions
  • me: "with" for accompanying NPs or markers of "accompanying circumstances"
for example I tae atu ratōu ki reira me Ø - ā rātou pū.
"They arrived with their weapons ."
Kaua e kōrero me t-ō-u waha e kī ana.
“Don't speak with your mouth full! "
  • kei: location is not in the past
  • ā: future

The predicate

Because, as mentioned above, all parts of the sentence are phrases, the predicate can also assume the three categories of VP, NP and PP, which is indicated by the above particles.

Verbal phrase
[E tangi ana] Pred: VP te tamaiti. [Kua mate] Pred: VP te koroua.
“The child is crying. "" The old man died. "
Nominal phrase
  • he + N = subj. is a noun
[He kai-whaka-ako] Pred: NP [a Mere] SUBJECT
" Mere is a teacher."
  • he + A = subject is an adjective
[He reka] Pred: NP ēnei kai. (see 4.2.2 NP)
" This food is delicious."
  • he + N, subj. is possessing = owner has a noun
[He moni] Pred: NP ā-u? [He waka] Pred: NP t-ō Rei
"Do you have any money?" "Rei has a car."
Prepositional phrase

Particles are introduced here that have not yet been mentioned above.

  • ko introduces definite equal predicates
[Ko Rei] Pred: PP t-ō-ku ingoa.
"My name is Rei." (Rei = name)
  • nā / nō and mā / mō are used as actual or probable possession
[Nā wai] Pred: PP tēnei pukapuka?
"Whose book is this?" Literally: Who is this book for?
[Nō Hēmi] Pred: PP tērā whare.
"This house is Hēmis."
[Mō rātou] Pred: PP tēnē waka.
"This car over there is for you."


Although, according to the sentence structure, the predicate always comes first, apart from objects (!), Other parts of the sentence can still be dragged forward. Here, too, characteristic particles play a major role.

Preferred subject

Every definite subject NP can be preferred and is then introduced with ko .

E horoi ana a Mere i ngā rīhi > Ko Me re e horoi ana i ngā rīhi
"Mere washes the dishes."

The advancement creates two intonations and two readings:

Mere washes the dishes. = Emphasis on the verb
Mere washes the dishes. = Emphasis on the subject

Actor Emphatic

The designation for the preferred agent marked with (past) / (future) + VP marked with i (past) / e (future) + patient as subject.

[Nā Pita] AGENS [i whaka-reri] VP [ngā kai] .PATIENS (past)
"It was pita, she prepared the meal."
[Mā Pita] [e whaka-reri] [ngā kai] (future)
"It's pita that will make the meal."


Questions have no structural markings like inversion or particles in Māori. Direct yes / no questions have the same sentence structure as normal statements with increasing intonation at the end. If there is an invitation to consent at the end, the general abbreviation or nē rā follows at the end:

He tangata hūmārie a Rāhera, nē rā?
"Rāhera is a nice, kind person, isn't she?"

W-questions are formed with the corresponding question words, each word class has its question word and this follows exactly the syntax of the respective class:

Question word meaning Word class example
Aha "What" Normal noun ki te aha "where to"
Aha "what to do" verb no aha "what does"
wai "who" Personal nouns ki a wai "to whom"
hia "how many" Numerals e hia ngā whare "how many houses are there"
hea "Which place, which time" (future) Local nouns i hea "where, which place"  ā hea "when" (future)
nahea "Which time" (past) Local nouns nō nahea "when" (past)
pēhea "how is it" adjective e pēhea ana "what a"
tēhea "Which" Determinative tēhea tangata "which person"

The question words are placed directly in place of the item that is asked for. With focus, the question word is in the first phrase of the sentence. If constituents such as objects cannot be preferred, the question word takes its usual position in the last sentence.


Characteristic of the language is the repetition of letter sequences in words (such as the repetition of maki in makimaki, which means monkey). It fulfills various purposes in Māori and is subdivided as follows:

  • Partial reduplication: first More patu - papatu
  • Complete reduplication: whole root hoki - hokihoki

In the case of words with three mores or longer, the former is most productive (takahi - takatakahi), but there is also a reduplication of the last two mores including a lengthening of the first vowel (haere - haerēre). For the individual word classes, too, the respective duplication has a different function and often an accompanying change in word meaning.

  • partial reduplication of adjectives = plural
pai "good" - papai "good" (plural noun) = intensity
  • Color adjectives = weakening
whero "red" - whewhero "reddish"
  • partial reduplication of verbs = reciprocal actions
tohe "argue" - totohe "argue with one another"
kimo "blink" - kikimo "keep your eyes tightly closed"
  • complete reduplication of verbs = plurality
kimo "blink" - kimokimo "constantly blink"
  • individual action of the subject
hoki "return" - hokihoki "return individually, each to his place"
  • individual action of the object
kuru "throw" - kurukuru " scatter several things everywhere"

See also


  • Cleve Barlow: Tikanga whakaaro. Key Concepts in Māori Culture . Oxford University Press, Auckland 1994, ISBN 0-19-558212-8 (English).
  • Winifred Bauer, William Parker, Te Kareongawai Evans: Maori . Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-02254-1 (English).
  • Bruce G. Biggs: Let's learn Maori. A Guide to the Study of the Maori language . Auckland University Press, Auckland 1998, ISBN 1-86940-186-7 (English).
  • Ray Harlow: Māori. A Linguistic Introduction . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 0-521-80861-8 (English).
  • Robert Maunsell: Grammar of the New Zealand Language . 2nd Edition. WC Wilson, Auckland 1862 (English, [accessed May 8, 2008]).
  • Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori (Ed.): He Kohinga Kīwaha . Reed, Auckland 2005, ISBN 0-7900-0693-6 (Maori).
  • Hauptai Puke, Ray Harlow: Māori. Word for word (=  gibberish . Volume 216 ). 1st edition. Reise Know-How Verlag Rump, Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 978-3-89416-325-9 .
  • Peter M. Ryan: The Reed Dictionary of Modern Maori . Reed, Birkenhead 2001, ISBN 0-7900-0591-3 (Maori, English).

Web links


Linguistic websites

Language learning sites

News and literature in Maori

Individual evidence

  2. ^ Māori becomes official language - 1 August 1987. In: New Zealand History. Ministry for Culture & Heritage, August 18, 2015, accessed April 11, 2016 .
  3. ^ Te Puni Kōkiri, Ministry of Māori Development (Ed.): The Health of the Māori Language in 2006 . Wellington 2006, Prominence of the Māori Language, pp. 18 (English, [PDF; accessed July 3, 2010]).