Māori language

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Te Reo Māori
Language family Austronesian
    Nuclear Polynesian
     Eastern Polynesian
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. See IPA chart for English for an English-based pronunciation key.

An Eastern Polynesian language of the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand (Aotearoa). Its closest relative is Cook Island Māori, which has particular affinities to the New Zealand Māori dialects of Northland and Taranaki, and the k-dialect of much of the South Island. It is part of the Tahitic subgroup of Eastern Polynesian. The extinct Moriori language of the Chatham Islands, east of mainland New Zealand, is a widely divergent dialect of Māori.

Phonology and alphabet

The letters of the Māori alphabet are, in order:

a, e, h, i, k, m, n, ng, o, p, r, t, u, w, wh.

The digraphs ng and wh each represent single sounds, and are treated as distinct letters, so that ngaru is after noho, and whare after wiri alphabetically.

The vowels a, e, i, o and u have phonemic length. In older written and printed Māori, vowel length is not normally indicated. Nowadays, length is most commonly indicated by the macron: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. In some publications, especially those by people associated with Auckland University, length is indicated by doubling: aa, ee, ii, oo, uu.



Many grammars state that Māori long vowels have the same quality as the corresponding short ones. This is true of e and o, but many, probably most, Māori speakers differentiate the other vowels.

Vowel Short Long
like u in NZE but. A low central vowel, a little higher than the long sound, though the difference is slight as in NZE pass. A low central vowel, between the British Received and Standard American pronunciation of the a in pass
as in NZE bed. Higher than the corresponding British vowel, but lower than the i in bid like the short vowel, lengthened. NZ/British air is similar, but the Māori vowel does not slide off into schwa.
non-word-final as in NZE bid. Similar to i in German wissen. Word final as ee in feet. as in machine
like au in NZ/British taut, but shorter. Higher than the corresponding American vowel. like the short vowel, lengthened. Like au in NZ/British taut. Higher than the corresponding American vowel.
non-word-final as in put. Word-final as o in NZE hairdo—a high central vowel with lip-rounding. like oo in NZE zoo—a high central vowel with lip-rounding


Consonant Pronunciation
as in hard
similar to k in NZE kettle, but unaspirated, and further back in the mouth. In the syllables ka, ke and ki, it is in a similar position to the c in NZE cool. In ka, it is further back, and often released with a rasping sound. In ko, it is further back still, but there is no rasp.
as in man
as in now, but with the tongue touching the back of the teeth.
as in sing. Speakers of other languages often have difficulty pronouncing this sound at the beginning of a word.
as in pen, but without aspiration
as in some Scots' pronunciation of arrow. Not a trill, but a single tap. Similar to a very lightly and rapidly spoken d.
Similar to t in top, but with the tongue touching the back of the teeth. In the syllables ta, te and to, it is unaspirated. In the syllables ti and tu, it is affricated, with a slight s sound on release: [tsi], [tsu]
as in will
row 2, cell 2

The syllable

The syllabic pattern of Māori is (C)V(V)—a consonant followed by a pure vowel or a diphthong, or a pure vowel or diphthong without a preceding consonant.


Ray Harlow: A Māori Reference Grammar, Longman, Auckland, 2001