The Māori language is one of the three official languages of New Zealand. Its official name is te reo Māori.
We often use Māori words within English writing, but there are a few points to remember to ensure that the Māori language is used respectfully and correctly.
Before I start, just a note: this is intended as a basic guide to using Māori words and names within an English text. For more detailed information, see the external source list at the bottom of this article.
Italics for foreign words
In most English language texts, when a foreign word is used that may not be in common use in English, the word is put in italics. However, as Māori is an official language in New Zealand, it does not need italics. Only use italics within the usual English language grammar rules.
Macrons can make quite a difference to the meaning of words in Māori. Using them is important: first of all to get the meaning correct, but also to ensure you respect the language as it should be used.
Here are three words with completely different meanings depending on where the macron is used.
kaka - clothing or stalk
kākā - parrot
kakā - to be hot.
A macron indicates that a vowel should be pronounced as a long vowel and that the emphasis is on this vowel.
In the past, double vowels have been used to indicate a long vowel. This is not acceptable use today unless it is the particular style preference of an individual, iwi or organisation. The use of double dots is not acceptable.
Maaori X (unless a particular iwi preference)
In some cases, a macron is used in the plural, but not in the singular. Check the dictionary for spelling.
Wahine - woman
Wāhine - women
Macrons should be retained in proper names where it is known. Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori recommends using macrons for names dating pre-1950s. Otherwise, check the preferred spelling, as people are entitled to spell their names whichever way they wish. If the person is still living, use the form that they prefer or give consent to use.
Check a Māori dictionary if you are unsure of the spelling of a word.
Te Aka Māori-English, English-Māori Dictionary is a comprehensive online dictionary, which can be downloaded as an app or bought in hard copy.
Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori has a comprehensive guide on writing and spelling the Māori language and can also be downloaded.
There are various keyboard programs that can be downloaded if the Māori language is used frequently. Otherwise, you can use the ‘insert symbol’ function in Word or create keyboard shortcuts.
A good resource for the spelling of names of New Zealand historical and contemporary figures is the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
Te Aka online Maori language dictionary (see above) is also useful to check spelling and the correct meaning of the word you are using.
New Zealand may be referred to as 'Aotearoa New Zealand'. It is not 'New Zealand Aotearoa' or 'Aotearoa/New Zealand'.
If an organisation is known by both its Māori and English names, use a slash:
Waitangi Tribunal / Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti o Waitangi
Use New Zealand English grammar rules for capitalisation of Māori words within English text. As with English language grammar rules, articles or prepositions are not capitalised in full titles.
te Minita Māori - the Minister of Māori Affairs
te Kāwanatanga - the Government
te Karauna - the Crown
If an organisation’s name has a definite article, this is capitalised, otherwise, definite articles follow English grammar rules.
The Ministry of Māori Development - Te Puni Kōkiri.
With proper names, the first letter of the name is capitalised as in English. If there is an initial ‘Te’, the following word is also capitalised.
In a compound name, the only parts of the name capitalised are those that are themselves proper names.
Where proper names of geographical features and iwi groupings are followed directly by the noun the name refers to, the first letter of the noun is generally not capitalised.
For names of organisations or departments, the initial letter of the first word is capitalised, as well as the first letter of all proper names, nouns, adjectives and verbs.
Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa - National Library of New Zealand
Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga - Archives New Zealand
Note: If an organisation does not confirm to this rule, use the organisation’s preferred spelling.
Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori suggests using hyphens as little as possible in compound names. However, it does suggest using them in very long names with many components.
For proper names with fewer than 6 syllables or components - no hyphens.
Proper names with 7 or more syllables or components are separated with hyphens between each part.
When ‘Te’ or Te Tai’ are at the start of the name, these are not hyphenated.
Te Tai Tokerau
except with a following ‘o’.
Te reo Māori has no plural ‘s’, therefore it is no longer acceptable today in written English to use the plural ‘s’ with Māori words.
Those birds over there are kiwi.
Context can be used to indicate singular or plural.
Ruapehu's crater X
The crater of Ruapehu ✔
The New Zealand Oxford English Dictionary allows a plural ‘s’ on ‘Kiwis’ when referring to the people of New Zealand, as it is a colloquial term.
Possessive ’s and ‘is’ and ‘has’ contractions
Following on from this, the use of the possessive apostrophe s ('s) and the 's contraction for is or has is also discouraged when using the Māori language within English text. It is encouraged to rephrase to avoid using 's.
Ruapehu’s most recent eruption > The most recent eruption of Ruapehu
Rotorua’s hosting the event in 2015 > Rotorua is hosting the event in 2015
Most importantly, check the style guide of your company or institution first to see what the rules are, or ask an editor who is competent in New Zealand English.
If you have written a book which includes the Māori language and this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers of fiction and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your book is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your book shine, please contact me.
I would love to hear from you.
Hughes, J., & Wallace, D. (2010). Fit to Print : The Writing & Editing Style Guide for Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Publishing.
Write Group. (2007). The Write Style Manual for Standards New Zealand: A Manual for Business Writing and Editing. Wellington: New Zealand.
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