Correct pronunciation of kupu Maori is essential when learning te reo Maori or developing your understanding of the language. You cannot simply pronounce te reo Maori kupu like you would pronounce them in English, they have a different sound and a different way they fit with other vowels and consonants. No reira, kei a ia ano tona ake whakahua (te reo Maori has its own specific pronunciation). It is for that reason, that this article focuses solely on the pronunciation of te reo Maori tohu oro (vowels), kuoro (syllables) and kupu (words).
Te Pu Taka Reo Maori (the Maori alphabet)
Some of you may have seen, or heard, the differences in the reo Maori alphabet to that of the English alphabet and the difference in the general structure of the words. For example, te reo Maori has a total of only 10 consonants (h, k, m, n, ng, p, r, t w, wh) and five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). The consonants “wh” and “ng” are considered one letter in the reo Maori alphabet. Unlike English words, you will never see a consonant beside another consonant in te reo Maori, they will always be separated by a vowel. However, a vowel can sit beside a vowel and, at times, can form a word compromising only vowels eg, “io/god”. Therefore, the correct pronunciation of each vowel is specifically important when learning te reo Maori.
What learners of te reo Maori often get stuck on is pronouncing te reo Maori vowels like they would pronounce English. One of the most commonly mispronounced vowel is “O” as many pronounce it like the “oh” in Oh dear! What follows, is the mispronunciation of almost every kupu that has an “O” in it. So as a quick guide, I have attempted to provide the following tips for the correct pronunciation of Maori vowels:
a = this is pronounced like the “ar” in far without the stress on the letter “r”;
e = this is pronounced more like air or ear or the “ere” in here without the stress on the letter “r”;
i = this is pronounced exactly like you would pronounce the letter “e” in the English language. So, pronounce the reo Maori “i” like you would the “e” in me, he, she, (Which often makes it confusing for reo Maori learners). Kia kaha ra!
o = this is pronounced like the “ore” in core of an apple, or you tore your jacket. But again, no stress on the “r”. This is helpful to remember when introducing yourself, Ko Alana toku ingoa. Many reo Maori learners mispronounce the “toku” and end up saying the “to” like a toe on your foot. The word then sounds like, “toeku” which when heard by a reo Maori speaker is a totally different word from what you were intending to say. Just remember, you tore your jacket.
u = the easiest way to remember the pronunciation of this vowel is like how you would say, “eeeww yuck”. That “eeeww” is how you pronounce the reo Maori “u”.
Just remember that these vowels will always have that sound. They do not take on another sound, so if you master the pronunciation of these vowels, you are doing a great job. The only time these vowels will take on a slightly different pronunciation is when they sit beside each other. For example, “au” which means “me” is pronounced, like the “oh” in Oh dear! While the “a” and “u” are still pronounced in the way I mentioned above, the vowels are rolled together rather than being sounded out individually and as a result, the pronunciation comes out as “Oh”. This type of pronunciation will come with practice once you become more familiar with the pronunciation of te reo Maori vowels and kupu.
It may be difficult at first to change your way of thinking when seeing these vowels, but as I have said in all of my past articles, with practice, this will all come with ease. And there’s only one way to achieve that, korerotia te reo Maori.
Te reo Maori, kei a ia ano tona ake whakahua!
Alana Thomas email@example.com is a director of Kaupare Consultancy. Before practising law she worked as a Deputy Registrar at the Maori Land Court in Whangarei.