The Importance of Macrons in Te Reo Māori
September 10 - 16 2018 is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week). This year's theme is "Kia kaha te reo!": May the language be strong!
"Kia kaha" (be strong) is a familiar phrase to most New Zealanders, and for the most part, is pronounced correctly. The word "kaha" is spoken quickly when compared to the word "kākā". This is because the a's in "kaha" lack the macrons seen above the ā's in "kākā".
In te reo Māori, macrons are known as tohutō: tohu meaning a sign or a symbol, tō meaning to pull or heave: they are symbols that stretch. It might help to think of them as taut lengths of rope that sit above the vowels, pulling out their sound. It's important to note that this is not an intonation - just a lengthening of the vowel. Each vowel in Māori has a tohutō equivalent. Tohutō are essential in written reo Māori because their addition or omission can either change or remove meaning from a word. Despite this, tohutō are frequently omitted from text in newspapers, on road-signs and everything in between. Sometimes, the change in meaning can have disastrous results!
Let's take a look at some examples:
Māra = garden
Mara = rotten
Te Māra a Tāne = The Garden of Tāne
Te Mara a Tāne = The Rot of Tāne
Wētā = native insects
Weta = dirt, muck, filth
He wharemoe wētā ēnei = These are wētā hotels
He wharemoe weta ēnei = These are filthy sleeping houses
Kākā = Bush parrot
Kaka = Faeces (slang)
Titiro! He kākā e rere ana! = Look! A flying kākā!
Titiro! He kaka e rere ana! = Look! A flying stool!
Keke = cake
Kēkē = armpit
He keke māu? = Would you like some cake?
He kēkē māu? = Would you like some armpit?
Fortunately for te reo rangatira, the demand for reo classes has never been higher. The kaupapa is growing. More and more producers of written text in Aotearoa are acknowledging the importance of tohutō by ensuring they are utilised correctly - better late than never! From familiarity and exposure comes understanding, and from understanding comes confidence and strength - te kaha.
Kia kaha te reo!
Article by Perry Hyde
Photo: Cook Strait Giant Wētā by Brendon Doran