Take words from English in te reo
Transliterations are attempts to reproduce the sound of the word adopted in te reo. Some words are blunt, others more than a mouthful.
A large number of Te reo Maori words have been adopted from English. In the relatively recently published unilingual dictionary He PÄtaka Kupu – te kai a te rangatira (“A storehouse of words – the food of the nobles”), these English words, as well as those adopted elsewhere, are glossed as entering the vocabulary of reo kÄ (“other languages”).
Strictly speaking, such words are not translations, but transliterations. That is, they are attempts to reproduce the sound of the adopted words within the limits of te reo’s sound system. The Maori word kÅrero, for example, can be taken as a translation of English “to speak”, “to speak”, “to speak” or “to talk”, but the word Kirihimete (“Christmas”) is a transliteration.
With English words such as “mama” and “papa”, where the syllables are available in te reo, the transliteration is fairly straightforward, although the lengthening of the vowel sound may need to be marked (mÄmÄ, pÄpÄ).
* Pronunciation and written form of te reo maori
* Pronunciation problems te reo
* The vowels and the alphabet te reo
In te reo, each syllable ends with a vowel and, apart from the two digraphs ng and wh (which represent single consonants), no consonant appears consecutively. Many English words, therefore, with their multiple consonants, exhibit various transliteration problems.
The word “Christmas” provides an interesting example. The English word has only two syllables: “Christ” (with five consonants) and “mas” (ending with “s”). The initial hard sound “Ch” is represented in te reo by the consonant k, but then a vowel must be interposed between that and the r, which in turn must be followed by a vowel.
In te reo “s” is most often transliterated to h – it could hardly be considered absolutely wrong to transliterate “Christmas” to Kirihimehe. But there are often tradeoffs with transliteration and the standard form is with -te as the final syllable. Thus, it takes five syllables of te reo to transliterate the two-syllable English word.
A high proportion of English words end with a consonant, which in almost all cases means that transliteration requires at least one additional syllable. But in the south of the country, there seem to be at least a few exceptions to this rule. In Otago, for example, with some place names at least, a final vowel can be almost erased. The word kÄika, for example, in which the southern k replaces the standard ng of kÄinga (“house”) is commonly pronounced kÄik, and Wakatipu is most often Wakatip.
It sometimes surprises people to learn that the word “Kilmog” (for a hill north of Dunedin) is actually a Maori transliteration, the standard spelling of which is Kirimoko. Whether or not this form of pronunciation developed before European colonization seems unclear.