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Dictionary probes Mãori influence on English

Dictionary probes Mãori influence on NZ English

The significant role the Mãori language has played in the distinctive development of New Zealand English is to be celebrated in a new publication from Oxford University Press and the New Zealand Dictionary Centre at Victoria University.

A Dictionary of Maori Words in New Zealand English, by Dr John Macalister, Lecturer in the School of Linguistics & Applied Language Studies, will be launched at the Centre’s offices at Victoria’s Kelburn Campus on Tuesday May 17 at 5.30pm.

Dr Macalister says compiling the dictionary had been a fascinating experience.

“I had no idea that putting a dictionary together could be so much fun. It’s partly the wonderfully inventive way we New Zealanders sometimes have with language, creating new words like makachilly or Aratanic, and partly the citations themselves, because they say so much about our society.”

Centre Manager Dr Dianne Bardsley says the dictionary, which contains about 1,000 head word entries, was a first of its kind for New Zealand.

“At least six of every thousand words in New Zealand English are borrowed from Mãori. John’s introduction provides a lively and valuable social and linguistic history of this aspect of New Zealand English that makes it unique among the world’s varieties of English.”

A large proportion of these are words for flora and fauna (kauri, manuka, totara; kakapo, paua, weta), as well as very many place and personal names. There are also many examples of words and concepts borrowed from Mãori culture and society, many of which have become more widely familiar to New Zealanders in the last 20 years or so, such as aroha, hikoi, hongi, hui, kapai, karakia, kaumatua, koha, kohanga reo, koru, kuia, panui, powhiri, rahui, tangata whenua, whanau, and whangai.

Dr Bardsley says Dr Macalister’s work was yet another example of Victoria’s longstanding academic tradition of tracking the distinctive features of New Zealand English. Late last year the Centre and OUP published the landmark New Zealand Oxford Dictionary to critical acclaim.


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