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Maori words borrowed into New Zealand English

The Maori language continues to exert an influence on New Zealand English, according to research by Professor Graeme Kennedy of Victoria University’s School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies.Professor Kennedy analysed more than two million words of spoken and written texts – to find how many Maori words were being used in normal New Zealand English, and in what contexts. The analysis showed that in both spoken and written New Zealand English in the 1990s about five or six words in every thousand were of Maori origin.

Borrowing from Maori into English began as soon as the first European explorers and settlers arrived in New Zealand and adopted the local words for many plants, animals and places – words like kiwi, pohutukawa and Whangarei.

The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), in 1928, recorded 69 words of Maori origin, 80 percent of these were the names of flora and fauna. The second edition of the OED (1989) contains 231 headword entries of Maori origin.

The recording of Maori words in New Zealand English took a great leap forward in 1997 with the publication of Victoria University researcher Harry Orsman's Dictionary of New Zealand English (DNZE). Orsman provides about 6000 main headword entries which are used distinctively or predominantly in New Zealand. Of these, 746 (12.4 percent) are of Maori origin. Sixty-nine percent of these words are the names of flora and fauna.

The remaining 226 words of Maori origin in the DNZE reflected various aspects of human society, some with particular cultural significance for Maori because of association, for example, with food, accommodation, health, the supernatural, traditional clothing or weapons.

These words include: haka, hangi, hikoi, hongi, karakia, kaumatua, korero, kuia, mana, mate, mere, moko, mokopuna, powhiri, reo, runanga, taiaha, taonga, tapu, tikanga, tiki, wahine, whakapapa, whanau and whenua.

The research studied texts of spoken New Zealand English totalling 1.05 million words, and found 777 different words of Maori origin occurring 5051 times, giving almost five words of Maori origin per thousand words of spoken New Zealand English. Written texts totalling 1.02 million written words were also analysed. In these written texts there were 1001 different words of Maori origin, occurring a total of 5952 times, or almost six words per thousand.

Place names and personal names are the most commonly used Maori words in everyday New Zealand English. The word Maori itself occurs frequently but Maori names for trees, fish or bird species, and cultural words, are much less commonly used.

There is a great difference found between the use of Maori words by Maori and Pakeha speakers in English. Speakers who identified themselves as having Maori ethnicity used more than 17 Maori words per thousand words when speaking English, while Pakeha speakers used about two per thousand, and other members of the community fewer than one.

A notable difference between Maori and Pakeha speakers is that the word kiwi is used much more by the Pakeha speakers as a preferred word for "New Zealander". Both groups used kiwi very rarely to refer to our national bird.

Most of the Maori participants studied were native speakers of English and used English syntax but with more Maori vocabulary than other users of New Zealand English.

"In their case, the use of Maori words in English may reflect not so much the filling of language gaps, but rather a way of deliberately marking identity, of resisting further assimilation, of supporting language revival and, of course, of discussing topics which are culturally associated with being Maori and which are best expressed in Maori," Professor Kennedy said.

"What is particularly interesting is to see the extent of language borrowing into English from Maori. Until comparatively recently this was driven by the needs of Pakeha, but it now seems to be led by Maori, both in the range of words used and the extent to which they are used. The Maori renaissance may thus result not only in the revival of the Maori language, but also seems to be exerting an increasing influence on New Zealand English."

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