Is it a group or a gust of wind? 


For those not in the know, Māori has used at least three different spelling systems (I know of three, but there may be more). There is the single vowel system (which is no longer recognised by Te Taura Whiri), the double vowel system (recognised by Te Taura Whiri and is used by students of the late Prof Bruce Biggs) and then there is the macron system, used by Te Taura Whiri and is endorsed by them. Most new learners of the language use the macron system. TVNZ and Māori TV use macrons when it comes to written Māori on TV.

So the other week I asked the good kind peeps out there on the interwebs for different topics (kaupapa) to deal to on this blog. I have been given a whole heap of kaupapa so I’m going to start with the lowest hanging fruit first.


Spelling is generally straight forward in Māori. Once you learn the vowel sounds, words are pretty much spelt as they are pronunced. But when in doubt, when dark clouds of spelling gloom beset you, your copy of He Pātaka Kupu, or the William’s New Zealand Māori Dictionary or your online subscription to Waka Reo will save you. I am a frequent user of dictionaries and while I am no perfect ‘spell-caster’ myself, they help to reduce my spelling errors :). 

One word that gets mispelt and mispronunced all the time is rōpū ‘group’. This word is often spelt and pronunced as *rōpu which means gust of wind. So if you see this mistake and yoy are in a position to correct it, by all means do. Just as there is a world of difference between the words group and gust, so there is between rōpū and rōpu.

And this isn’t the only word that gets this treatment. Whānau (family, extended family) is another one! Even though this one is definitely pronunced long people out of habit like to spell it without the macron. In the modern spelling system, whanau is not a word, but whānau is (if you’re following the macron system of spelling).

One word I see getting frequently macronised when it shouldn’t is haere. Speakers who macronise it to *hāere Are doing so because they believe they are hearing a long vowel sound. What they’re actually hearing is ‘stress’. In Māori, word stress often falls not on the penultimate syllable as in other Polynesian languages. There’s a series of rules of where stress is applied.

Here are some stress rules I can remember off the top of my head

  1. Stress falls on the first vowel in a word e.g. stress falls on the first a in mata, the u in mua, the first a on tangata etc
  2. However, if there is a double vowel or diphthong in a word, the stress will fall on the first diphthong or double vowel in a word. For example the stress in the word matā falls on ā, whereas the stress in the word haere falls on a.
  3. Prefixes do not affect where stress falls in a word ie in whakahaere the first a in haere still receives the stress

Now, there are some words where the vowel pronunciation is definitely long but the spelling skips the macron. Crazy, right?

Matamua and matamuri are both spelt without macrons but in practice, the prefix mata is pronunced long. This is a recent change in the last 100 years. It’s an example where the written version of the language hasn’t kept pace with the spoken version. 

Anyway that’s all I wanted to share for now. Back to that list of suggestions to work on for futre posts!


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