New Zealandish language more colourful, interesting

June 26, 2007
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This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

Kia ora koutou katoa. Or, if you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years or so and have no idea what I just said, it roughly translates as “gidday everyone”.

It’s Maori Language Week so now would be a good time to polish up your pronunciation of some of our place names. Or at least make an effort to pronounce all of the syllables instead of missing the final one or two.

Yes, I’m talking to you, it’s Paraparaumu not Parapram, and Wakatipu not Wakatip (it annoys me almost as much as the teeny-boppers who obviously spend far too much time online conversing with Americans and use the term mom instead of mum).

This year’s Maori Language Week is a special one because it’s been 20 years since the 1987 Maori Language Act declared te reo Maori to be an official language.

A lot has changed. Back then, the closest a lot of non-Maori Kiwis came to any understanding of the language was knowing some of the words to the haka performed by the All Blacks.

Oh, and 1987 was also a special year for the All Blacks. It marked the inaugural Rugby World Cup, which we won.

But back to Maori Language Week. Now, it’s quite common for signs in hospitals and government departments to be in both languages, we’ve adopted (or rediscovered) a whole bunch of Maori place names and the national anthem gets a bash in both languages at most of the international sporting events we take part in.

If you fancy singing along in either language, or both, the Culture and Heritage Ministry has all the info.

The average punter now understands a range of Maori words that just a few years ago would have seemed unlikely _ they’ve simply become part of our day-to-day language and, as a result, have made our Kiwi version of English (New Zealandish?) a much more colourful and interesting language.

Even Trade Me translated its where Kiwis buy and sell tagline, with the Maori version ( “Te Papa Hokohoko a nga Kiwi” ) featuring on the site for the first two days of this week.

In another move to boost the profile of te reo Maori, a Kiwi team is involved in translating Google’s search pages into a Maori language option.

Of the 117 language options available, Tongan is the only Pacific tongue recognised. Apart from the usual French and so on, Google is also available in Elmer Fudd, Klingon and the language of the Muppets’ Swedish chef: Bork, bork, bork! Kua haere au, ka kite ano (I’m outta here, catch you later).

PS: To the reader who e-mailed me a while back to suggest I shouldn’t have run a story on the super-cheap laptops being produced to target Third World countries because we’d never have them that cheap here, I say “neener, neener, neener.” While the price is a bit more than $US100, the American market is about to get hit by the little beasties with a tiny pricetag of $US350 ($NZ440). It’s a start.

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