National | Te Reo Māori

Te reo Māori words added to Oxford Dictionary

Te Reo is featuring more in everyday New Zealand life. Photo / Bevan Conley / NZME

Māori words have been included in the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

A batch of 47 New Zealand words and phrases including expressions such as after-ball (a noun referring to an event, especially a party, that takes place after a ball), chur (an interjection similar to ‘cheers!’, used colloquially to express good wishes on meeting or departing), and Kiwiness (a noun signifying the quality or fact of being from New Zealand and to characteristics regarded as typical of New Zealand or New Zealanders) have been added.

Most of the words in the update are Māori, one of New Zealand’s official languages. The Māori renaissance that began in the 1970s has moved Māori language and culture to the centre of national life in New Zealand.

This is reflected in the substantial number of Māori words that have become part of the vocabulary of both Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) English speakers, many of which are making it into the dictionary for the first time.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson told the NZ Herald while the normalisation of the Māori language was a natural progression, not all Māori or Pakeha would be overjoyed.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing and the reality is, like society, everything evolves,” Jackson said.

Every day language for Kiwis

“The language is changing and more Pākehā are using te reo in everyday use.

“Mahi, kai and moe are just simple words that everyday Kiwis use and that’s fantastic for Māori as the language develops.”

Jackson said the word 'chur' used to drive him crazy.

“When I was involved with Māori music, the likes of Sir Howard Morrison and Māori musos used chur all the time. It drove me crazy,” Jackson said.

The oldest word, according to the Oxford Dictionary explanation of Māori origins in the update is whenua (land, or piece of land, especially a Māori person’s native land). Its use in English can be traced to the 18th century and first attested in Captain James Cook’s journals in 1770. Several other words in the update are used in Māori contexts to speak about the land, such as turangawaewae, meaning a place where one belongs or has established a right of residence.

'Lasting impact on English'

A responsibility of care guides the way Māori relate to the land and environment and the word kaitiaki is a great example. It is used in English to refer to a guardian or steward of the natural resources of an environment or place. In this same category, rahui denotes a formal or ritualised prohibition against entering an area or undertaking an activity, typically enacted to protect a resource.

OED editors have scoured the archives, novels, newspapers and even Twitter for examples of the words to illustrate their use and development in English. The earliest example of koha (a gift or offering) in English, for example, was found in Keri Hulme's 1984 Booker prize-winning novel The Bone People, a text famous for its liberal use of Māori words.

Another citation was found in an edition of the Evening Post in 1995 without italics or an accompanying definition, indicating that it was of sufficient currency among the paper's readership to be widely understood 10 or so years later. A quote from the New Zealand Herald that accompanies the word e hoa (an address for a friend or mate) cites a note from Finance Minister Grant Robertson to Labour MP Kiri Allan in 2021 using borrowings for Māori liberally: "Kia ora e hoa, we are missing you here today but I can feel your wairua and aroha from here."

Danica Salazar, executive editor for World Englishes for the Oxford English Dictionary, says, “It is clear that the Māori language has had a profound and lasting impact on English in New Zealand. The OED continues to record and add Māori contributions as it monitors the evolution of English globally.”

The OED acknowledged Professor John Macalister of Victoria University for his work as the dictionary’s consultant on the etymology of Māori words used in NZ English.

He says: “The language is a window into our changing nation. It’s fascinating to see how quickly people respond to – or resist – social change through the language they use.”

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