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Oxford English Dictionary adds more Māori words in sign of te reo normalisation - expert

Paraone Gloyne says he often hears non-Māori slipping te reo words into their speech.  Photo / File

By Pokere Paewai, RNZ

The Oxford English Dictionary updates every three months, and this month includes a significant number of te reo Māori words.

Forty-seven new New Zealand words have been added to the dictionary, they include 'hooning,' (noun) "The action or practice of engaging in antisocial, aggressive, or irresponsible behaviour considered typical of a hoon."

And 'chur,' (interjection) "Used to express good wishes on meeting or departing, or to express thanks, approval, etc.: 'cheers!'"

They will grace the pages of the dictionary alongside other new additions such as 'deepfake,' 'groomzilla,' 'balls-deep' and 'chonky'.

However, most of the words in the latest update are borrowings from te reo Māori.

Kupu like whenua, e hoa, koha and pōwhiri are included, a change which reflects "the substantial number of Māori words that have become part of the vocabulary of both Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) speakers of English," according to a statement from Oxford University Press.

Mātanga Reo Paraone Gloyne said that he often hears non-Māori slipping te reo words into their speech.

"It's a sign of our times that ... society is shifting within Aotearoa, and non-Māori are using more te reo in everyday conversations," he said.

Gloyne said languages were evolving all the time, and just as English has adopted Māori words, te reo has its kupu mino, loan words most often borrowed from English.

Words like pene (pen), hū (shoe) and hītori (history) are just a few of the many kupu mino.

"Oxford has recognised these kupu that we're using, and I mean surely if bootylicious can get in there from Beyonce then surely some of our [kupu] Māori can get in there," Gloyne said.

The dictionary does not spell Māori words with tohutō or macrons, which were used in te reo to signify long vowel sounds.

Tohutō were important in te reo because the meaning of words can change depending on whether or not a tohutō was used.

After all, you would not want to confuse a 'keke' - cake, for a 'kēkē' - armpit.

Gloyne said tohutō will need to be added to the dictionary at some point.

"I'll be sending off a letter to Oxford to correct that. Because those kupu that are in there they need a tohutō on there, so people that are new to the words they know how to pronounce them properly and where to stress in the vowel sound."

Many of the new additions to the dictionary do not translate so easily into English. Words such as whenua, turangawaewae and kaitiakitanga do not neccersarily have a neat English equivalent.

But Gloyne said a word's entry in the dictionary was but a snapshot of the culture and society behind it.

"Katiakitanga, that's a concept that even Māori require wānanga on. People have different perspectives on what that means to them, some see katiakitanga as physical, some say no, katiakitanga is spiritual. So you know some of those kupu are open to wānanga."