National | Computer

Conversation with son leads to creation of integrated Māori keyboard

Photo: Supplied / Lenovo

By Pokere Paewai, RNZ

A new integrated Māori keyboard will help to increase the visibility and use of tohutō.

The latest product from Lenovo includes physical keys for macrons, or tohutō, and was launched at Auckland's Ngā Whare Waatea Marae this week.

Lenovo country general manager Libby Macgregor said the inspiration came from a conversation with her son.

"My son Felix... came home one day from school and asked me why he couldn't find the keys on the keyboard to type in Te Reo Māori," she said.

Macgregor said after that conversation she realised it was possible to integrate tohutō into a keyboard, as long as there were people to advocate for it.

Supplied / Lenovo

Tuhutō or macrons are important markers in Te Reo Māori, they are used to indicate the stress in vowel sounds and to pluralise words.

Te Reo expert Paraone Gloyne said tohutō are an essential part of writing in Te Reo and an important tool for language learners.

"[Some words] 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 sounds."

A tohutō can also change the meaning of a word, depending on where it is placed.

Here is a little mnemonic to remember how a tohutō can change one pair of words: a 'kāhu' (hawk) might not appreciate it if you plucked its feathers to make a 'kahu' (garment).

It has always been possible to use tohutō, but it can be a frustrating to set up.

Supplied / Lenovo

Back in the day, if you were using Microsoft Word, you had to go into the symbols menu, find the combining macron, and manually enter it every time you needed one. That led many to skip tohutō entirely.

Tōhutu were not used across the board though. It was not often a problem for Waikato-Tainui, where double vowels were often used in place of tohutō. For example, Maaori rather than Māori.

In recent years it has become a simpler process, you just need to download a Māori keyboard. But this new keyboard is the first with physical keys for tohutō.

Macgregor said she hopes the physical visibility of the tohutō on the new keyboard will help in the revitilisation of Te Reo Māori.

"Previously not having the physical visibility of the macrons on the keys and the keyboard people would forget, or wouldn't know how to do it, or found it complicated to use. So I think having that physically there on the keyboard is a really fantastic reminder," she said.

The keyboard will be made available to schools, kura and businesses first, before being released to consumers further down the track.