Indigenous LangJam – Te reo Māori

tino rangatiratanga (resized)Kia ora koutou! Kei te pēhea koutou? Ko Den Språkliga Skatan ahau. Ko wai ō koutou ingoa? Nō Ingaranga ahau. Nō hea koutou? He iti tōku reo Māori. Kei te ako au i te reo Māori. He reo Māori ō koutou?

…I have to admit, that’s as far as I managed to get as far as phrases go, and a lot of these were ripped right from Omniglot – but I tried to change them from singular into plural, which (I assume) varying degrees of success. But I think that’s a fairly solid effort for two days, especially with the other work that I did which just doesn’t fit into the context of a self-introduction. But I’ll get on to that later on. For now, let’s talk about the LangJam itself.

united-kingdomThe more astute among you who recognise the flag above will realise that the language I was assigned was Māori. Māori is a Polynesian language, closely related to Tahitian and more distantly to Hawaiian and Samoan. It’s spoken in New Zealand (known in Māori as Aotearoa) and the Cook Islands (known in Cook Islands Māori as Kūki ‘Āirani) by the Māori people.

I should probably say right here and now that I took a very relaxed approach to the LangJam this time around, and I haven’t got quite as much to show for it as I’d hoped… I watched couple of instructional videos, did some reading about grammar and even listened to a podcast about the different varieties of te reo Māori. By doing so, I managed to pick up a little grammar, some interesting vocabulary and I learned that there are actually different varieties of Māori (and then became incredibly embarrassed that this thought hadn’t occurred to me before). Just a quick note before I launch into this post in earnest – I learned after consulting the style guide from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand that it’s recommended to refer to the Māori language as either Māorite reo Māori or even just te reo (with the ‘te reo’ remaining uncapitalised). So expect to see that peppered about in various forms in this blog post.

img_0213Looking back, I should probably have spent more time on learning some basic vocabulary and phrases rather than jumping into the deep end and looking at grammar straight away… but this helped me realise something about ‘my process’ when it comes to language learning (if there’s a less wanky way to say that, please imagine I wrote that last sentence like that instead). Learning phrases and all of those little things you learn in the first lesson of a high school language class that are necessary to have a conversation with somebody… bores me. My first instinct when it comes to a new language is to take a sentence and then take it apart to see how it works, which might be more useful later on but it does mean that my language knowledge isn’t instantly useable… and I often find myself in situations where I feel like I know something quite well, but can’t hold even the most basic conversation.

This was particularly tricky for te reo Māori, which uses a VSO (verb-subject-object) word order – a novelty for me, as I’ve never come across this before over the course of my linguistic travels. In English (and I think with a lot of Indo-European languages) we use an SVO (subject-verb-object) word order paradigm, which basically means that our sentences tend to look like this: ‘the boy (the subject) kicked (the verb) the ball (the object)’. This basically means that a sentence in te reo is more likely to look like this: ‘kicked the boy the ball’, which can be a little confusing at first. Especially because it seems that doesn’t mean that the verb is the first word in the sentence (which I’ll go into later). Although actually, now that I come to write about it, I realise that the Scandinavian languages adopt a VSO word order in order to form questions, e.g. Läser du den boken jag nämnde? (Are you reading that book I mentioned?) which is VSO rather than du läser den boken jag nämnde (you are reading that book I mentioned), which is SVO. Huh. Well, that’s by the by.

Expressing tense in te reo Māori is quite interesting too. In the other languages I speak, tense is expressed by changing the form of the verb – the difference between I am and I was (which is odd in English due to the words ‘am’ and ‘was’ actually coming from different verbs which merged together some time between Old and Middle English), or jag är and jag var. In te reo, there are a rich array of particles which are written before the verb to denote which tense the verb is. I found this video really helpful (the rest of the channel is excellent too, but this video appealed to my take-it-apart-and-see-how-it-works approach to language learning. The teacher presents a number of action verbs (this formula apparently doesn’t work for abstract verbs), some time particles and some pronouns, and with this paradigm you can write an innumerable number of sentences in te reo. So I can say the boy ran (i oma te tama) and the girl will sit (ka noho te tamāhine), but not a whole lot else. Weirdly, it seems like the sort of thing you’d learn in the first couple of stages of a Duolingo course which I seem to have accidentally have created for myself.

Skärmavbild 2019-08-01 kl. 21.44.55

I’m not sure if I’ll continue with my Māori studies. But if reading this blog entry has piqued your interest, then I’d recommend having a look at this YouTube channel, having a listen to Gretchen McCulloch (who is an absolute linguistic goddess) interviewing Dr Ake Nicholas (a lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand and a speaker of Cook Islands Māori) on her podcast Lingthusiasm, and… one more thing I found helpful, the soundtrack of the Disney film Moana, which has been translated into Māori (and just… how cool is that?!). Did you do the LangJam this year? What was your language, and how did it go? I’d love to hear from you, either on here or over on Twitter (@sprakskatan). As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next month!

– J.

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