Unique to the Maori people is, of course, their language: a variant of the one most widely used in Polynesia, it has evolved to become an idiom of its own, and as late as 1987, it reached the status of officiality as one of the main jargons in New Zealand (along with sign language and English).

The Maori dictionary refers to that indigenous speak as “Te reo”, which means literally “the language”. Until more and more settlers arrived in New Zealand, in the late 1800s, Te reo was predominant in the islands, but it was filtered out, or directly banned due to the Europeans imposing English as the government language. The biggest blow came when missionaries started teaching the latter in schools, even to Maori residents. This came to signify that Maori fell into a sort of clandestinity, and that less and less natives were able to speak any of it: to this day, only about 24% of all Maori population can speak fluent Te reo. This is a direct consequence of the 1800s politics.

Luckily, we owe it to one such missionary if a Maori dictionary exists at all: a Samuel Lee worked to create a written version of Te reo in 1820. Thanks to his work, it is now possible to teach yourself Te reo: as a matter of fact, it is not only making a comeback, it is now more popular than ever.

Maori Grammar and Alphabet

Compared to the average Indo-European language, Te reo follows the structure Verb-Subject-Object, which means that a verb is what always starts the sentence. Verbs are not conjugated as much, but rely on a complicated system of pronouns, much richer than the English or Indo-European one.

The alphabet consists of 20 letters with the only consonants being: P, T, K, WH, H, M, N, NG, R and W. Sounds that are not available in the Maori dictionary are adapted using the closest-sounding consonants. A very famous example is the word “February”, which is transformed into “Pepuere” in Te reo.