Māori influence on New Zealand English

Many loanwords from the Māori language, mainly bird, plant, fish and place names, entered New Zealand English in the 19th century, but the flow stopped abruptly around the beginning of the 20th century, according to New Zealand English specialist Elizabeth Gordon. Only in the last quarter of the 20th century, with a revival of interest in Māori culture, has the flow resumed, this time of cultural concepts. Large numbers of native plants and animals retain their Māori names in New Zealand English. These include birds: (kākāpō; kea; kiwi; kōkako; moa; pūkeko; takahē; tūī; weka) plants: (kahikatea; kānuka; kauri; kūmara; mānuka; mataī; matakoura (known as “matagouri”); rimu; toetoe; tōtara; and tutu) and fish: (Tarakihi; Hapuku) The use of Māori words is increasing, particularly in the North Island, although there are regional variations. For instance, in most of the country the native wood pigeon is called "kererū", but in Northland it is called "kūkupa" and sometimes "kūkū", and on the Chatham Islands, "parea".

"Kia ora" (literally "be healthy") is a standard term of greeting, meaning "hello" or "welcome". It can also mean "thank you", or signify agreement with a speaker at a meeting. Other Māori greetings, "tēnā koe" (to one person), "tēnā kōrua" (to two people) or "tēnā koutou" (to three or more people) are also widely used, as are farewells, such as "haere rā". The Māori phrase "kia kaha", literally "be strong", is also frequently encountered as an indication of moral support for someone starting a stressful undertaking or otherwise in a difficult situation.

Greeting someone on a cold morning is sometimes expressed as "Makariri nē?", (cold isn't it?). This phrase may have spawned the bastard Māori-English word "maka-chilly" which probably started as a joke and is not widely used.

Some hybrid words, part English and part Māori, have developed, the most common of which is probably half-pai (often written half-pie), meaning incomplete or substandard quality (pai being the Māori word for "good"). Similarly, the Māori word ending -tanga, which has a similar meaning to the English ending -ness, is occasionally used in hybrid terms such as kiwitanga (that is, the state of being a New Zealander).

Intriguingly, several Māori words are used in English as lighthearted, or even slang, equivalents of their more common English counterparts. The term puku for stomach, for example, is more likely to be encountered during a friendly chat than in more formal circumstances.

Many Māori words or phrases that describe Māori culture have become part of New Zealand English and may be used in general (non-Māori) contexts. Some of these are:

  • haka: a chant and dance of challenge (not always a war dance), popularised by the All Blacks rugby union team, who perform a haka before the game in front of the opposition
  • hāngi: a method of cooking food in a pit; or the occasion at which food is cooked this way (compare the Hawaiian use of the word luau)
  • hui: a meeting; increasingly being used by New Zealand media to describe business meetings relating to Māori affairs
  • iwi: tribe, or peoples
  • kia ora: hello, and indicating agreement with a speaker (literally 'be healthy')
  • koha: gift
  • kōhanga reo: Māori language pre-school (literally 'language nest')
  • Kura Kaupapa Māori: Maori language school
  • mana: reputation—a combination of authority, integrity, power and prestige
  • Māoritanga: the sum of all Māori culture and existence. "Māori-ness".
  • marae: ceremonial meeting area in front of the meeting house; or, the entire complex surrounding this, including eating and sleeping areas
  • pakarū: broken, damaged
  • Pākehā: people of non-Māori origin, especially those of European origin
  • pōwhiri: ceremony of welcome
  • puku: belly, usually a big one
  • tāngata whenua: native people of a country, specifically the Māori in New Zealand (literally 'people of the land')
  • tamariki: children
  • tapu: sacred, taboo; to be avoided because of this; (a cognate of the Tongan tabu, origin of the English borrowing of taboo)
  • tutū: to have a play or fiddle with something, as in "stop tutūing!". From the Māori word for trouble-maker.
  • whānau: extended family

Other Māori words may be recognised by most New Zealanders, but generally not used in everyday speech:

  • aroha: love, affection
  • haere mai: welcome, come here
  • haere rā: goodbye to one who is leaving
  • hapū: subtribe; or, pregnant
  • hongi: traditional Māori greeting featuring the pressing together of noses
  • ka pai: good; well done
  • kai: food
  • kapa haka: cultural gathering involving dance competitions
  • karakia: prayer, used in various circumstances including opening ceremonies
  • kaumātua: elder, grandfather
  • kia kaha: literally 'be strong'; roughly "be of good heart, we are supporting you"
  • Kīngitanga: Māori King Movement
  • kōrero: to talk; to speak Māori
  • mauri: spirituality
  • mokopuna: literally grandchildren, but can mean any young children
  • patu: unimpressive
  • rangatira: chief
  • rohe: home territory—literally the area associated with a specific iwi
  • taihoa – not yet, wait a while
  • tangi: to mourn; or, a funeral at a marae
  • taniwha: mythical water monster
  • te reo: the Māori language (literally, the language)
  • tomokanga Matua: main entrance
  • tohunga: priest, shaman (in Māori, any expert)
  • tūmeke - 'excellent'. From Māori 'tūmeke', meaning 'astonishing', 'surprising'. It does not derive from English 'too much!', despite the similarity in sound and meaning.
  • tūrangawaewae: one's own turf, "a place to stand"—also the name of the National Marae
  • waiata: song
  • wairua: spirit
  • whakapapa: genealogy, to discuss family history
  • whare: house (in English, especially a farm worker’s cottage)
  • urupā: burial ground
  • utu: revenge (in Māori, any response or answer)
  • wāhi tapu: sacred site
  • whaikōrero: oratory
  • wharepaku: toilet

See also


  • R. J. H. Matthews (1984). Maori Influence on New Zealand English. World Englishes 3 (3), 156–159.
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