Wassup! Te Reo

I wrote this five or six weeks ago (last edited 25 June) and have been waiting for a suitable image to accompany it. I had wanted to photograph the badges but everyone I spoke to around here has returned theirs to Wellington.

Why is such a beautiful name, Manurewa, mispronounced by so many on radio and teevee. OK, I am far from perfect but I do try to get it right most of the time. Pronunciation that is. My pc or university pronunciation, of te reo, is remarkably different from the Anglicised versions with which I grew up and painfully different still, at times, from the joyful music of ‘native tongue’ speaking friends (who I must add speak perfect New Zealand English).

Say Te Kauwhata or Whangamata or indeed, Rove McManus’ favourite, Whakatane. Then listen. The recent sly, media constructed, kerfuffle over the blurring of whaka and the f. word says it all in more ways than one.

Te reo maori place names of my tūrangawaewae; Te Miro, Taotaoroa, Maungakawa, Maungatautari, Roto-o-rangi, Tauwhare, Kaipaki and most especially Karapiro and Waikato get various treatments from me, I am sad to say, depending upon who I happen to be talking to at the time.

The lovely English names our tipuna lifted from you know where; Whitehall, FenCourt, Monavale and Cambridge are the places they name. So the Maori names. They are that place and that place evokes the name.

I’m not kidding. Within 10-15 km of where I sit here in Leamington (on Shakespeare Street no less) is Scotsmans Valley, Buckland (pst! Hobbiton :)), Bruntwood, Bridgewater, French Pass and Mystery Creek alongside Pukekura, Hautapu, Hora Hora, Pukerimu, Te Miro and Rukuhia.

I grew up beside the Waiarumu Stream, at Whitehall, which feeds the Karapiro Stream which in turn flows into the mighty Waikato ten or so kilometres away, to the west, at Cambridge.

I do not find it in the least bit odd growing up thinking these names to be as English as Coromandel, verandah and tattoo. What is not quintessentially English about Matamata with it’s northern hemisphere trees and horses and Te Awamutu (which we affectionately refer to around here as T.A.) surrounded, as it is, by rolling English pastureland?

The ‘oar’ sound that completes both Karapiro and Waikato comes with difficulty when you hear ‘oh!’ day in and day out. But ‘you’ for the last vowel of ‘manu’. Please someone give those folk a badge. The Ministry of Education has a whole bunch with wassup! on them.

Perhaps we need a suitably smart and cutting Monty Python Word Association Football joke that contrasts Man U with manu but unfortunately my brain doesn’t do such free association silliness.

Maori placenames can be as pedantic as English ones. Similarly they can be contractions of observations about, or stories of, a person, a time or place. I am not a Maori speaker but the word manurewa evokes a gull or hawk effortlessly surfing a breeze or thermal – an image of beauty and wonder. My translation may be off but there is a bird – manu – in there and it as sure as hell ain’t playing football.

For the English speaker (and indeed for those of us speaking our resident brand) Maori pronunciation provides pitfalls as seemingly simple consonant and vowel blends turn up in unfamiliar relationships. I forever trip over the delightful and deceptively simple placename Hawera and get tongue tied saying Kauwerau. The result of upbringing and inattentive listening?

The mispronunciation of Manurewa in the broadcast media is just sad.

The people of Manurewa are experiencing a sad chapter in their history. I can’t help thinking that this mispronunciation of their place, a place of such significance in our country’s contemporary story, is not somehow linked with current events.

As someone famous once said; Respect.

Now there’s an idea for a badge.

One thought on “Wassup! Te Reo

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