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Phil’s weekly column – Forecasters play big role in Maori pronunciation

Column by Philip Duncan — Who can remember the first time they heard Oamaru pronounced “oh-are-ma-roo” on a regular basis on TV?  I can – it was in the 90s when Jim and Karen first teamed up to bring us the weather on TV One.

At the time locals – and many other kiwis – thought it was political correctness gone made.  These days it’s generally accepted as the norm.

In fact two decades on and correct Maori pronunciation has becoming standard place in the broadcasting industry.  As it should be. 

The media should be setting the standard for communicating – and weather forecasters have a unique position.  Why?  Because we’re the ones that talk about places like Oamaru on any given day from a national point of view.  There doesn’t need to be a news story – just the general forecast and perhaps a mention of your local temperatures. 

When I worked for radio in Taupo I had two ways of saying the town’s name.  When I voiced ads, or was announcing, it always came out as “toe-paw”…in every day life I reverted back to the ‘white way’ of saying it.

These days my best friend, who is Maori, doesn’t let me off the hook too often when I’m not in “on air” mode.  

My Dad, a long serving primary school principal with a strong interest in the Maori language, taught me at a young age that saying Moari words correctly always sounded better.  But it was hard to say “toe-paw” when all of my friends said it the English way as: tow (rhymes with “how”) po.  I still battle with this a little today although less and less as my confidence grows and as more of my friends say more Maori place names correctly.

The current generation of teenagers has a much better grasp on the Maori language than I did at their age 20 years ago – so there are signs that the media are helping “normalise” what should’ve always been normal.

My background, from my Dad teaching us Maori pronunciation as kids, to the radio industry encouraging us to say Maori words properly to my closest friend encouraging me, means for the most part I say Maori names correctly.  And they’re right – Maori words said the correct Maori way sound far more attractive and flow off the tongue much better than the incorrect way of saying them.

But it’s not easy for everyone – and believe me I still struggle.  I find Rotorua hard to say in a sentence.  On its own is fine, but rolling that R in a sentence of english words is something I don’t find easy.  When I do try I often balls it up – and regret trying in the first place.  But I stick at it and practice off-air in the hopes that I’ll nail it in my next radio interview there.

I also find “Ngatea” a little tricky – but that maybe more down to the fact that I don’t like making the nasal “nga” sound.  I don’t know why, but I hate it. 

There are a few exceptions to always making the effort.  I don’t say the “h” in Whanganui, unless I’m talking about the river.  Perhaps I’m old school, and no doubt in time I’ll adapt to calling the town “Whanganui”, but for now it’s still Wanganui to me. 

“Remuera” is another one I find hard to say properly so often don’t – again, like Rotorua, the rolled R at the start is hard.  Thankfully Remuera is rarely mentioned in weather news.

Then there are the names of towns you’ve always known as X but are supposed to be said as XX.  For example, Te Kauwhata – Tee-co-fa-ta – but I always knew of it as “tee-ka-wotta”. 

Matamata is “matter matter” and not the correct “mutter mutter”, likewise over the ranges in Katikati – I still say it as “catty catty” by I know it should be “cutty cutty”. 

So a work in progress… and this is one challenge I love, because there are rewards when you nail it perfectly. 

I guess the true debate isn’t around how well weather forecasters and others in the media pronounce Maori names and words, but instead whether or not every town needs to be said in the correct fashion.  

After all, humans embrace nicknames…and nicknames can be said anyway you want…just ask the people from Teekawotta.

Homepage image / A flowering Pohutukawa / File, Claude Therond

– Column by head weather analyst Philip Duncan


JohnGaul on 14/07/2012 2:47am

I used to enjoy Augie Auer’s pronouncation of certain places names, both Maori and England when he did the weather for TV3 years ago. Trying to get his grip around Maori place names with his Ohio American accent. Kawerau was the name that used to pop up quite often as the national high and Augie would call it a different name each time, eg Kawerra,Karahow,Kawearhow, what ever, mainly saying Kawerra. I liked the was he used to call Greymouth as Grimmith.


Richard on 13/07/2012 8:18pm

Unfortunately Jim and Keren dont pronounce Kaikoura correctly,its not an easy one to say if you were bought up to say “kai-core ra” like me ,a Maori friend of mine gives me a good slap on back when i do manage to pronunce it right though.

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