Māori spelling

This post was inspired by an email I received today from someone who wanted to know why the f sound in Māori is written wh, as in Whangarei.

According to a number of sites I found, Māori was first written down by missionaries who had little or no training in phonetics or phonology, and there was considerable variation in the spelling systems they came up with. The sound represented by wh was originally a voiceless bilabial fricative /ɸ/ (p\), though in some dialects, particularly in the North Shore area, it was a voiceless labial-velar fricative /ʍ/ (W). It was written w by some, and wh, f or v by others.

These days, many people pronounce wh as /f/, or sometimes /h/, /w/ or /ʍ/ (W).


This entry was posted in Language, Maori.

3 Responses to Māori spelling

  1. Keith says:

    The same question is asked by visitors to Fiji regarding the letters ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘g’ and ‘q’. It makes it interesting to hear someone asking for directions to Nadi or Sigatoka (pronounced ‘Nandi’ & ‘Si-nga-toka’ respectively).

  2. Ruma says:

    I also heard that the missionaries wrote down what they heard from toothless elders. Try to say the [hw] sound without using your front teeth as a scaffold for the top lip- sounds like [f]!

    Kei te korero koe i te reo Maori hoki?

  3. Lameen says:

    If my ear-based transcription isn’t wrong, [φ] is exactly how is pronounced in some parts of Ireland.

%d bloggers like this: