James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Maori one of most borrowed languages

English has taken most words from Latin and French but many Te Reo words now appear.

Photo / File
Photo / File

Te Reo Maori is among the top 20 of English's most borrowed-from languages in between Russian and Hindi, a book reveals.

Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English examines how words borrowed from other languages have influenced English.

Author Philip Durkin said 280 words from the Maori language are considered loanwords in the Oxford English Dictionary while Te Reo ranks at 14th in terms of languages English has borrowed from.

Latin and French are the leading lenders to English with at least 40,000 and 20,000 words respectively ahead of Greek, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch.

Dr Durkin believed just one Maori word - kiwi - was the closest the language had to a Maori loanword used by many English speakers with little or no consciousness of its origins.

"The word had developed in meaning after it was borrowed into English, as an emblem of New Zealand, a nickname for any of various national representatives and then as a nickname for any New Zealander."

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori interim chief executive Pita Paraone added the word haka as another used overseas.

"And I expect the use of kupu Maori to increase internationally as more New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, migrate to other countries."

Mr Paraone said non-Maori New Zealanders were now unconsciously using Maori words in their everyday vernacular. "Words such as mana, whanau, hikoi and hapu are examples of everyday use. We should also remember that the use of Maori words is not confined to New Zealand."

Dr Dianne Bardsley of the New Zealand Dictionary Centre said for every 1000 New Zealand English words, six were of Maori origin.

The Dictionary of New Zealand English includes 746 words of Maori origin with about 69 per cent names of flora and fauna, 18 per cent are connected with social culture and 13 per cent material culture.

Te Reo Maori had become more prominent since colonial times when very few institutions had Maori names and the country had moved on from times when a tui was called a parson bird and rimu red pine.

Maori and English blends and compounds such as "tiki tour" and "couch kumara" were increasing.

"To me, that is a sign of our unique bicultural lexis and reflective of the relationship that exists between Maori and non-Maori." Maori language borrowings were first recorded in the early 1800s but the number went down markedly later that century during the land wars.

The 1970s saw a renewed surge with Maori leaving their rural homes for cities and interacting more with Pakeha.

Dr Durkin said with the Maori population growing, support for the language, greater prominence of Maori in political discussions and positive attitudes towards the language and culture there could be more loanwords.

"It's likely that in the future we will see more words added that reflect more recent borrowing," he said.

- NZ Herald

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