"There is no Pakeha way of saying Maori words."

By now you may have seen Finnian Galbraith's YouTube clip The importance of correctly pronouncing Maori words.

Watch Finnian Galbraith's speech below

If not, the tail end of Maori Language Week is as good a time to watch it as any.


Finnian posted his school speech online on July 20. When I last checked it had nearly 290,000 views.

Finnian makes an appeal to basic respect. "People hate English being pronounced incorrectly, especially their names, but yet, is it fine for people to go around pronouncing Maori names incorrectly?"

He cites Taupo as one of the words we commonly get wrong.

I grew up in Taupo and don't think I ever said it the right way. The sloping twang that everyone used was so familiar and comfortable, it barely registered with me that Taupo is in fact a Maori name.

Oddly, I never had trouble pronouncing the full name correctly: Taupo-nui-a-tia.

Finnian's plea is hardly new, but the novelty of being reminded about Maori pronunciation by a respectful young white chap, standing politely in his school blazer, somehow makes it more of a wake-up call.

If that kid can say Taupo properly then I suppose I should too. It's not hard, we just need to juggle some vowels. The first syllable should sound like the thing at the end of your foot and the second syllable should sound like the thing at the end of your dog: "Toe-Paw".

The same goes for Tauranga. "Toe-runger". It is a word I pronounce self-consciously at times. Getting it right has nothing to do with it being difficult. The only barrier is a lifetime of habit and my own misplaced hang-ups.

In his video Finnian says that correct pronunciation will become second nature to New Zealanders if Maori lessons are made compulsory in primary schools. Just an hour per week, he suggests, with the goal that every student leaves primary school with the ability to have a simple conversation in Maori.

That would be great. I would love to see the next generation of New Zealanders fluent in conversational Maori. I would love for it to be perfectly normal to hear at the supermarket: "Kei hea te Whittakers?"

A young generation fluent in te reo would add depth and richness to our national culture. It would be transformative. It could make us the envy of the world.

I can only think of upsides to learning the basics of another language - regardless of which language you invest your time in.

Maori is a wonderful language.

It is vibrant, expressive, poetic, and also very funny. When I took te reo at university (a skill I am still trying to reclaim) I noticed that ordinary English statements can take on mischievous twists when rendered in Maori.

It is important to remember that New Zealanders share a common heritage, a collective history with all of its bumps, bruises and misunderstandings. As Finnian says in his video: "You live in this country and therefore should be proud of your country's heritage and should try and preserve it."

The best way across any cultural divide is through the language. Te reo is uniquely New Zealand's language. It survives as a national treasure, as a living language. It is the secret weapon that could calm our cultural nerves and draw us together far more effectively than any new flag.

All Finnian Galbraith wants is for Kiwis to try a bit harder to look after it. "What matters is that you are trying, and that creates an atmosphere where others will feel okay to try as well."

The least we can do is have a go at pronouncing Tauranga correctly.

Marcel Currin is a Tauranga writer and poet.
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