Some sources for southern Maori dialect

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As this week is Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori a post on Te Reo in the south is timely. The Hocken Collections is privileged to care for several taoka (treasures) documenting the unique words heard in various parts of the South Island.

James Watkin’s small notebook includes word lists he compiled as he struggled with learning the language at Waikouaiti in 1840. He was already fluent in Tongan and had studied texts supplied to him that had been written in the North Island and was disappointed to find how difficult he found it to understand the language spoken in the South Island when he arrived on 15 May 1840. By 5 June he had compiled 400 words in the notebook with the assistance of the local chief, Haereroa. The notebook was part of his attempt to make sense of the local dialect and is undoubtedly influenced by his knowledge of Tongan. The original was given to Dr Hocken by a descendent of Watkin and photocopies are available for research use.

As a result of Watkin’s struggles with the language, he compiled He Puka Ako I Te Korero Maori which was printed at the Wesleyan Mission at Mangungu in 1841. Surviving copies of this publication are extremely rare, of the 3000 printed we know there is one in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and one in the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Hocken holds photocopies only, butiIf anyone knows of other original copies of the booklet we would love to know! In 1994 Ray Harlow and Otago Heritage Books published an extremely useful facsimile of He Puka Ako I Te Korero Maori, and this is more widely distributed in libraries. Harlow’s little book also includes discussion and translation of the features of the language documented in Watkin’s booklet.


James Watkin’s word list (MS-0031) and Ray Harlow’s book reproducing He Puka Ako I Te Korero Maori

Ray Harlow has also published a more extensive book, A Word List of South Island Maori, which draws on wider sources to create an annotated list of distinctively southern Maori words. On pages xxiii and xxiv Harlow gives a list of sources for southern dialect words including:

The journal of John Boultbee

Boultbee was a young man who spent much time with sealing crews in and around Fiordland and Foveaux Strait in 1826-1828. Hocken holds a microfilm copy of the original manuscript (held at the Alexander Turnbull Library) but most readers may find the published versions more accessible. There is Journal of a rambler : the journal of John Boultbee, edited by June Starke, and The World of John Boultbee by Drs A.C. Begg and N.C. Begg. Both of these books include transcripts of Boultbee’s vocabulary list. The Beggs note that Boultbee’s phonetic spelling echoes that of George Forster, who recorded the Maori names of the natural history specimens he drew and painted at Dusky Sound in 1773. Probably Forster’s is the first attempt to phonetically record southern Maori words.

Edward Shortland’s journal of his trip through the South Island in 1840

This was published as –The Southern Districts of New Zealand : a Journal, with Passing Notices of the Customs of the Aborigines – and is available online from the NZ Electronic Text Centre, as well as in many libraries. This includes a vocabulary of the “Kaitahu” dialect starting on page 305. The original journals were acquired by Dr Hocken and photocopies are available for research at the Hocken.

Octavius Harwood’s papers

These include two items of interest. Firstly a short letter that appears to be written by “John White” or the chief Karetai, addressed to Te Raki concerning a boat. The letter is undated but Karetai died in 1860. The second interesting item is a list of parts of the body in one of Harwood’s notebooks (MS-0438/005). The list appears after several pages of notes from Kendall’s 1820 grammar and phrase book and features spelling more akin to Boultbee’s than Kendall’s. For example the word for hair – usually “huruhuru” – is spelt “huduhudu”, and that for nails – usually “maikuku” – is spelt “muttacook” giving some indication that the words Harwood was hearing were pronounced differently at Otakou than in the North Island. This notebook dates from 1839-1840.

Karetai’s letter (MS-0438/163)

Octavius Harwood’s list of the names of parts of the body (MS-0438/005)

It is worth noting here that Maori orthography was not completely standardised in the 19th century and varying phonetic spellings were common in written Maori throughout New Zealand.

James Herries Beattie

Beattie’s notebooks contain word lists, place names lists etc. Beattie donated his extensive collection of research papers to the Hocken in several batches during the 1950s, 1960s and in 1972. Beattie collected his information during the 20th century by conducting extensive interviews with many informants, and perhaps documents a different era from the earlier sources. For more information on Beattie’s work see Athol Anderson’s biography in Te Ara – http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4b16/1. The Hocken hold copies of Beattie’s publications as well as his papers.

This entry was posted in Printing and publishing, Research, Resources by Anna Blackman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Anna Blackman

I'm Head Curator Archives here at the Hocken Collections and one of my tasks is to maintain this blog.

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