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Ngā nekehanga o te whakahua i te reo Māori i roto i te rautau kua hipa nei

Peter Keegan, Jeanette King, Ray Harlow, Margaret Maclagan, Catherine Watson



Māori and English have been in increasing contact within New Zealand for over 200 years. The impact of each language on the other in vocabulary, which has been borrowed in both directions, is clear. More subtle is the mutual influence in the area of pronunciation. The MAONZE project has been investigating changes in the pronunciation of Māori and of the English of speakers of Māori, using recordings of seven kaumātua born in the 19th century who were interviewed by the Mobile Unit of Radio New Zealand in the 1940s (referred to in the text as the TK group), of ten kaumātua alive today (K), and of ten younger speakers (T).

This paper describes our methodology and reports the results of the investigation of the long and short vowels of Māori as well as of some diphthongs. These were all studied acoustically, that is to say, using computers to analyse the sound waves characteristic of each sound. For each vowel and diphthong, and for each speaker, we attempted to analyse thirty examples, though some sounds are relatively rare, such as /ï/ and /ao/, so that this target could not always be achieved. The analysis did indeed find that there had been shifts in the pronunciation of these sounds over the three generations of speakers in the study. Except for the distinction between /a/ and /ā/, the length and qualitative difference between the historical long and short vowels is decreasing. Most striking is the shift in /u/ and /ü/ to a much more forward position in the mouth, a change which parallels movement in English.

The five diphthongs studied were /au, ou, ao, ai, ae/, all of which are clearly distinct in the speech of the TK and K groups, but which are tending to merge to three in the younger group, who no longer distinguish tae and tai or hau and hou so clearly. Within the T group, we distinguished between those who had been speaking Māori since birth (R1), and those who had acquired good Māori at school or later (R2). It turned out that in all the changes taking place, the R2-T group is leading the way, and is thus probably the direction the language will take into the future, particularly as the majority of younger speakers of Māori these days belong to this category.



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