Saturday, January 11, 2014

The year of pronouncing Maori correctly

(First published in The Dominion Post, January 10.)
I’M NOT ONE for New Year resolutions, but I’ve made one for 2014. I’ve decided this will be the year when I make an effort to pronounce Maori names correctly.
Having been brought up, like most of my generation, using lazy, Anglicised pronunciations of Maori place names, I have no delusions about how difficult this will be. It’s hard to shake off the habits of a lifetime.

Friends look at me strangely, as if I’ve been seized by a sudden attack of political correctness, when I attempt the proper pronunciation of a name like Kuratau, where I holidayed last summer. But if we insist that the English language be treated with respect, then it’s only fair that we apply the same standard to Maori.
Consider the town I grew up in: Waipukurau. We always pronounced it why-pucker-row, with an emphasis on the last syllable, which we pronounced to rhyme with “how”.

In fact the stress should be placed on the second syllable – the “puk” bit – and it should be pronounced as puku, not “pucker”. The last syllable should rhyme with “go” rather than “how” and the letter “r” should have that unique Maori sound that almost resembles a soft “d”.
The name of the town of my birth, Pahiatua, deserves greater respect too.  As long ago as the 1950s my mother objected to people pronouncing it as pie-out-ooer, rather than sounding out each syllable correctly. But I suspect she was a minority of one.

Wanganui is another place name that has been serially abused. Many locals pronounce “Wanga” as they do “longer”, with a hard “ng” sound, then add insult to injury by pronouncing the last two syllables with a “ew” sound, so that it comes out as “newy” rather than “nooey”.
Not that I’m trying to sound holier than thou here. I’m as guilty as anyone of mangling Maori names to make them easier for Anglo-Saxon tongues to get around.

Will my New Year’s resolution mean I’ll become more tolerant of newsreaders and reporters on TV and radio making torturous efforts to pronounce Maori words correctly while brazenly committing atrocities with English? Not on your life.
* * *

THE LAST few months of 2013 were bad ones for the police. There was the Roast Busters sexual abuse saga, which they admitted mishandling (and misleading the public about).

They were found to have behaved unlawfully in the so-called Urewera terror raids of 2007 and to have used excessive force breaking up a teenage party in Khandallah.
They were embarrassed by the “Black Widow” murder case, which they treated as a suicide until a coroner intervened. And they were exposed as behaving arrogantly in the case of an innocent man savaged by a police dog.

The police are a human institution. They are bound to make mistakes. What is more worrying is the public perception of arrogance, resistance to outside scrutiny and reluctance to apologise when they get things wrong.
Police Commissioner Peter Marshall is due to retire soon. It may be time to consider appointing someone from outside – someone not steeped in police culture.

It has happened before, in 1955. Police Minister Anne Tolley should consider doing it again.
* * *

I TRY TO BE polite with cold callers, whether they’re at the door or on the phone. What I mean is that I always remember to say “thank you” before hanging up or slamming the door on them. But I admit I put on a bit of Basil Fawlty act a couple of days ago.
The knock on the door came while I was in the middle of replacing the paper in my printer, but it wasn’t the interruption that pushed my Basil button.

After identifying himself as representing an energy company, the visitor made the mistake of asking me how my day was going.

Even if he’d had any prospect of signing me up, which he didn’t, he would have lost me at that point.
First, how my day was going was no business of his. Second, he didn’t give a stuff anyway. My wife could have run off with the local dog control officer, leaving me with six wailing children and an incontinent mother-in-law to look after, for all he cared.

Why, I wonder, do marketers insist on trying to ingratiate themselves with prospective customers by asking patently insincere questions about how their day’s going?  I bet it’s lost them far more business than it’s gained.
There is no one, but no one, who is not irritated by the practice. But some marketing guru obviously thought it was a good idea and put it in a textbook, and now it seems we’re stuck with it.

Nonetheless, to the startled Indian gentleman who hastily retreated when I gave him a burst on my front porch, my apologies.


Jigsaw said...

I'm afraid as far as Maori pronunciation is concerned you do sound very PC Karl. Fact is you have just proved the power of the Maori first lobby. The other thing of course is just whose pronunciation you will follow-RNZ have at least 6 different ways of saying Taupo - which one do you plan to use? I have heard the name of the locality where I live so mangled that no one had the slightest idea to where it referred and in addition it had no relationship to the actual meaning of the name. For an organisation whose object (you would think) was to communicate they do a damned bad job in my humble opinion. When did you last hear the city called Londonium? Names and the way people say them change - unless of course you have another agenda......

Karl du Fresne said...

Jigsaw, I'd be fascinated to hear any theory you might have about what this "other agenda" might be.

Jigsaw said...

Poor checking there I'm afraid - I meant in referring to the 'other agenda' that the Maori radicals have another agenda which ensuring that you pronounce place names as they think they should be pronounced no matter how the people who live there pronounce them. I did not mean to infer that you had an agenda. They do and you are simply being sucked in. Maori radicals often say that Maori place names mean something and indeed most of them do-often referring to plants which often no longer exists in that locality. Tyhink of the names that begin Manga******* which means a creek through a particular group of trees. Mangamaire is an example.
I have to say my wife, who admires you writing was most disappointed in you PC decision.

Vaughan said...

What is wrong with pronouncing another language correctly?

I can hardly believe somebody would read something awful into it.

Karl du Fresne said...

Jigsaw: I have spent much of my life carefully avoiding being “sucked in”, by anyone or anything. Your assumption that I am pandering to Maori radicals – or worse, trying to ingratiate myself with them – is balmy. It ignores everything I’ve written about Maori activism over the past 20-odd years.

I’m sorry your wife is disappointed, but this demonstrates an odd quirk of human nature. When someone agrees with someone else (for example a columnist or blogger) on a range of issues, they often make the mistake of assuming they’re kindred souls on absolutely everything. Then when it turns out they’re not, the result is a sense of betrayal. This helps explain why people on the same ideological side – whether it’s the left or the right – often fall out so bitterly. Some people quite unreasonably come to expect that everything I write will confirm their own world view, but it would be unnatural if even if my most loyal supporters agreed with me on everything.

My old friend Vaughan (who I’m sure disagrees with me on many issues, but doesn’t get uppity about it) is correct here. It’s simply a matter of respecting the Maori language by pronouncing it correctly, just as we expect English to be similarly respected.

Over the past few days there have been a number of attacks on me for my views on Maori pronunciation, some of them putting forward bizarrely fanciful explanations as to why I might take that position. There’s a spectacularly unhinged letter in today’s Dom Post from someone in Levin. But underneath all the convoluted arguments, I suspect my critics share one characteristic that they won’t admit: the belief that Maori are an inferior people whose language isn’t entitled to be treated with respect, and that as colonisers the British earned the right to impose their superior culture without exception.

Ruma Rimu said...

I applaud you Karl - this is about wanting to pronounce our beautiful native language better and any attempt to do so is great. I agree with your comment re Maori language being inferior an not worthy of being respected - this attitude is insidious and prevalent. I teach children whose pronunciation of te reo is delightful, easy and natural - they lead the way for us for sure.

Jigsaw said...

Two things Karl. Who says something is correct? People of Maori decent-are they the only ones to say what is 'correct'? How ARe you going to pronounce Taupo? Language changes.
I am happy to treat anyone with respect and do in my daily life. To say that Maori had a equal culture when the first Europeans arrived is simply nutty! I have just been researching the first contacts James Cook had with Maori and there is simply no way you could say that the cultures were in any way equal. Not hard to give examples. YOU may not think that you have been sucked in-and I certainly am well aware of what you have written-but radical Maori will be delighted that you demonstrate their power.
Ruma Rimu-what about the daily mangling of the English language which is equally as expressive and beautiful?

Ruma Rimu said...

Jigsaw - our attempts to show respect for te reo and indeed English are about using 'inter-language' - using both English and Maori if and when we need to in order to make an effort to show respect to both. It's not about being right or wrong - it's about being willing to use the language and speak in the best way we can. Mispronunciation is ok if it's not meant and when the effort is being made to pronounce correctly. Too often mispronunciation happens through carelessness and no care.

Karl du Fresne said...

Jigsaw: Please show me where I said Maori and European cultures were equal. I didn't and wouldn't. I said Maori people were treated as inferior, which is a vastly different thing.