Or-Taki? Don’t you mean Owe-tacky?

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS -

Or-Taki? Don’t you mean Owe-tacky? Or are you one of those po­lit­i­cally cor­rect jok­ers?

Maybe it’s be­cause I’m a mid­dle-aged white man that other mid­dle-aged white men seem au­to­mat­i­cally to as­sume that I’ll mis­pro­nounce Ma¯ ori names.

Of course, of­ten I do. But at least I try not to. And it al­ways an­noys me that other peo­ple – mostly white men of about my age – don’t even make the ef­fort, be­cause to make the ef­fort would be to ad­mit they’ve been get­ting it wrong all these years.

If sim­ple ig­no­rance were be­hind it, I’d find it eas­ier to un­der­stand and to ac­cept. But it’s not – it’s will­ful ig­no­rance, and they’re wear­ing it as a badge of honour, to show they don’t be­long to that ‘‘po­lit­i­cally cor­rect’’ crowd.

Well, nei­ther do I. But I don’t see it in terms of be­ing ‘‘po­lit­i­cally’’ cor­rect; it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of be­ing cor­rect.

When I first came to New Zealand some 30 years ago, te reo was to­tally un­fa­mil­iar to me, and that was all the more rea­son to find out how to pro­nounce it, par­tic­u­larly all those mys­te­ri­ous place names.

I would try to sound them out, slowly and pho­net­i­cally, but would of­ten be met with blank looks.

I can re­mem­ber ask­ing at work soon af­ter I ar­rived, ‘‘So where’s Tay Koe-fa-ta?’’ No­body an­swered for a while un­til at last the penny dropped. ‘‘Oh, you mean Tee Ka­wotta,’’ a col­league said. Well, no: he might have meant Tee Ka­wotta, but I didn’t.

In those days, it wasn’t com­mon to hear much te reo, ex­cept on niche pro­grammes on the ra­dio or TV. But in 2001, when I came back to New Zealand af­ter about a decade away, I went to live near Otaki, where I’d fre­quently hear peo­ple in the shops and in the street speak­ing Ma¯ ori. And it was com­mon to hear the town called O¯ taki, not Owe-tacky, so I did too.

And now I live in Para­pa­raumu, I try to pro­nounce that prop­erly too, rather than call­ing it Para­param or, worse, just Pram.

If all this makes me sound hor­ri­bly smug, I should ad­mit be­ing hope­lessly in­con­sis­tent, as I sus­pect many oth­ers are. I still strug­gle to call it Toe-por, even though I know I should, or Roe­mati. And as for Ohau, I’ve never heard it called any­thing other than Owe-how.

I’ve made a vow to try harder, though, be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally not that dif­fi­cult. It’s just a ques­tion of ditch­ing a few bad habits. Some might ar­gue – par­tic­u­larly old white guys – that it’s too late to change the habits of a life­time now.

But what have they got to lose? The worst that could hap­pen is that some of their dum­ber mates might laugh at them for say­ing Or-taki – and that can’t be so bad, can it?


As part of Te Wiki o te Reo Ma¯ori, the Can­ter­bury Com­mu­ni­ties team is shar­ing their Mihi on In­sta­gram, and launch­ing all sorts of con­ver­sa­tions on­line. Hop over to Neigh­bourly, In­sta­gram and our Face­book pages to korero with us.


Stuff news di­rec­tor Pa­trick Piercy has been grap­pling with Ma¯ori place names for 30 years.

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