What is that little line?
Kia ora ta¯ tou e whakanui ana i te¯ nei wiki o to¯ ta¯ tou reo.
The decision by Stuff [and South Waikato Times] to use the tohuto¯ or macron will delight all those who treasure New Zealand’s first language. As we say in Ma¯ ori: ‘‘ahakoa he iti, he pounamu’’ – ‘‘although it seems small, it’s of great value’’.
Tohuto¯ mark long vowels, and help tell which bit of a word to stress. With tohuto¯ anyone can look at a word, even one they have never seen before, and pronounce it. There’s a big difference in sound between a long and short vowel. ‘a’ is the sound in the English word ‘fun’. ‘a¯ ’ is the sound in ‘far’ (if you’re not from Southland).
Common Ma¯ ori words that use the tohuto¯ include ha¯ ngi, hapu¯ , hı¯koi, ka¯ inga, ka¯ tipo¯ , ka¯ ka¯ po¯ , kauma¯ tua, ka¯ wanatanga, kereru¯ , ko¯ whai, ku¯ mara, ko¯ hanga reo, pa¯ , Pa¯ keha¯ , tu¯ ı¯, wa¯ nanga, wha¯ nau and we¯ta¯. Many think of tohuto¯ as a novelty but the need to mark long vowels was always seen as important by some. The first publication to use the tohuto¯ was Lady (Mary Ann) Martin’s Ma¯ ori language book Recipes for remedies, food and beverages in 1869. However, its use was not formalised until the establishment of the Ma¯ ori Language Commission in 1987 and the decision, led by the first Commissioner, Professor (now Sir) Tı¯moti Ka¯ retu that tohuto¯ should be used. This ended (largely) the competing use of double vowels which was favoured by some and are still used widely in Waikato.
Technology was at first a significant problem. Many typewriters could not create a macron. Computers often couldn’t either. But now, the macron has triumphed. The Bible has just been published in a new edition, complete with tohuto¯ . It’s easy now to set up IT systems to insert them. There’s even an online service to automatically add tohuto¯ to text.
We now have 20 years of people graduating from schools using tohuto¯ in their written work. It is as natural to those Ma¯ ori language users as dotting an ‘i’ in English.
The Ma¯ ori language is spoken conversationally by about 130,000 people. 300,000 are learning it at school. All will appreciate Stuff’s addition of the tohuto¯ to stories.
It’s a significant contribution to revitalisation of te reo Ma¯ ori and is as important as the efforts of broadcasters to pronounce words correctly. He rawe! Nga¯ mihi ki a koutou katoa.