Nelson Mail

Different language - different world view

- David Kārena-Holmes

In the previous column some attention was given to how different concepts of “ownership” or “possession” are marked in the grammar of te reo Māori by the use of particular vowel-sounds which differenti­ate between two types of ownership.

Possessive words which feature the vowel-sound “ā” are used in relation to small and portable things – things over which the “owner” is regarded as having “dominant” possession.

For things in relation to which the owner is “subordinat­e to” however (rather than “dominant over”) the possessive words feature the vowel-sound “ō”.

Thus, “tāku kete” means “my kitbag”, and “tōku whenua” means “my land” – but in the te reo versions of these two phrases a distinctio­n is made which simply isn’t shown in the word-for-word English versions of each.

In the first phrase the sense may be “this bag belongs to me”. In the second phrase the sense is “this is the land to which I belong”. There is obviously quite a difference between “tāku” and “tōku” in the informatio­n which each supplies.

One reason for focusing on this particular feature of te reo Māori is that it provides a good illustrati­on of how certain “world-view” perspectiv­es are embedded in the grammar of te reo, but which may not always be acknowledg­ed in basic translatio­n.

This “ā” / “ō” distinctio­n is found throughout all the possessive words, and word-pairs, in te reo – and the list of these is certainly quite extensive.

There are three different sets of possessive­s: the t-class using the possessive particles “tā” and “tō”, or their plural forms “ā” and “ō”; the n-class using the prepositio­ns “na” and “no”; and the m-class using the prepositio­ns “ma” and “mo”.

The basic principle involves placing one of these eight words to precede a personal pronoun.

With dual and plural pronouns, the possessive word is normally written separately, preceding the pronoun. Thus: “ā rātou kete” = “their kits”; “tō mātou matua” = “our parent”.

For some reason, however, when the possessor is only one person, the possessive word precedes (and is joined to) “-ku” (1st person); “-u” (2nd person) and “-na” (3rd person). Thus: “tāku kete” = “my kitbag”; “Nāu / tēnei kete.” = “Yours / this kitbag.”; “Māna / tēnei kete.” = “For her or him / this kitbag.”

Eight possessive words and 11 pronouns means a total of eighty-eight possessive terms.

But a thorough familiarit­y with Māori pronouns, and some understand­ing of the principle involved in the “ā” / “ō” distinctio­n can reduce the scheme to manageable proportion­s and allow proper and full appreciati­on of this intriguing feature of te reo Māori.

David Kārena-Holmes is a published author, living in Dunedin. A tutor of grammar since the 1980s, his third book on the subject is Te Reo Māori - the Basics Explained (Oratia Books 2020). He is examining te reo grammar in a series of fortnightl­y articles.

 ?? ?? A familiarit­y with Māori pronouns can help unravel a feature of te reo Māori.
A familiarit­y with Māori pronouns can help unravel a feature of te reo Māori.

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