One in every home, Hilary Stace

The Raupo Dictionary of Modern Maori 
P M Ryan
Raupo, $60.00,
ISBN 9780143567899

Every household and office in Aotearoa New Zealand will have times when they need an easy-to-use Maori dictionary. As more te reo words and phrases drift into daily use there is an increasing need for non-fluent speakers (that is most of us) to have such a dictionary on hand to check the meaning of particular words, or the correct spelling or use of the macron for a report or essay.

Does the place you live in have a Maori name that could be used more often than just in Maori Language Week? What is the word for “red” or “foot” or “north”, and what is that song your preschooler learned at kindy all about? Maybe you are developing a mihi and need the name of your town, or have been asked to provide a whakatau-a-ki for a meeting or publication. What is the Maori name for the Department of Internal Affairs? All the answers can be found in this volume.

There has been a bright blue Ryan in my house since the dictionary was first published in 1995. It was a real New Zealand publication: published by Reed; printed by GP Print; sponsored by TVNZ; and with expert assistance from the Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori (the Maori Language Commission). After the introduction by Pa Ryan, that volume started with a short pronunciation guide and a brief introduction to grammar, a section of useful terms such as seasons, months, parts of the body, colours and place names, followed by more than 40,000 entries set out in columns: firstly, Maori to English, and the second half English to Maori.

This new fourth edition looks much the same but is published by Raupo, a Penguin imprint. The contents are very similar, even identical in parts, but the paper is thinner, allowing the same-sized volume now to contain 50,000 entries. There is basically the same introduction, brief guides to pronunciation and grammar (and notes on regional variations), and useful terms such as days of the week, parts of the body, points of the compass and colours, set out in English to Maori.

The list of English to Maori “personal” names (no longer called “Christian” names) is longer, and there are now 81 proverbs or he whakatau-a-ki/he pepepa.

A list of New Zealand place names precedes a list of overseas place names, replacing the previously separate lists of continents and countries. A map of tribal areas has been dropped (maybe because it is not so clear-cut as it used to be).

Pa Mikaere Ryan was sent to Aotearoa in 1954 by the Mill Hill Missionary Society of London, after studying in Holland and England. Encouraged by the Society to learn Maori language and customs, he served in parishes in Northland, with Te Arawa in Rotorua, Tainui in Waikato, and later taught at Hāto Petera College (Auckland). He is currently chaplain at the Tamaki Maori Mission in Epsom.

He has compiled a dictionary useful for casual Pakeha users, students of te reo, and Maori speakers seeking to extend their vocabulary, and which is presented as simply as possible. Apparently this is not a dictionary in the strictest sense but a synonymicon – a dictionary of synonyms presented as a bilingual word list. It has old words and new words, but the derivation of words or examples of usage are not included, so readers will have to go elsewhere for these, such as the Williams dictionary for derivation or Ngata (which is now online) for examples.

Ryan indicates when a word changes from active to passive by the use of brackets. Only when one word has several meanings are indications given of whether it is a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. I do not know enough about regional variation and dialect to understand whether this has been adequately covered.

Included is the word for the internet (ipurangi) but not as yet for wifi. Many of the government agencies included no longer exist, while some of the newer ones will have to wait for another edition.

One test of a reference source is to check words from your own area of interest, so I looked up words related to disability. Language is continually evolving and is heavily based on cultural concepts, so I cannot critique the Maori terminology: that is for those who identify as disabled and Maori to debate. But there are some anachronisms in the English terms used. “Intellectual handicap”, “mental handicap” and “mentally retarded” are offensive to many these days (intellectual impairment or disability has replaced them), so perhaps there could have been more checking for appropriate English terminology.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage (Manatu Tikanga-a-iwi) has published a list on its website of 100 Maori words every New Zealander should know. This dictionary provides an opportunity for taking this basic understanding further.

A companion volume, also fully revised by Ryan, is the Raupo pocket dictionary with 20,000 entries. This new hardback Ryan dictionary will sit on my shelf next to my Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language as two essential volumes for 21st-century inhabitants of Aotearoa New Zealand. And I hope to find an occasion to use this apt whakatau-a-ki: “Papatuanuku te matua o te tangata” (Mother Earth is the parent of man).


Hilary Stace is a Wellington reviewer.


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