Brief (200 word) Description of the Māori Language

Māori is an Austronesian language currently spoken in the central, eastern and northern regions of the North Island in New Zealand (NZ), and in most NZ urban centres as a result of Māori urbanisation.

Prior to the 1800s, with the exception of  the closely related Moriori language on Rekohu (the Chatham Islands) it was only language spoken in New Zealand. Māori was isolated for up to 500 years from the East Polynesian languages in the Pacific from which it derived. European colonization (in the 1800s)   lead to a rapid decline in the Māori population, assimilation, and a shift towards English. 

Current estimates for the number of fluent speakers range from 30,000 to 150,000, some 10 to 20 % of the Māori population. All Māori now speak English.  Almost all Māori today have European ancestry. The Māori population has increased since the early 1900s.

Māori dialects now show very little variation due to dialect leveling, the influence of English and the loss of the more divergent dialects. Word order is predominantly VSO. Words are open syllable. There are no consonant clusters. Vowels are either short or long. Last full bible translation was completed in the 1950s. Regarded as an endangered language.

Page last updated: 25 January 2017.

This page is Copyright © Peter J Keegan, PhD, 2003-2017.