FAQ about Maori Dictionaries
Q1. What Maori language dictionaries are available and of what value are they?
A1. (1) The most important Maori-English dictionary is H.W. Williams's A dictionary of the Maori language. The final edition was the 7th (1971). It has been reprinted many times. Commonly referred to as (The) Williams or Te Wiremu. According to staff from Wordstream (personal communication) Williams has 15,228 Maori headwords. It focuses on traditional Maori vocabulary. Headwords are often in given in a sentence (usually taken from an older manuscript) following each entry.
There are many words in Williams (perhaps 1000s) that are unfamiliar to many native speakers of Maori today. Likewise there are probably 1000s of words currently used by native speakers and second language learners of Maori that are not listed in the dictionary. There are also gaps in Williams's coverage of traditional Maori terms, perhaps more so in dialectal variation in the use of words. Williams is an essential item for students of the Maori language.
(2) In 1981 Bruce Biggs (a former professor of Maori Studies and Oceanic Linguistics) produced an English-Maori finder list, primarily based on the Williams dictionary. He called this the Complete English ~ Maori dictionary (can any dictionary be considered to be complete?). In 1985 it was reprinted with corrections.
Biggs (1981) is useful. Less so now that electronic alternatives are now available. Unfortunately it uses the double vowel orthography (to represent long vowels in Maori words) which is no longer widely used. The introduction contains a rather pessimistic outlook on the future of Maori language which history has approved to be somewhat inaccurate.
(3) Another well-known dictionary Ryan's (1997) The Reed dictionary of modern Maori. It is an update of earlier versions of Ryan's dictionary of modern Maori. Not a dictionary in the strictest sense, it is a synonymicon, i.e. a bilingual word list. It contains over 45,000 entries in the form of Maori-English and English-Maori word lists. The dictionary was available on floppy disk (for Win 3.11, Win 95, Win NT) in a searchable format. I suspect that the floppy disk is no longer available for purchase.
Some of the terms given in Ryan (1997) are new terms proposed by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori (Maori Language Commission). These are unlikely to be widely known by native speakers of Maori. Linguists and purists may be disappointed that Ryan's dictionary does not give the source of its Maori terms. Users must refer to dictionary like Williams (1971) to determine whether or not terms are traditional Maori words.
(4) In 1993 H.M. Ngata's English-Maori dictionary was published. It contains over 14,500 headwords. An English sentence (containing the headword) is given after each headword followed by the equivalent translation in Maori.
Based primarily on the Ngati Porou dialect (spoken on the East Coast of the North Island). It includes many contemporary terms. The dictionary also contains new terms proposed by Te Taura Whiri. As with Ryan (1997) the sources of the Maori words are not given. In my view it should be revised. There are typographical errors and inconsistencies. Some of the definitions given are bizarre, however it is still valuable.
The Ngata dictionary (1993) is online. It has been well received in New Zealand.
(5) A good source of contemporary Maori words is the Te Taura Whiri publication Te Matatiki (1996). Based on the 1992 version of Te Matatiki, it contains over 5500 new words developed by the Te Taura Whiri since 1987. Subject areas include: recreation, health, administration, education, science, and mathematics.
(6) In July 1998 ERI (now known as Wordstream) released a CD-ROM called Te Reo Tupu. The CD-ROM contains full text versions of Williams (1971), Ngata (1993), & Te Matatiki (1996) and a number of a smaller special topic dictionaries in a searchable format. It also contains much other useful information covering pronunciation, proverbs and sayings, colours, tribal regions, and the Maori Language Act. The CD-ROM was available in both Mac & PC formats. Serious students and scholars of Maori language have found Te Reo Tupu to be an invaluable tool. The production of Te Reo Tupu was discontinued in December 2002 and it is no longer available.
Wordstream have recently released a searchable web-based version of Te Reo Tupu. Termed wakareo-a-Ipurangi or simply wakareo. It has a clumsy search function, confusing output displays and its content should be treated with caution.
(7) Another valuable source of new and technical Maori vocabulary was the New Zealand Council for Educational Research's Kimikupu hou lexical database. The database contains over 21,000 entries. It was once online but has been absorbed by wakareo. Its now well out of the date.
(8) A specialist Maori mathematics dictionary was published by the Ministry of Education in 2004. Titled Te reo pangarau: a Maori language dictionary of mathematics, it was produced by Ian Christensen and a team of maths specialists and includes many excellent examples of terms being used in sentences along with good detailed illustrations. A searchable online version is available here.
(9) Younger or beginning students of Maori language may find Katerina Mataira's A modern Maori picture dictionary (1997) very useful.
(10) Those with some knowledge of Maori should look at Tirohia kimihia : a Maori learner dictionary produced by Huia Publishers in 2006.
(11) More advanced users will appreciate the Education Review Office's He kupu arotake: a list of terms for education evaluators (1995).
(12) A specialist Maori business dictionary is Taking care of business: Business terms in Aotearoa, He papakupu pakihi: English-Maori business directory (2005).
(13) Two worthwhile Maori essential word lists are Te kete kupu : 300 essential words in Maori (2006) and First thousand words in Maori (2006).
Q2. Where can these dictionaries be purchased on-line?
A2. Try searching in NZ online bookshops, Google may hold some titles, and you may even pick up copies second hand on sites like TradeMe.
Q3. Are there any Maori language thesauruses?
A3. The only available thesaurus is the New Zealand National Library's Maori Subject Headings . Formerly refered to as He Puna Kupu. It appears that the thesaurus is primarily based on Williams (1971).
There are other Maori language dictionaries available. The purpose of this FAQ is to list those which I consider to be more important. Other Maori language dictionary projects are currently being undertaken in New Zealand. These will appear in this FAQ when such projects are completed and become publicly available.
Although Maori has better lexical (especially dictionaries) resources compared to many other Polynesian languages, in my opinion the existing materials have a number of deficiencies. First, no dictionary provides good etymological (word history) information. Second, there is lack of information on productivity or word frequency. Users can not determine whether or not a word in dictionary is currently being used in modern Maori. Third, dictionaries tend to draw examples from written texts and ignore spoken Maori. Fourth, dictionaries lack information on word pronunciation, especially syllabification and stress placemeny which learners find difficult. Finally, there is a need to incorporate contemporary Maori, as appearing on Maori TV and radio, and in Maori-medium classrooms into existing resources.
Many would prefer one definitive Maori dictionary, available in both print and online versions. Unfortunately commercial and ideological interests cripple the scope and format of existing products. It would take considerable funding and cooperation to develop the ultimate non-commercial resource.
Amery, H. (2006). First thousand words in Maori (H. Pubishers, Trans.) Wellington, New Zealand: Huia.
Aotahi LTD (2005). Taking care of business: Business terms in Aotearoa, He papakupu pakihi: English-Maori business directory. Te Kuiti, New Zealand: Aotahi LTD.
Biggs, B. (1981). Complete English ~ Maori dictionary. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
Christiansen, I. (2004). Te reo pangarau: A Maori language dictionary of mathematics. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.
Cormack, I. (Compiler) (1995). He kupu arotake: A list of terms for education evaluators. Wellington, New Zealand: The Education Review Office.
Gough, M. C., & Taiuru, K., (Eds). (1998). Te Reo Tupu: Maori-English-Maori encyclopedic dictionary, [CD-ROM]. Christchurch, New Zealand: Electronic Reference Information LTD.
Huia Publishers (2006). Tirohia kimihia : a Maori learner dictionary. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia.
Hunia, M. (2006). Te kete kupu : 300 essential words in Maori. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education/Huia.
Mataira, K. (Ed.) (1997). A modern Maori picture dictionary:He papakupu whakaahua mo te reo Maori. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
Ngata, H. M. (1993). English-Maori dictionary. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Ryan, P. (1997). The Reed dictionary of modern Maori (2nd ed.). Auckland, New Zealand: Reed.
Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori. (1992). Te Matatiki: Nga kupu hou a Te Whiri i te Reo Maori. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori.
Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori. (1996). Te Matatiki: Contemporary Maori words. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
Williams, H. W. (1971). A dictionary of the Maori language (7th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer.
The 6th edition (1957) of Williams is available on line here.
Last modified: 02 June 2012.
This page is Copyright © Peter J Keegan, PhD, 2012.