Dialling up the dialect

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The release of Disney’s Moana in te reo was a landmark for Māori language revitalisation. As that rebirth gathers steam, mita, or dialects are returning to the fore. When The Lion King Reo Māori hit cinemas last year, the lions spoke Tainui reo, the hyenas joked with Ngāti Kahungunu accents and Rafiki was clearly from Te Urewera.

Mita encompasses pronunciation, distinctive words and sayings, waiata or tikanga that identify a speaker’s origins. If someone uses a soft h for wh, such that whānau sounds like wānau, you know they’re from Whanganui. Ngāpuhi speakers tend to drop the w, leaving a distinctive h: whakarongo becomes hakarongo. And Ngāi Tahu speakers render ng as k, turning whakarongo into whakaroko. The first attempt to record Kāi Tahu mita in English was in 1773, when the crew of Cook’s Resolution were intrigued by the harsh accents of locals in Tamatea/Dusky Sound. For our story on the lost tribe of Fiordland, which begins with this encounter, we’ve used the Kāi Tahu dialect. And if you’d like to hear what it sounds like for yourself, check out the recent release of Frozen Reo Māori, which is entirely in the mita of the freezing south.

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