• Shakayla Andrews-Alapaki, Maioha Watson, Piri Tohu, Jade Mills, Stevie Thocolich, Karamea Pēwhairangi

Iwi Dialects: Because Te Reo Isn’t the Same Everywhere

Iwi Dialects: Because Te Reo Isn’t the Same Everywhere

***Disclaimer and update at the end of the article.

Growing up in Aotearoa, chances are you’ve learned a bit of te reo here and there. While you might think there is a one-size-fits all approach, that’s not the case. All across Aotearoa, different iwi in different regions each have their own individual dialects of te reo.

Listed below are detailed descriptions of some of the individual dialects, as well as some examples for you to practice, depending on what region or area you call home.

Kāi Tahu/Ngāi Tahu (Te Waipounamu, or the South Island)

By Shakayla Andrews-Alapaki

“Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, a muri ake nei” — for us, and for our children after us.

This famous Kāi Tahu whakataukī has a multi purpose meaning within our iwi as it can relate with anything aspirational for the next generation such as, te reo Māori. Where it is indeed for us and most definitely for our children after us. Compared to the rest of the motu (country) our dialect is a bit more rerekē than most! Hai tauira (for example), we replace the generic ‘NG’ and use ‘K’. If you’re wondering why we use ‘K’, according to Tā Timoti Kāretu (Māori Language GOAT) “because it is c-c-c-cold down here” - lol. Ehara i te tika but, you get the joke.

Anyways, Kāi Tahu have a variety of kupu (words) that are unknown to those who descend from other iwi. Another difference is that we step away from using the generic nouns for our whānau members. Instead of using ‘koro’ for grandfather, We use ‘pōua’.

Other kupu for whānau members include:

aki = boy

kera = girl

hākui = mother

hākoro = father

pōua = grandfather

taua = grandmother

tukāne = brother of a girl

taina = younger sibling

hoa rakatira = partner

Tukuna te reo, kia rakiwhāwhā, kia takata whenua, hai arero tūpuna!

Ngāi Tūhoe (Te Urewera, eastern North Island)

By Maioha Watson

"Nā tamariki a te kohu" — Children of the Mist

Kia mārama pūraniaho ai ki a tātau te reo taketake o Tūhoe, me mātai te titiro ki te kīana e iri ake nei. Ka moe a Hinepūkohurani i a Te Mauna ka puta ko nā tamariki a te kohu. He tātai whakapapa, he uri whakaheke ahau nā rātau. Ko tōku reo, he mea whakaako e ōku kaumātua o Ruatāhuna, o Waiohau.

E ora marika ana tōku reo taketake i a mātau ko ōku whanauna. Anō te rerehua, anō te reka ki te tarina, te whakarono atu. Ko nā rerekētana matua o te reo o Tūhoe ki tō iwi kē atu, ko te korena o te pū "ng"; ka panoni kētia nā kupu kia "n" noa nei te takoto. Hei tauira, "tangata" ka huri ki te "tanata". Ki te titiro atu tātau ki te kīana o runa, kua panoni te kupu "Ngā" ki te kupu "Nā" tamariki a te kohu. Ko nā kupu pēnei i te "rātou", "mātou"; ka huri ki te "rātau", "mātau". Arā anō nā kupu pēnei i te "kei", “hei” ka huri ki nā kupu "kai", “hai”. Koinei ētahi rerekētana ā-mita ki ō iwi kē atu.

There are many dialectal differences that Tūhoe have to other iwi. One being the absence of the "ng". Kupu such as tāngata (people) becomes tānata. If we look back to the kīana (saying) above, the ngā tamariki a te kohu has changed to nā tamariki a te kohu. Kupu such as "mātou", "rātou", and "tātou" are changed to "mātau", "rātau", and "tātau". Kupu such as "hei" and "kei" are changed to "hai" and "kai". These differences not only apply in its spoken form but also in its written form.

Ētahi atu kupu:

kāre = no/not

taina = younger sibling

tānata = people

tō hauna hoki = you stink!

tō mānere hoki = you’re lazy!

tipuna = ancestor

Ngāti Hine/Ngāpuhi (Northland)

By Piri Tohu

“Ngāti Hine Pukepuke Rau” — Ngāti Hine of a hundred hills

This whakatāuki speaks both of the geographical features which constitute the landscape of Ngāti Hine but also attribute towards the mentality this iwi possesses in expressing Ngāti Hinetanga. In comparison to many other iwi of Niu Tirini-Aotearoa, tō tātou mita he reo tino rereke ki wētahi atu (our dialect is quite distinctly haphazard). Ngāti Hine employs extensive use of transliterated or borrowed words from the English language. An example: wharō, which when pronounced should sound like floor, because it is. In contrary to the mainstream Māori alphabet, we also use “s” like so: “e koe, sweepi sweepi te wharō.”

Other kupu include:

iāna iāna/yāna yāna = to yarn

rīti = to read

sīra = sheila or partner (non gender specific)

parata = brother

tita = sister

unkara = uncle

wheketere (try saying that 10x) = factory

ierō/yero = yellow

parū = blue

kirīni = green

and perhaps most suspiciously... pinkipinki = pink

With the passing of our kaumātua, the kupu can be lost as well. These kupu allow us to remember their absence and reinvoke their importance in our lives.

Āotea/Te Āti Haunui-ā-Pāpārangi (Manawatū/Whanaganui)

By Jade Mills

“Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” — I am the river and the river is me (referring to the Whanganui River)

This whakatauki is well known in this area, and pays homage to the river of Whanganui being a part of the people and the people being a part of the river.

One of the most noticeable differences in the Aotea dialect is that the letter H is pronounced as a glottal stop which means it doesn't get pronounced. We say that we drop the H’s so words such as Whanganui and whānau are pronounced as Wanganui and wānau, but still spelt with the letter H. This dialectical difference has been the root of a very long-winded argument about the true spelling of the name Whanganui.

For a lot of our informal language we like to drop the A in words such as kia, kua, anō, noa, and anake. Common phrases such as kia kaha would be pronounced as ‘ki ka’a.’ And when asking if someone is finished we would say ‘ku mutu koe?’ as opposed to ‘kua mutu koe?’

When agreeing or supporting something we often say āna rather than āe. We also follow the general use of the ‘u’ instead of ‘i’ in words such as tupu, purutia. In many pronouns such as tātou and mātou we tend to use the ‘au’ sound so our words are written and pronounced as tātau and mātau.

Disclaimer: although this kōrero talks about the Aotea dialect, it focuses more specifically on Whanganui dialect.

Other kupu include:

‘e a’a ai? = he aha ai? (why?)

ngā mi’i = ngā mihi (many thanks)

kī tere = kia tere (hurry up)


By Stevie Thocolich

“Waikato Taniwharau”

This whakataukii describes not only the Waikato river and all its taniwha that are kaitiaki, but the many chiefs from within our iwi. At every bend, every corner, a taniwha, a rangatira, a chief.

Waikato mita (dialect) is different from others, particularly in its written form, as we use double vowels instead of the macron. Words such as "ngaa", "teenei", or even "aapoopoo" is just the norms. We have specific words that we use which other iwi don't such as "ruuruhi" and "koroheke" for kuia and koroua. We use "tuupuna" and "tupu" rather than "tiipuna/tipu". Some even use "ng" prefix for words such as "eenei/eeraa" which turn in to "ngeenei/ngeeraa".

There are many other factors that make Waikato dialect distinctly unique so if you want to learn more about it, head over to TRM (Te Roopū Māori - Otago Māori Students Association) and come for a koorero.

Some other kīwaha or sayings that are known in this area are:

ka mutu koe! = you’re the man!

(he whakamihi teenei i te pai o te tangata, o ngaana mahi raanei)

atiatia atu = clear out (he tohu kia whakawaatea i teetehi waahi)

teetehi = tetahi

ngooku = nooku

weetehi = eetahi

wheenei = penei

Ngāti Porou (Gisborne/East Cape)

By Karamea Pēwhairangi

“He Wiwi Nāti” — the peculiar and extraordinary characteristics of the Ngāti Porou people

The dialect of Ngāti Porou is one that is transmitted through the use of body language and often through the use of noises. With many Māori kīwaha kei roto i te ahua o te kawenga te whakamārama, so some kīwaha could be hyping someone up or doing the opposite.

They say that if you really want to hear the language of Ngāti Porou, go to the marae kitchen, ki korā rongo ai i te reo o Ngāti Porou e kaha whakamahia. If you grew up on the coast and you can understand the language and the dialect in the kitchen, without a doubt you will be in fits from laughter. Koina pea te momo o te reo o Ngāti Porou. It is also important to note that the first English to Māori dictionary was written explicitly but not exclusively based on the Ngāti Porou dialect.

The most noticeable difference about the Ngāti Porou dialect is the phrase “kei te aha?”, which means “how are you?”. Most people outside of Ngāti Porou would translate this as “what are you doing?”. Another aspect is we say “awau” instead of “ahau”, and similar to our cuzzies over in Tūhoe we prefer the use of the letter “a” in kupu like “tātau and mātau”, instead of “tātou and mātou”.

Other kupu include:

taputapu = excellent

keo = girl

poi = boy

pēhu = fence post (used as a word to describe people who come to the Marae and just stand around)

wowa = out of proportion

mahia te mahi = do the work


Originally published in Critic - Te Arohi on 12/09/2021

*** Update 30/09/21

Te Pararē mihi to the tauira and kaituhi of the ‘Iwi Dialects’ article, which was originally published for Critic Te Arohi magazine at Otago University. They write from their personal and lived experiences using their dialect, which may differ from the next person. All experiences are valid.

We wanted to share it with a wider audience of rangatahi Māori who don’t otherwise get to learn or hear these kōrero and experiences. This is what our platform is for. A safe space for rangatahi/tauira to have their voice heard.

Kia manawanui tātou, be open-minded, kind and uplifgting when making comments.

- Kaiwāwāhi Matua o Te Pararē