Sunday, January 18, 2015

Guy Steward: Regarding “Wanganui” and Whanganui”


I have a most interesting book entitled Richard Taylor: Missionary Tramper, published by A.H. and A.W. Reed, written in 1966 by A.D. Mead who also wrote Wanganui River (1957). I quote from his introduction, “One source of variation was due to dialect; in particular the aspirate h, whether by itself or in the combination wh, was fully sounded only among the Ngapuhis of North Auckland; further south it was either lightly sounded or almost suppressed…”

I see four reasons not to change “Wanganui” to “Whanganui”.
  1.  As seen in this quote the pronunciation varied from place to place.
  2. The translators at the time were generally learned men, skilled in language acquisition and in translation. They wrote the language as they heard it. It would be an affront to their ancestors to now state that these expert linguists “heard it wrong”. The reason they wrote the word “Maori”, for example, one would logically assume was because that’s how they heard it.
  3. Anyone can say almost anything any way they want to, within reason. It’s generally a free world in that sense. It just works better when there is a standard pronunciation. But it can’t be legislated because language changes - we all play around with it. If some people want to say (phonetically) “fakatane” for Whakatane then that’s fine, let them say it. I prefer the “lightly sounded” version, and I think from what Mead states it’s probably more authentic, assuming we all want to be authentic. I am used to “fitianga” as pronunciation of Whitianga because that’s what I grew up with, but it’s probably not authentic, the “lightly sounded” one being more so. Again, a standard pronunciation makes sense because it makes understanding easier. And if there were variations when it was first written, it should be no problem to have variations now in our pronunciation, but stay with the original spelling, because it was most likely the closest rendition? If we do not legislate for English spelling then why for Maori?
  4. My fourth point is that Europeans brought with them the means of writing a language, i.e. an alphabet. In a sense they “hold the patent”. Maori didn’t see the need for a written language and thus never developed one. Europeans came along and gave them one. Perhaps an argument could be made that the Europeans should therefore have the first choice on the spelling! If there is a radical error somewhere then that could be corrected but I suspect that 99.9% of the time any “errors” are insignificant. Several consonants are of course not in the European repertoire of sounds, the harder “r” and the “ng” at the start of a word being examples. It’s totally appropriate that people try to get the sound correct in a word such as “Ngatea”. But as a teacher of language I am aware that there is always a reasonably significant section of the population who will always struggle with a sound that is not part of their native language, or not bother to struggle with it at all, opting for the closest or easiest sound (such as the above becoming simply “Natea”) and it is by no means limited to only non-Maori.
It is all a way of asserting oneself or one’s culture – this politicisation of language, a way of saying “here I am – recognise me!” The politically correct legislation of language, the social engineering of language change, is also another way of attempting to reassert power. Given human nature, the whole movement in this direction is understandable and it happens in all kinds of other contexts as well, with different political and special interest groups. But it can also be a way of “getting back”, in this case of inferring that Europeans were wrong and are wrong in certain things such as language. And if they are wrong in that, then what else might they be wrong in? Kicking up a fuss about an aspirated consonant could also be a way of compensating for some other lack - recognition, power, or who knows what else. Such attention-getting tactics leave, I suspect, the majority of us – both Maori and non-Maori, plus everyone in between, unimpressed. To those so-called academics who feel the need to do this, I say, get on with the important things, the issues that directly impact on all of us – the economy, the crime rate, education, health, sport, the need for uplifting cultural expression, and so many other pressing things of far greater importance to the whole of the country.

Guy Steward is a teacher, a freelance writer and a beginner on the bagpipes.

10 comments:

david said...

Thank you Guy

If Northern Maori pronounced Whangamata with an aspirated 'w' and Wanganui Maori pronounced Wanganui without significant aspiration then that's how they should be written. Neither, as far as I can gather, pronounced it as fanga. The f'ing up of the language seems to have coincided with the drive to re-introduce what was a dying language. You don't hear f from those of my age who learnt it from their mother.

Dave said...

I live in 'Wanganui' having come from a broadcasting background, I remember our old RNZ tutors saying that according to their Maori advisers Wanganui without an 'f' or 'h' is the correct way of pronouncing the word as the local tribe never used the 'f' in any speech, as Maori words were written phonetically then Wanganui is correct. Unfortunately our present Mayor Annette Main and some of the pc obsessed councilors will push through the 'h' into the spelling. This is despite two referendums run by former Mayor Micheal Laws on the spelling where consistently around 80% of locals who voted preferred Wanganui without an 'h'. The real tragedy here is that democracy is the victim, where a small group of (part) Maori led by activist Ken Mair of Moutua Gardens occupation fame has imposed their will onto everyone else including a Mayor who makes no secret of her left leaning views. Council and Mayor are elected to represent the local ratepayers they have no right to impose their personal views and no mandate to make personal changes affecting all of us without a majority vote of support for these actions. It is a sad day for democracy and for all those who fought (and died) for our freedom and is a sad reflection that in NZ these days we are becoming a society where the will of a few and sometimes extremists are forced upon us and we just meekly let it happen.

ONZF said...

The “Chiefs of Wanganui”
The signatures of the chiefs that signed the Tiriti o Waitangi under the name, “Chiefs of Wanganui”. Their signatures were witnessed by Rev Henry Williams.
Maori never had a written language and Wanganui was written by Rev Henry Williams from how the Wanganui Maori pronounce Wanganui, then put it to English spelling.
When Rev Henry Williams spoke to the chiefs at Wanganui before they signed the Treaty he would have made sure he use the correct pronunciation and spelling of Wanganui otherwise he would have lost all credibility.
Professor Samuel Lee and Hongi Hika wrote an English to Maori dictionary in 1820 but this was in the Ngapuhi dialect and would have been different than the Wanganui Maori or other southern tribes.
If it sounded like the word "where, "what" or “whale” then Williams would have spelt it with an "h" but it must have sounded like "watch", "water" or "wave", therefore no "h".
As the Wanganui Maori chiefs accepted this pronunciation and spelling in 1840, then who are we to change it 175 years later. We must honour our ancestors.

The spoken language was Maori, the written language was English.

Ross Baker. Researcher, One New Zealand Foundation Inc.

Anonymous said...

The reason I get hot under the collar about Fungaray and other Maori place names in particular being pronounced with an opening F is that there was always an F in the English language - although it may have looked like an S in olde English - so if the Missionaries had heard it pronounced F they would have written it that way. They apparently never did in the case of words beginning with WH.
They also pronounced WH as in when, not with the upper teeth touching the lower lip (labiodental) as F is pronounced.
I have recently heard TV presenters pronouncing Wanganui as Funganui, as I expected as soon as the spelling was changed. Wanganui was never pronounced that way in Missionary times, so we now have the irony of Maori dictating the pronunciation of words they had never recorded until taught by the Missionaries.

Peter said...

Nice piece there Guy. This rush to be 'PC' is absolute nonsense!! If this is how it has been pronounced for over 100 years why change things. Over 40 years ago I attempted to learn Maori at Otago University. Our tutor was a well spoken Maori from Hawkes Bay. When I moved to Taranaki the next year the local Maoris mocked my efforts to speak the language. Ditto when I moved to Northland. There is so much regional variation why change things?

ONZF said...

The chiefs of Wanganui signed the Tiriti o Waitangi under the heading, "Chiefs of Wanganui" but shortly after the New Zealand Company changed it name to Petre after its Director, Lord Petre. In 1844 the people of Wanganui petitioned the Superintendent of the Wellington Province to have its name changed back to Wanganui. This was granted and the "official" name from then on was "Wanganui".

Argus said...

I've often wondered that 'wh' sound.

Logically it's 'w', not 'f', as in the written English of the time (and our own time).

Why would educated people hoo use wot, wy, wen, wair on a daily basis mix it up so that what becomes fot, why becomes fy, when becomes fen, where becomes fair, and the Wonganui they actually heard becomes fonganui?

But PC rules (as always) and now the genie is out of the bottle there's no way to get him back in ...


John said...

My Grandfather who lived among pure blood Maori from 1880 taught me as a boy that to correctly pronounce the WH sound it should be accompanied by expelling air through the lips as in whence. He also told me that Maori never stressed syllables.

It makes me cringe to hear National Radio weather reports for places such as HOroFEnua WAItamaTA harbour etc and as for TAWPAW TYPAW TOPAW - words fail me!

It is also sad to hear that children are being taught about the Tui in the KOFAI tree.

John said...

Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) dealt with Maori Speech in his book 'The Coming of the Maori'
In short the double consonant 'wh' is correctly pronounced as in the words 'what' and 'where'. He mentions "The use of the English 'f' sound for 'wh'[...] is a post-European development adopted by some tribes".
Sir Peter was Professor of Anthropology at Yale University and he spent a large part of his life studying the Maori and Polynesian peoples.

Bill said...

As far as I am concerned, in the English language, if you want to pronounce an f sound you use either an f or a ph. The missionaries that interpreted the Maori language were English, and therefore would have written an f or a ph, not a wh when hearing the sound.