Pita and Peter, Mere and Mary

August 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

Not having much to do on a Saturday night (I live in the Manawatu, you know) I found myself watching the learn te reo program on the Maaori channel. They were presenting the vocative construction – using people’s names with greetings. Not unexpectedly they focussed on the rule about the particle, e. According to the show in Māori, when short names are used alongside greetings, they are preceded by e. So for example you might say Kia ora, e Tū,  “hi Tū”. *But with names longer than two syllables, the name just follows the greeting; Tēnā koe, Marama.

The presenters explained this very clearly and presented interesting conversations with code-switching where greetings were used and gave opportunity for practice – all very expected and all very well done. Then the presenters explained something that really caught my interest. The ‘e rule’ is only for Māori names. That is, the presenters suggested that saying hi to Patrick should be Kia ora Patrick, not Kia ora e Patrick. I wonder if this is because of the non-Māori phonotactics structure of this name. I wonder if saying gidday to Rita, would be different. Especially as one of the examples they chose was Pita. As a two syllable name it takes the vocative particle, e, but its English equivalent, Peter does not. This is unlikely to be because of the orthographic presence of the _r_ as New Zealand English has for most of its history been r-less, i.e. /r/ is only pronounced before vowels.

 Some alternative views of the ‘e rule’ can be seen in some language guides. For example, below the English name Mary is deemed eligible for e-marking just as its Māori counterpart, Mere, is.


  •  Tēnā koe, e Mary
  • Greetings, Mary
  • Tēnā koe, Jonathan
  • Greetings, Jonathan
  • Kia ora, e Pita
  • Dear Peter
  • Kia ora, Miriama
  • Dear Miriama

Note that short names are preceded by the word e in these addresses (eg. e Pita, e Mary, e Joe) while longer names are used without it (eg. Miriama, Jonathan, Katherine).



 So perhaps this rule is in flux, and a new emerging rule does not worry so much about the link between name and language. In the end though, the important thing is, that this is a very enjoyable, well presented language learning broadcast.




 *This is a slight simplification of the rule which takes into account vowel length. If a word has two syllables, but one of those syllables contains a long vowel,  the e  rule does not apply, kia ora, Whetū, not kia ora e Whetū.


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