kapu kawhe, kaputī, me ranei?

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Congratulations to the Massey University team for winning an award for their contribution to te Wiki o te Reo, Maori Language Week.  Knowing NZers love coffee, the team devised a handy card with some coffee talk,  Kōrero kawhe ‘coffee talk’. So now you can order your flat white, or mōwai in te reo. Tumeke!

Having a looking at Māori coffee talk, we can see some of the strategies used by the team.

Transliteration and remodelling.

Here English language phonological forms are taken into Māori and adapted to the phonological rules of the language:

Tī                  ‘tea’, not the long vowel

Tī kerei       ‘earl grey (tea)  the velar stop /g/ is made voiceless as Māori contains only voiceless stops, and the resulting cluster /kr/ is broken up by the insertion of an epenthetic vowel.

Rāte   ‘latte’.  The change of /l/ to /r/ is predictable in Polynesian. The main group of these languages contains either /r/ or /l/ never both. For most but not all of these languages ProtoPolynesian *r  and *l have merged. By this I mean that in the language from which all Polynesian languages descend, there would have been words with both *r and *l. (The asterisk means this  a reconstructed form representing a word in a language that has not been heard or recorded). 

Hawaiian     Maori   Tongan Samoan             ProtoPolynesian

ʔula               kura     kula          ʔula          ‘red’         *kula

liʔi                 riki        iki              liʔi            ‘small’      *riki

In Hawaiian and Samoan, *l and *r merged as /l/, while in Māori, they merged as *r. Tongan on the other hand deleted *r and kept *l as /l/


Calquing is where the meaning of individual phrases are kept so in te reo you might order a pango poto if you want a quick hit of caffeine, or a pango roa, if you have a bit more time on your hands. Literally short black and long black, the  the term denoting length follows the colour.


Unlike calques, these translated terms preserve the meaning of the phrase, not the meaning of the individual words. Trim latte appears on the coffee card as  rāte kore hinu or rāte hinu kore, ‘latte without fat’


There are a couple of creations in the kōrero kawhe lexicon – kanokawhe looks like it is made of  kawhe and the term for seed, kākano, which has been reduced and shortened to form a compound. The most elegant of the inventions however is for the Australasian coffee invention, the flat white, a more robust version of the latte. The term, mōwai, chosen for this popular drink means calm like the sea, hence flat (Thanks to Dr Hohepa for explanation).


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