First, I have just wasted several minutes trying to find out how to type a macron without any luck.

First, I have just wasted several minutes trying to find out how to type a macron without any luck. This is not surprising because the macron is not a part of the English (Roman) alphabet. English letters are hardly ever accented; the French acute (as in Caf) being the exception that proves the rule. However, New Zealand civil servants must be provided with special keyboard software because almost any missive from Local or Central Government that refers to Maori will dutifully have the macron (the dash) over the “a” in Maori, and possibly in a few other Maori words as well.

This offends against scholarship because these missives are written in English, which does not use a macron, just as it does not use the cedilla, or the circumflex, or the host of other accents used by other languages.

In particular, this usage in Maori is a double error (and this was first pointed out to me by a senior scholar in the Maori language from the Far North) because Maori, with a capital M, is not a Maori word at all, but a genuinely English word. Being a tribal people the indigenous people of New Zealand had no word for Maori as a race and indentified themselves by their chosen tribal (iwi) name. The English wanted a convenient single name to distinguish the settlers from the native inhabitants and the Maori themselves indicted the solution in the Maori language version of the Treaty.

The Maori Language version of the Treaty referred to the tangata maori when referring to the “Aborigines” or the “Native People of New Zealand” as opposed to the Rangatira, or Chieftain class. See the Preamble, and the Fourth Article.

And sure enough the word “maori”, with a lower case “m”, in my three Maori language dictionaries, means normal, usual, or ordinary. So rikau maori means ordinary inferior trees, not fine timber trees. The Williams Dictionary of the Maori Language (1844) includes a special note that the use of the word Maori with a capital M, meaning “a person of the native race, New Zealander”, began about 1850.

What Maori chose to do with the spelling of Maori language words, when writing in Maori, is for them to decide. (Although this introduction of macrons must create a further barrier to young Maori wanting to learn the language, just as the gender pronouns are an obstacle for many wanting to learn French.) But English words written in the English language should be left alone.

However, the macron meme seems to be catching, and our Pakeha bureaucrats seem to be enthusiastically spreading them around to prove their superiority to the rest of us mortals.

A reader drew my attention to a new Planning document produced by the Taupo District Council, and sure enough the web page introduction to this Proposed Rural Design Guide opens with:

The proposed Taupō District Rural Design Guide is a guide for good design and development in the Rural Environment.

Evidently, my iMac is brighter than me because it can translate the macron even if I cannot find it. The use seems to be arbitrary: we have “TAUPŌ 2011”, but “Welcome to Taupo Venues”. The macron, like accents in any language is a guide to pronunciation, and my Maori dictionaries include appropriate accents and pronunciation guides in the listings. Nothing wrong with that so do my English, French and Latin dictionaries.

The macron over the “a” is used to indicate that this is the long “a” as in “rather” rather than the short “a” as in “cat”.

But what on Earth has inspired the Taupo District Council to put a macron over the “o” at the end of Taupo? Has anyone, speaking English or Maori, been puzzled as to whether this is a long “o” as in “Shogun” or the short “o” as in “come”.

Read the following list of words ending in “o” from a number of English words (albeit many borrowed from other languages) and see if you need any pronunciation guide to the last “o”.

Albino, armadillo.

Banjo, bolero.

Chicago, Colorado, cilantro, curio.

Drongo, dingo.

Ego, ergo, embargo.

Fandango, flamenco.

Gelato, gringo.

Hello.

Indigo, Idaho.

Jumbolino.

Kango.

Limbo, lotto.

Mambo, Mexico, mango.

Negro.

Ohio, oregano.

Praesidio, potato

Radio, Ringo, riddachio.

Sombrero, solo.

Tomato, tango, Taupo.

Umbrio

Vertigo.

Whacko.

Xero.

Yobbo.

Zero.

I think I can rest my case. The citizens of Lake Taupo, or even visitors to the District, do not need a foreign language pronunciation guideline accent to assist them to correctly pronounce the English word Taupo. I wonder who has persuaded them they do.

I was reminded of this Macron Mania when driving past Te Hana on the way to Wellsford. An enterprising Maori family had set up a hangi stall to cater for the summer tourism market.

For some weeks his roadside sandwich board advertised “Fry Breād”.

At first I thought this was just another example of nonsensical macron mania. But then I thought of the many Maori I have known while growing up in Rotorua, and now, in Northland.

And my second thought was to wonder if this Maori entrepreneur was related to Billy T. James. He would have loved it.

Owen McShane

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