By Josh Beck
I grew up in Paraparaumu, on the Kāpiti coast, and my hometown is seldom pronounced correctly. Whether it’s “Pram”, “Paraparam”, or what often sounds like “perepereumu”, the people living there can’t seem to get it right.
Some Kāpiti residents have taken issue with the proposed Māori names for the section of State Highway 1 that has been superseded by a new expressway. They claimed in a Dominion Post news article the reason for this is that the names are too hard to pronounce. In a region that still fails to even pronounce Kāpiti correctly, however, that reasoning falls well short of believability.
People, who have gone their entire lives referring to Paekākāriki as “Piecock”, should have their credibility thrown out the window and carried away by the wind. The fuss that has been kicked up has absolutely shit all to do with difficulty in pronouncing the names correctly and everything to do with a clear intent not to bother.
I’m not an innocent bystander in all of this. It wasn’t until my last of high school that I even started to care about the pronunciations of Kāpiti placenames and Māori words in general. A friend I met online, who was from outside of the Wellington region, was shocked at my mangling of Paraparaumu’s pronunciation when we first met in person. I felt uncomfortable at the time and made a joke out of it, but that discomfort stuck with me.
Over the years I’ve reflected on that interaction, as well as others, and isolated where my discomfort comes from. A defining moment in figuring this out was, when waiting in line at a concert in Auckland, I felt no trepidation in pronouncing Paraparaumu. I was alone in Auckland, a city where I knew no one. I realised that essentially, the further I get away from my hometown and the people I know from there, the more comfortable I feel getting Māori pronunciations correct.
I think a lot of people that also experience these uncomfortable moments put it down to being scared of angry reactions when they get things wrong. I’d challenge these people to reflect on how much of that fear is actually attributed to getting things correct. I’ve experienced many side eyes and furrowed brows from Māori language manglers for pronouncing Māori words correctly. I have far less frequently encountered expressions of exasperation from those able to speak it correctly, for getting things wrong.
We can’t allow silly excuses to be the reason non-Māori speakers continue butchering the Māori language. Whether you’re scared of getting it wrong or scared of getting it right, pronouncing these words isn’t actually difficult, so just take a bloody moment out of your day and figure it out.
I was super proud to see a YouTube video from Paraparaumu College, my former stomping grounds (though my time there involved more tiptoeing), of students effortlessly pronouncing the new SH1 road names correctly.
The video is less than a minute in length, so anyone who finds the new road names intimidating could easily watch it a few times and get the pronunciations down. My guess though, is that most of them won’t. They haven’t bothered getting Paekākāriki, Raumati, Paraparaumu or even Kāpiti correct for their entire lives so why would they bother with these new road names now?
The reporter who wrote the Dominion Post article went on to put together a video of Kāpiti residents attempting to pronounce the street names. He also gave them some English street names to pronounce for comparison. Unfortunately, the comparison was disingenuous, to say the least.
Street names such as Marjoribanks and Cockburn, pronounced nothing like they look, set the people in the video up for failure. The Māori street names, however, aren’t names of trickery. They are pronounced exactly as they should be according to basic Māori pronunciation. Comparing these irregular English words with Māori words as simple as Katu and Kakakura is blatantly misleading and unreasonable.
The Māori language isn’t looking for a “gotcha” moment. Once you’ve got the basic principles of its pronunciation down you’re pretty much set to get it right from that point on. If you don’t respect the language then just say so. Show us who you really are, don’t hide behind insincere excuses.