How do we write Maori words in shorthand?

We are learning Teeline shorthand in journo school at the moment, and it’s pretty much totally bewildering most of the class including me. 

How useful shorthand might be for journalists has been debated fairly recently – from being passionately defended by Dave Lee, to having the relevance of teaching it here in Aotearoa queried by Martin Hirst at AUT, to other journos around the world having their say.

I’m interested though in the issue of language itself.  Teeline shorthand removes vowels in the middle of words, leaving skeletons of consonants.  How does this work for Maori words, where generally speaking vowels are more frequent and possibly more crucial to meaning? 

The answer is not very well – it’s an English system based on norms of the English language. 

The other thing Teeline does is shorten words by using sounds – so you write “a” for “au” at the beginnings of words; “a” for “ay” and so on.  That doesn’t work for Maori, where vowel sounds are very different from English.  Whanau for example – which in te reo isn’t ‘far-now’ but ‘far-no’.

Those of you wanting to hear the difference check this out from Moana and the Moahunters:

Because Teeline shorthand doesn’t really work for Maori words, it is not really appropriate for New Zealand, where Maori has been a state recognised “official” language since 1987, and in use of course for hundreds of years before that.  Teeline doesn’t incorporate rules that will work for te reo – so us NZ journos are left with a monocultural, colonial tool which will make reporting on much of NZ life difficult.

Is there another way to approach this that isn’t just ‘add a few bits of te reo and stir’?

Well, checking out NZ’s third official way of communicating, NZ Sign Language, it seems there might be.     There are many Maori signs and translations to express Maori words and concepts in NZSL and:

This sets apart New Zealand Sign Language to its ‘cousins’, Australian and British Sign Languages. The signs for Māori concepts are unique because they are expressed in a slightly different way than the common NZSL structure, they incorporate tikianga Māori way of saying things.

Come on you shorthand teachers out there – how about finding a way to create a language which belongs here in Aotearoa – rather than back in England.  Doesn’t our mana demand it?


6 thoughts on “How do we write Maori words in shorthand?

  1. This is one problem I’m facing right now- in Samoa 80% of the interviews/ court sessions/ parliament sessions are in Samoan- PI’s I’ve already interviewed here in NZ also switch to and from Eng- Sam- so where does this leave me and my newly found (supposedly in a few months) 80-100 wpm short hand ability? Samoan is similar to Maori – a lot of emphasis is on the vowels- I second you- bring on a diverse short hand.

  2. There is a woman who is in her 50s or 60s who cracked a shorthand system for Te Reo Maori developed in the early 1900s.

    She has used this system for many years.

    I can put you in touch with her.

    • Hi Peacebird,
      WOW! That is wonderful – and I’d never heard it before – it would be good to see her system discussed in journo schools. I’m not using shorthand anyone – thank the goddess – but I know lots of others would like a way to record Te Reo words correctly.

  3. Wot an odd article….i have used teeline for both te reo maori and te reo pakeha for years..The main thing with a shorthand such as teeline is that it exists as a reference system for the writer…sure it presents a problem for your editor etc-but its wonder is that that you can create forms and sqiggles that work personally…if you understand the substance contextually if you understand the reo…lets face it-te reo maori is easier due to its smaller alphabet and repetition of term…how easy is whno with or without macron….the kids text in reo maori..mama noaiho as is said.

  4. yes there is shorthand for maori, copy of text and was used by native assessors around 1870s. i have a copy but you may find it somewhere on line….. cheers very interesting


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