A Look at the Hawaiian and Maori Languages

From here.
The Polynesian languages are generally thought to be pretty easy to learn compared to other world languages. There is some truth to this, but Maori is probably harder than it seems. We take a look at two Polynesian languages, Maori and Hawaiian.

Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
Central-Eastern Oceanic
Remote Oceanic
Central Pacific
East Fijian-Polynesian

Maori and other Polynesian languages have a reputation for being quite easy to learn. The main problem for English speakers is that the sentence structure is backwards compared to English. In addition, macrons can cause problems.
One problem with Maori is dialects. The dialects are so diverse that this means that there are multiple words for the same thing. Swiss German has a similar issue, with up to 50 words for each common household item (nearly every major dialect has its own word for common objects):
ngongi, noni, koki, waiwater
, rarangi, hiri –  to plait, to twist, to weave
, maitaigood
, , tutehu, mātikato stand
, mouto hold
, pouto be exhausted
, tohorāwhale
, ngohifish
, kāwailine
, kori, keukeu, koukou, neke, nukuto move
, hara, here, horo, whanoto go, to come
, hapa, to be wrong
, wānanga, rūnangato discuss
, tahungapriest
, maikukufinger nail
i, konohi, mata, whatu, kamo, karueye, face
Entire Maori sentences can be written with vowels only.
E uu aau?
Are yours firm?
I uaa ai.
It rained as usual.
I ui au ‘i auau aau?’
E uaua!
It will be difficult/hard/heavy!
On the plus side, the pronunciation is simple, and there is no gender. The language is as regular as Japanese. No Polynesian language has more than 16 sounds, and they all lack tones. They all have five vowels, which can be either long or short. A consonant must be followed by a vowel, so there are no consonant clusters. All consonants are easy to pronounce.
Maori gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.


Hawaiian is a pretty easy language to learn. It is easy to pronounce, has a simple alphabet, lacks complex morphology and has a fairly simple syntax.
Hawaiian gets a 2 rating, very easy to learn.

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0 thoughts on “A Look at the Hawaiian and Maori Languages”

  1. Hi Robert,
    I’m no linguist, only with passable command of English and Malay. However, I can’t help noticing some similarities in pronunciation (and spelling) to Malay (in brackets below) of some of the Maori words you listed here, e.g.:
    wai – water (air, ai)
    pai, maitai – good (baik)
    mātika – to stand (merdeka – ‘independent’)
    mau, mou – to hold (mahu – ‘desire’, ‘to possess’)
    ika – fish (ikan)
    kāwei, kāwai – line (dawai – ‘line’, ‘wire’)
    ori, kori, keukeu, koukou, neke, nuku – to move (alih – ‘to move’)
    matikuku, maikuku – finger nail (kuku – ‘finger/toe nail’)
    kanohi, konohi, mata, whatu, kamo, karu – eye, face (mata – eye)
    mate – die (mati – ‘die’)
    I suppose these similarities are because Malay belongs to the same language family as Maori/Polynesian i.e. Malayo-Polynesian group?
    Appreciate your comment.

  2. I think a more or less standard Maori language has been developed. The average foreign language learner, especially if outside New Zealand will be exposed more to the modern standard. Maori is also more difficult in stress of the words. Almost all Polynesian languages have the stress on the penultimate syllable or on the ultimate if it is a diphthong, but Maori can have stress on the antipenultimate syllable and many speakers don’t stress the ultimate even if it has a diphthong. This can get confusing. Hawaiian on the other hand is more or less a reconstructed language, and it may be easier to learn. Both of these Polynesian languages have bodies that constantly improve them and are constantly making new words for modern concepts. Other languages like Samoan have more and more obvious loanwords. I want to learn a Polynesian language but I don’t know which to choose.

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