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Kiwi, Māori or Pākehā?


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Waka-jumping and Kumara-vines - what happens to some borrowings once they enter New Zealand English?

As new words are welcomed into any language (be they newly formed words from existing word forms or newly adopted borrowings), we can start to look for indicators that they are becoming more 'at home' in their new environment. One such indicator could be the formation of compound forms (for languages that have them - not every language does, though many do), that is, the grouping of several words into a single unit, such that, together, they behave more like a single word than like a phrase.

Compounds are important because they signal the inter-linking of concepts with one another. Like branches of a tree growing in each other's presence, words being used in each other's presence can (though do not have to) become inter-linked in compound forms. Examples from English include greenhouse, blackbird, bus stop, hard-case and blue bottle (the meaning of the compound can be transparent of the words which give rise to it, like with "blackbird", which is a bird that tends to be black, but they don't have to, like in "bluebottle", which is neither blue, nor a bottle). So can we see any evidence of Māori loanwords being used as part of (new) compounds in New Zealand English?

Indeed, this is the case here. A recent study shows that some Māori borrowings are actively used as part of new compounds, the most frequent being Māori, Kiwi, Iwi, Pākehā. The table below (from Degani & Onysko 2010, page 220) shows some examples:

Figure: Most frequent compounds with Māori, Kiwi, Iwi, Pākehā

It might be tempting to think that frequently-used borrowings will be more likely to show up in novel compounds, but it turns out frequency is not the whole story. Just being frequently-occurring does not necessarily lead to compounding, for example, words like aroha and tangata are never used in compounds despite being frequent. Some frequent words occur in compounds a lot of the time, manuka is used roughly 60% of the time as a compound (manuka honey, manuka tree, manuka bush, manuka plant, manuka scrub, manuka flower), while others are not, mana is frequent as a single lexical item but rare in a compound (less than 3% of the time). And the converse is also true, some borrowings which are not that frequent still enter into compounds, for instance, kotahitanga or poi.

Hybrid compounds in New Zealand English reflect the combining of both English and Māori resources into new ways for the purpose of describing the world, by making reference to a shared cultural ground. One such example is waka-jumper which is derived from the Māori word waka meaning "canoe" (a culturally important element in Te Reo Māori), and the English word jumper which in this case alludes to a person who lacks commitment or is not fixed in some way (as used in expressions such as to jump ship) to make a new hybrid form referring to a person who is (figuratively) described as being liable to change political affiliations. The blending of the two cultures and discourses is reflected in the history of the word forms and the connotations that these bring with them.

Source: Degani, M. & Onysko, A. (2010). Hybrid compounding in New Zealand English. World Englishes 29(2):209-233.

Maintained by Andreea S. Calude (University of Waikato, NZ).