Maori culture - Eastland  Tourism Eastland

New Zealand Language

Like most former British colonies, New Zealanders speak English – albeit with a uniquely kiwi twist.  Here is a guide to New Zealand's three official languages, and a short dictionary of Kiwi slang to help you through your NZ holiday.

New Zealand actually has three official languages – Maori, English and Sign Language.

Although the use of Maori as a first language is not widespread, many place names are Maori in origin (try tongue-twisters such as Paekakariki, Turangawaewae or Ngaruawahia!). In addition, most government agencies have bilingual names. 

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) became an official language of New Zealand in April 2006. More information on New Zealand Sign Language can be found on the New Zealand Deaf Association website.

English is, in itself, a unique language full of many colloquialisms foreigners may find challenging to decipher.

So, if you don’t know how to rattle your dags, no worries mate – she’ll be right with our Kiwi slang guide! 

Guide to Kiwi Slang

Some common Kiwi colloquialisms you may encounter on your visit:

bach holiday home   mate buddy, friend
brassed off annoyed   no worries no need to worry
bro brother, friend   pakeha non-Maori New Zealander
choice very good   rattle your dags hurry up
chur thanks, cool, sweet   she’ll be right not a problem
crikey wow!   stubby small bottle of beer
crook unwell   stuffed really tired
cuppa cup of tea, coffee   suss to figure out
dairy corner store   sweet something that is awesome, good, cool
dunny toilet   sweet as Something is good, everything is OK
fizzy drink soda pop   ta thanks
flash looking good   tata goodbye
good on ya, mate! well done   take-aways fast food
good as gold affirmative answer   take a hike go away!
hard yakka hard work   tea dinner
hunky dory everything’s fine   tiki tour scenic tour, roundabout way
jandal thongs, flip-flops   tramping hiking
jersey sweater   tomato sauce ketchup
lift elevator   wellies gumboots
lolly candy   wop-wops out of the way location
loo toilet   yonks forever
Maori Language

Many Maori words have been absorbed into day-to-day use, and are commonly used in conversation.

Aotearoa New Zealand: “Land of the Long White Cloud”   Tangata Whenua Original people, people belonging to the land
Aroha Love, compassion   Tangi Funeral, mourn
E noho ra Goodbye (from person leaving)   Taonga Treasured possession, anything precious
E haere ra Goodbye (from person staying)   Tapu Sacred, not to be touched
Haere mai Welcome!   Tena koe Formal greeting to one person
Haka War dance, challenge   Tena koutou Formal greeting to many people
Hapu Clan, sub-tribe   Tena tatou katoa Formal inclusive greeting to everyone
Hui Gathering, meeting   Turangawaewae A place to stand, home
Iwi People, tribe   Wahine Woman
Kaumatua Elders   Waiata Song
Kia Ora Hi!   Waka Canoe
Mana Authority, power   Whakapapa Genealogy
Marae Meeting house complex   Whanau Extended family
Pakeha Non-Maori, European   Whare nui Meeting house
Pounamu Greenstone, Jade   Whare Whakairo Carved meeting house
Tamariki Children   Whenua Land, homeland, country
Tane Man      
Maori Pronunciation

Maori language has five vowels: a e i o u

  • a' as in ‘far’
  • e’ as in ‘egg’
  • 'i' like the ‘ee’ in ‘fee’
  • 'o' sounds like "or" 
  • u' like an ‘o’ in ‘to’

The consonent ‘wh’ sounds similar to the english ‘f’.

The ‘ng’ sound is similar to the ‘ng’ sound in a word like ‘sing’.

 Cold Water Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park.  Nelson Tasman Tourism

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