The New Maori script is a creation of Ian James. It is an alternative to
the Roman alphabet normally used for the otherwise script-less Maaori
language of New Zealand.
Part of the aim was to suggest a ‘formal’ or ‘sacred’ alphabet for
the recording of special poems and songs, while maintaining a local
aesthetic in the visual form. In the case of Maori – unlike some
languages given it by missionaries – the Roman system is quite effective.
So New Maori does not offer benefits of efficiency, simply those of
- The language is strictly syllabic, each syllable being of
the form consonant + vowel(s).
- The number of consonants is small (11), but combinations of
the 5 primary vowels are common.
- The script is based on key motifs found in traditional surface
decoration and sculpture, things for which Maori artists are renowned.
- Vowels are attached to the consonant, and combinations of vowels
form a continuous sprouting pattern, moving to the right.
- The writing system is phonetically consistent.
- Ideally, a complete song or verse would be written as a single
long band, perhaps to decorate a wall. The punctuation marks might
then be in red.
Used to write
New Maori alphabet
The consonants have a bold, almost solid form, with curling motifs
present in both positive and negative space. The solidity reflects the
consonantal effect, and the form itself can represent the mouth or origin
of the syllable. It may be noted that similar forms can be found in the
traditional chin tatoos of men and women. For words which in Roman form
begin with vowels, the glottal plosive is presumed to be the functioning
consonant. The consonants are listed here with the international phonetic
symbol and the usual romanization:
The vowels are lighter in form, and are based on the common motif
called koru (representing a young fern frond), and combinations of
vowels form a sprouting or branching effect similar to that found in
the family of designs called kowhaiwhai. They may also be seen as airy
wisps of sound swirling from the mouth.
There are 2 connection points and 2 forms of each primary vowel
to allow appropriate connection. Except for long /e/, the long vowels
have a small version of the main vowel tucked within. The forms are
either upward or downward, in-curling or out-curling. Diphthongs and
triphthongs are pronounced quite simply as sequences of 2 or 3 primary
vowels. Vowels are given below with the glottal plosive (ie. in initial
Some examples of vowel combination:
Because of the similarity of the vowels to some traditional design patterns,
elements of the latter may now appear to be spelling out continuous song!
- Pookarekare ana ngaa wai o Waiapu;
whiti atu koe hine marino ana e.
E hine e hoki mai ra;
ka mate ahau i te aroha e.
A famous love song, first verse and chorus
- Haere mai raa
te aahuatanga i oo taatou mate tuatini,
e haere mai.
A ceremonial greeting to spirits, sung by women
- They are agitated, the waters of Waiapu;
but when you cross over, girl, they will be calm.
Oh girl, return to me;
I could die of love for you.
to the representatives of our many dead,