Te Reo Māori translator: Interview with Ian Cormack Part 3

Te Reo Māori translator

Work as translator and editor

In 2004, Ian was still editing reports for ERO, but was also working informally as translator. Later that same year, he passed the Māori Language Comission’s exam and became a licensed Te Reo Māori translator and interpreter.

He works as a translator and editor. Since there were so few Māori translators, he knew who had done the translation after reading the first few paragraphs by looking at the vocabulary, phraseology, etc. Although quite a few people do have the license, not many work as professional Māori translators/interpreters. There seems to be no shortage of work, but like with everything in the translation business, it takes a while to get into it and establish oneself.

Te Reo Māori is an official language in New Zealand which means that international corporations do translate their materials into Māori. Ian mainly works in localisation and has worked on the translation of Windows 7 to 10, for example. He usually gets approached by two to three companies a week with translation or editing requests. Here in New Zealand, he edits the Māori versions of NCEA papers, for example. The company’s co-director, Shirley, is doing the invoicing for the various companies that use Ian’s services in New Zealand and offshore.

As to the uptake of his localised translations in New Zealand, Ian is not entirely sure, but remains optimistic. At the same time, he assumes that some of the texts that are translated into Māori might never be used or read again. But in any case, they are there for future research.


Demand for Te Reo Māori translations

There is still great demand for Māori translators, but it takes a while to build up a network. There are translators who are not Māori, but they have built up respect amongst the Māori. A Māori translator needs some community credibility and that takes time. Ian’s journey began in 1971 and in 2004, he became an approved Māori translator and interpreter. It was a very difficult set of exams and less than a quarter of those who sat passed in that year.

Creating new words in Te Reo Māori

In the past, transliteration was used. Nowadays, new terms are built based on existing roots. The authority to accept new terms would be the Māori Language Commission, but translators tend to create new words among themselves, share them and then have them widely accepted. Ian tells me that those newly coined terms would be understood without footnotes or further explanations – depending on how they were created.


Atapaki for Snapchat (from ata = image and paki which is short for matapaki = to have a discussion)

Haumāota for chlorine (from hau = gas and māota = bluegreen; based on the Greek root chloros meaning bluegreen)

As can be seen in the second example, it is useful to know other languages, but it is not necessary to create new terms.

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