Moriori language

Moriori is a Polynesian language most closely related to New Zealand Māori and was spoken by the Moriori, the indigenous people of New Zealand's Chatham Islands (Rēkohu in Moriori), an archipelago located east of the South Island.

Native toNew Zealand
Extinct1898, with the death of Hirawanu Tapu[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3


The Chatham Islands' first European contact was with William R. Broughton of Great Britain who landed on 29 November 1791 and claimed the islands which he named after his ship, HMS Chatham. Broughton's crewmen intermarried with the women of Moriori.

The genocide of the Moriori people by Maori invaders occurred during the autumn of 1835. Of those who survived, some were kept as slaves, and some were subsequently eaten. The Moriori were not permitted to marry other Moriori or have children with them, which caused their survival and that of their language to be endangered.[2] The impact on the Moriori population, culture, and language was so severe that by 1862 only 101 Moriori remained alive,[3] and by the 1870s few spoke the language.[4]

The three principal documents on which knowledge of the Moriori language is now based are a manuscript petition written in 1862 by a group of surviving Moriori elders to Governor George Grey, a vocabulary of Moriori words collected by Samuel Deighton, Resident Magistrate from 1873 to 1891, published in 1887, and a collection of Moriori texts made by Alexander Shand and published in 1911.[5]

The death of the Moriori language went unrecorded,[5] but Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Baucke (1848–1931) was the last man who could speak it.[6]

Samuel Deighton’s vocabulary of Moriori words was republished as an appendix of Michael King's Moriori: A People Rediscovered (1989).

The language was reconstructed for Barry Barclay's 2000 film documentary The Feathers of Peace,[7] in a recreation of Moriori contact with Pākehā and Māori.

In 2001, as part of a cultural revival movement, Moriori people began attempts to revive the language, and compiled a database of Moriori words.[8] There is a POLLEX (Polynesian Lexicon Project Online) database of Moriori words as well.[9] A language app is available for Android devices.[10]

The 2006 New Zealand census showed 945 people choosing to include "Moriori" amongst their tribal affiliations, compared to 35 people in the 1901 census.[11]


  • a - [a]
  • e - [ɛ]
  • i - [i]
  • o - [ɔ]
  • u - [u]
  • ā - [aː]
  • ē - [ɛː]
  • ī - [iː]
  • ō - [ɔː]
  • ū - [uː]
  • p - [p]
  • t - [t]
  • k - [k]
  • m - [m]
  • n - [n]
  • ng - [ŋ]
  • wh - [ɸ]
  • h - [h]
  • w - [w]
  • r - [r][12]

Comparison with Maori

The word a in Moriori corresponds to e in Māori, ka for ki, eriki for ariki (lord, chief), reimata for roimata (tear), wihine for wahine (woman), and more.[13] Sometimes a vowel is dropped before a consonant such as na (ena), ha (aha) and after a consonant like rangat (rangata), nawen (nawene), hok (hoki), or (oro), and mot (motu), thus leaving a closed syllable. In this regard, it is similar to the Southern dialects of Māori, in which apocope is occasionally found. A vowel is also sometimes dropped after a vowel in the case the preceding vowel is lengthened and sometimes before a vowel, where the remaining vowel is lengthened.[14] The consonants [k], [h], and [t] can sometimes be aspirated and palatalised, such as Motchuhar instead of Motuhara.


  1. "Hirawanu Tapu Peace Scholarship" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 January 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  2. "The Genocide". Moriori Genocide. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  3. Denise Davis & Māui Solomon (28 October 2008). "Moriori: The impact of new arrivals". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  4. King, Michael (1989). Moriori: A People Rediscovered. Auckland: Viking. p. 136.
  5. Ross Clark, "Moriori: language death (New Zealand)" in Stephen A. Wurm, Peter Mühlhäusler, Darrell T. Tryon, Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas vol. I (2011), pp. 173–175: "The death of the Moriori language was not documented in any detail..."
  6. Michael King, Moriori: A People Rediscovered (2017), p. 120: "Baucke was eventually the last man alive to know the Moriori language."
  7. "The Feathers of Peace". New Zealand Film Commission. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  8. Denise Davis & Māui Solomon (28 October 2008). "Moriori: The second dawn". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  9. Greenhill, SJ; Clark, R (2011). "POLLEX-Online: The Polynesian Lexicon Project Online". Oceanic Linguistics. 50 (2): 551–559. doi:10.1353/ol.2011.0014. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  10. Hokotehi Moriori Trust (1 March 2021). "Ta Rē Moriori Language App Launched" (Press release).
  11. Denise Davis & Māui Solomon (28 October 2008). "Moriori: Facts and figures". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  12. "Moriori language, alphabet, and pronunciation". Omniglot. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  13. Simon Ager. "Moriori Alphabet". Omniglot. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  14. Taiuru, Karaitiana (2016). "Word list and analysis of te reo Moriori" (PDF). Retrieved 18 October 2018.

Further reading

  • Clark, R. (1994). "Moriori and Maori: The Linguistic Evidence". In Sutton, D. (ed) The origins of the First New Zealanders. Auckland: Auckland University Press. pp. 123–135.
  • Galbraith, Sarah. A Grammar of the Moriori language.
  • Richards, Rhys (2018), Moriori: Origins, Lifestyles and Language, Paremata Press
  • Taiuru, K.N. (2016). Word list and analysis of te reo Moriori.