Storytime

Over the past year or so, I’ve developed a much deeper understanding of A and O possessive categories (which I won’t go into because it’s in every single introductory learn-to-speak-Māori book). Although it’s something I was taught in the first few months of learning te reo, it’s taken this long to really appreciate it’s subtleties. This is the latest of my little victories – where I read something and instantly understood why it’s ō or ā.

In Pei Te Hurinui Jones’ book Ngā Iwi o Tainui, there is this little sentence.

Ko Tutemahurangi he rangatira maha ōna kōrero.

Why ōna? If those charts showing ‘A’ and ‘O’ categories are to be believed, kōrero is an action so it should be in the ‘A’ group, right?

Ko Tutemahurangi he rangatira maha āna kōrero.

Can you tell the difference?

One of the differences between ‘A’ and ‘O’ groups is control; ‘ā’ is used for all your actions and for anything that you make or are in control of, and ‘ō’ is used for things greater than yourself (like your family) or things you depend on (like your house). Linguists refer to the two groups as ‘alienable’ and ‘inalienable’.

Ko Tutemahurangi he rangatira maha ōna kōrero.
Tutemahurangi is a chief who has lots of stories (told about him).

Ko Tutemahurangi he rangatira maha āna kōrero.
Tutemahurangi is a chief who has lots of stories (which he tells).

In the first example, Tutemahurangi is the subject of the stories. He might be the hero of the exploits within them but he doesn’t control the story itself so it has to be ōna. In the second example, the āna shows that he is the agent of the stories, he’s in control and is either the writer or teller of them.

If you still don’t understand, just think back to those whakapapa charts with the kuia and koroua at the top and mokopuna at the bottom.

Hera
|
Piripi
|
Marama

Ko Piripi te tama a Hera
Ko Piripi te pāpā o Marama

Now look at this; the storyteller is bigger than the story, and the story is bigger than the characters. Just like with the whakapapa chart, you’d say:

Aesop
|
THE STORY
|
the tortoise and the hare

te pakiwaitara a Aesop
te pakiwaitara o te honu me te hea

The main thing to remember is that nothing is strictly defined to either the ‘A’ or ‘O’ group, it’s always relative.

Tāne Mahuta
|
forest
|
people

te waonui a Tāne
te ngahere o Ngāti Tūwharetoa

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