In theory

I notice that some first-language speakers of te reo use the word whakapae in a completely different way than I understood it. I’d always though of it as a negative word to mean things like accuse, allege, blame, criticise and imply.

E whakapae ana koe he tāhae ahau?
Are you accusing me of being a thief?

However every time that I heard it in practice, it was used in a positive or neutral way. Amongst all of the negative definitions I found, there are a couple that are fairly neutral i.e. hypothesis and thesis.

Ka takoto tana whakapae ki te karaehe.
Her theory was put forward to the class.

This aligns fairly well with a couple of phrases I heard when whakapae was being used like suggest or idea.

He whakapae noa iho tēnei kia haere tahi tātou.
I have a suggestion that we all go together.

While those definitions are close, it’s not quite the same as how I hear whakapae being used most of the time. It’s similar to whakaaro to think or believe and occasionally like the word agree.

Kei te whakapae au he tangata hūmārie ia.
I think that she’s a humble person.

E whakapae ana au ki tana kōrero.
I agree with what he said.

So this is my theory: it doesn’t mean to think, but to put forward what you think. When a thought is still in your head it’s a whakaaro, but when you state that belief, opinion or idea out loud then it’s whakapae – almost every time I heard it was a prelude to a statement about something they believed to be true.

You’d think that would lessen the surety of the statement – in English “you’re wrong” is more forceful than “I believe that you’re wrong” – but it doesn’t. Often they’re expressing certainty about something while keeping up a polite pretense that it’s just an opinion; watch out if you’re fool enough to actually challenge them.

Ko taku whakapae nō konei kē te mōteatea.
I’m certain that the song is actually from here.

He whakapae anō ko Ruihi te toa.
Ruihi is definitely the winner.

Which ties in nicely with the earlier definitions like accuse; you’d want to be pretty certain about somebody’s guilt before you start pointing the finger at them.


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