Push your bikes

When I was studying high school French I remember my teacher stressing a key difference between English and French concepts of possessive pronouns. It was a long time ago so hopefully I’ve remembered this right; apologies French speakers for any errors.

In English we say

The children pushed their bikes to school.

In French they say

The children pushed their bike to school.

From an English perspective, there are multiple bikes so it must be plural. From a French perspective, each child pushes only one bike, not multiple bikes, so it must be singular. And no, I don’t know why they’re pushing bikes instead of riding them.

Whenever I asked a te reo teacher what the Māori equivalent was, I got a bunch of blank looks. Most of the time I hear phrasing just like the English usage, which I’m 99% sure is a modern ‘translation’.

Ka pana ngā tamariki i ō rātou pahikara ki te kura.
The children pushed their bikes to school.

But this sentence isn’t very accurate – it says that there are several children (ngā) and multiple bikes (ō not ) which they collectively own (ō rātou). A bit of a shame considering how many different possessive pronouns we have to choose from in te reo.

However, I think I’ve finally realised the best way to express this in Māori

Ka pana ngā tamariki i tōna pahikara, i tōna pahikara ki te kura.
The children pushed his/her own bike to school.

Firstly, it’s tōna because each singular bike is individually owned. Secondly, the reduplication shows that there were identical, multiple actions and they were done individually, not collectively.

This might not seem like a big deal at first – sometimes it isn’t. You might say:

Tamariki mā, makaia ō koutou kākahu ki te pūrere
Kids, put your clothes in the machine

It doesn’t matter to you if each child does their own or if they pick up one another’s, just as long as they all end up in the machine. But other times it makes a world of difference.

Kua tukuna rātou ki tōna rūma, ki tōna rūma.
They have been sent to his or her own room.

Kua tukuna rātou ki ō rātou rūma.
They have been sent to their multiple rooms (which they all share).

It sounds like the kids have a wing of the house!

There are lots of examples of reduplication like this being used in poetical language; it’s just taken me a long time to realise that this ‘poetical’ language was actually very pedestrian to our tūpuna. It’s clear, accurate and logical – we just need to shake off the English concepts and phrasing that we’re used to.

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