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Digital Maori dictionary enhancements revitalise te reo learning

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As part of efforts to preserve and promote the indigenous Māori language, the Te Aka Māori Dictionary app has expanded and technically upgraded to reach budding omniglots.

The Te Murumāra Foundation partnered with IT and digital company, Dynamo6 on the improvements designed to allow greater reach and engagement with the app, in turn uplifting the domestic and international adoption of te reo Māori.

Available in time for Māori Language Week - 13 to 19 o Mahuru (September) - the upgrades feature audio clips pronouncing 24,000 words in te reo Māori, and the ability to filter results by idioms, phrases, proverbs and loan words and save definitions to a favourites list.

Te Murumāra Foundation’s Peter Moorfield is the son of the dictionary's late founder, Professor John C. Moorfield also known as 'Te Murumāra'. Peter carries his father’s mantle of enriching the everyday use of Aotearoa’s native language, this time, in the form of user-friendly digital technology.

"The Te Aka Māori Dictionary is the authoritative resource for accurate Māori definitions. It forms part of the well-known Te Whanake language resources led by Te Murumāra Foundation and usage of the app and support of our foundation helps to preserve the language, an effort that will be getting well-deserved attention during the nation’s annual Māori Language Week," says Peter Moorfield.

The app has been rebuilt to allow for faster online searches that can translate English to Māori and vice versa, and has been redeveloped to now offer iOS and Android users the same seamless experience. The upgrade also includes significant design updates introducing the new Te Aka branding of the Te Murumāra Foundation.

Within a week of being updated in the app store in early August, the app was trending as #2 in the paid-for app category. To date, the app has received over 25,000 installs with an average 170,000 searches each day.

"Language is a way people connect to the world around them, it’s a way to understand and communicate history and culture," said Peter Moorfield, of the Te Muramāra Foundation. Peter further added, "The Te Muramāra Foundation has revitalised the app to ensure there is an authoritative Māori to English language resource available for all. The new app also continues and extends an important project to my father, the Te Whanake language resources."

The ability to search for kupu (words) is an important part of learning, speaking and writing in te reo Māori. Results from the 2018’s Te Kupenga (Māori wellbeing survey) conducted by Stats NZ - Tatauranga Aotearoa showed that about 1 in 6 Māori adults can speak in te reo Māori and about 30% can understand the language. Fluency rates among non-Māori are around 1%.

Founder and Executive Director of Dynamo6, Igor Matich, says it’s been a privilege to lend the company’s digital capability to Te Murumāra Foundation. "Delivering an important app upgrade that helps ensure that te reo can be shared with the next generation and budding linguists across the world."

The Te Aka Māori Dictionary also powers many other apps and translations through APIs. Some are highly recognisable such as the Kupu app and Māori television. The Te Aka Māori Dictionary even helps with some translations for the Oxford University Press.

Matich added, "The cloud-based hosting we’ve implemented for the Māori Dictionary means that during peak periods, such as Māori Language Week, the app and website can keep up with demand and support the connecting of people to a language and culture."

The app contains over 24,000 Māori word entries - to date the top five searched words are: ngā mihi (acknowledgements), whānau (extended family), Māori (indigenous person of Aotearoa), Mōrena (good morning), and motu (island, country, land, nation). The app and online dictionary also feature images of important people and ancestors, as well as photos of Aotearoa’s native flora and fauna.

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