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Pronouns, the versatile words used to substitute nouns in various circumstances, are extremely important to the Maori language. Just as in English, they are often used to replace a person or group of people's names, refer to a previously mentioned topic, or indicate relationships between the speaker and those to whom are spoken. These similarities make Maori and English pronouns at least parallel on the surface, however lying beneath are many key differences. Maori pronouns, like many other elements of the language, place much of the information supplied by context in English into rigid structure, and much information inherently defined in English into contextual base. The shifting focuses reflect important deeper aspects of the language, such as its word order and ergativity.

The Root of a Personal Pronoun

Before even getting into the pronouns themselves, it's absolutely essential to understand the concept of ergative relationships that are reflective in every single pronoun in the language. Unlike English, the Maori language is less focused on Subject-Object relationships than Agent-Patient relationships. This is shown through sentence order, wide use of passive verbs, diverse and specific particles marking agent of action, and the mutation of pronouns.

Any pronoun which is not the agent of a sentence, the object performing an intransitive action, will possess a root vowel of either 'a' or 'o'. In circumstances when the pronoun is being used in a construction such as 'for me', 'to me', 'belonging to me', or 'my', the pronoun will be modified depending on whether the focus object is capable of performing an action or not. Objects capable of performing actions include humans, animals, spirits, etc, but they do not necessarily have to be animate. For example, the Maori word pukapuka (book), is also considered an object capable of action in all circumstances. But, counterfactually, what one might consider just as active an object, tao (spear), is not. In general, 'a' pronouns are used when speaking of transitive actions, movable instruments/properties, food, and animate objects. 'O' pronouns are used when speaking of intransitive actions, qualities, feelings, objects, inhabitants, water, and intimate/demeaned animate objects (for example, you'd use 'o' pronouns with your parents and lover, not with your teacher. It's like the tu versus vous distinction in French or du/Sie distinction in German).

That said, all objects capable of performing actions will cause pronouns in the sentence to take an 'a' root vowel when they are topic. Likewise, inanimate objects (or people/animals being insulted/demeaned) will take an 'o' root vowel. It's important to recognize here that the hinge noun does not need to be the subject of the sentence. It simply needs to be in some way relational to the pronoun. Here are some examples with the Maori, gloss, and translation to better explain this somewhat difficult concept.

Maku enei pukapuka pai? - For.me these books good? - Are these good books for me?

Moku tenei waka pai? - For.me this canoe good? - Is this good canoe for me?

As you can see, the pronoun representing 'for me' changes its root vowel when the action-capable object pukapuka is replaced with the action-incapable object waka. Important to see here is that there is absolutely no verb for 'to be' in Maori, nor for 'to have'. All such relationships are reflected in pronouns or prepositions, which possess much greater flexibility of inflection than English pronouns and prepositions. Another example.

I homai mana te kuri. - (past) Give.me belonging.to.him the dog - You gave me the dog belonging to him.

I homai mona nga kakahu. - (past) Give.me belonging.to.him the clothes. - You gave me the clothes belonging to him.

Here is illustrated the principle of mutation no matter what the actual subject of the sentence. Though in an English interpretation, 'you' is the acting subject since it's being declared as having done an action, kuri and kakahu are the actual topics and as such exert the most power of the sentence. So even though an animate person is the actor, kakahu in the second sentence morphs the pronoun into its 'o' form. From here on all pronouns will be supplied in both their 'a' and 'o' forms.

Plural and Inclusion/Exclusion in the Personal Pronoun

Another bit of information readily apparent in Maori pronouns that's merely supplied by context in English is the nature of plural and inclusion-exclusion. As common to Austronesian languages, Maori makes the distinction between three numbers: singular, dual, and plural. Dual refers to pairs of two (you and I, he and she, those two, you two), while plural refers to three or more. In dual and plural forms of the first person, it also distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive, whether the speaker includes the person to whom is spoken among the 'we'. The exclusive is a bit like saying in English, "Well, I don't know about you, but weeeee are going to blah blah blah," it makes implicit that whomever you are speaking to is not included in the action.

Gender distinctions in the Personal Pronoun

Maori nouns contain no reference to gender unless implicit in the meaning, and the pronouns likewise have no set gender. 'Ia' can mean he, she, or it depending on context. Information about the inanimacy of the object (shown in English through the use of the pronoun 'it') is instead indicated through the method detailed above.

Personal Pronoun Cases

The absolutive is the case used to mark the subject of an intrasitive sentence, the object of a transitive sentence with the particle ko, and the agent of a passive transitive sentence with the particle e, as well as with all prepositions. In this special circumstance, there is no 'a'/'o' form to worry about.

1st person| ahau
2nd person| koe
3rd person| ia
relative  | wai

           Inclusive | Exclusive
1st person| taua     | maua
2nd person| ---      | korua
3rd person| ---      | raua

            Inclusive | Exclusive
1st person| tatou     | matou
2nd person| ---       | koutou
3rd person| ---       | ratou

Active Possessive
The active possessive in Maori is best translated as 'is belonging to' or 'belongs to'. It indicates a state of current, continuing, strong possession, an 'active' kind. Thus, it is not really equivalent to the English possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, etc). The pronoun 'mine', as in 'the book is mine', gets a little closer (the Maori equivalent is Naku te pukapuka). These do have 'a'/'o' forms, so watch for them!

1st person| naku/noku
2nd person| nau/nou
3rd person| nana/nona
relative  | na wai/no wai

           Inclusive         | Exclusive
1st person| na taua/no taua  | na maua/no maua
2nd person| ---              | na korua/no korua
3rd person| ---              | na raua/no raua

            Inclusive        | Exclusive
1st person| na tatou/no tatou| na matou/no matou
2nd person| ---              | na koutou/no koutou
3rd person| ---              | na ratou/no ratou

This is more familiar, a direct equivalent of the English my, your, his, her, etc. Only qualification is that when it follows the noun it describes (unlike the genitive of regular nouns, which can only follow the noun they modify, the pronoun genitive can come before or after), a better approximate is of me, of you, of him, of her, etc.

1st person| taku/toku
2nd person| tau/tou
3rd person| tana/tona
relative  | ta wai/to wai

           Inclusive         | Exclusive
1st person| ta taua/to taua  | ta maua/to maua
2nd person| ---              | ta korua/to korua
3rd person| ---              | ta raua/to raua

            Inclusive        | Exclusive
1st person| ta tatou/to tatou| ta matou/to matou
2nd person| ---              | ta koutou/to koutou
3rd person| ---              | ta ratou/to ratou

This is best always translated as for me, for you, for him, for her, etc. The other meaning associated with dative, 'to', is represented by different prepositions (there are a bunch of them) modifying the absolutive.

1st person| maku/moku
2nd person| mau/mou
3rd person| mana/mona
relative  | ma wai/mo wai

           Inclusive         | Exclusive
1st person| ma taua/mo taua  | ma maua/mo maua
2nd person| ---              | ma korua/mo korua
3rd person| ---              | ma raua/mo raua

            Inclusive        | Exclusive
1st person| ma tatou/mo tatou| ma matou/mo matou
2nd person| ---              | ma koutou/mo koutou
3rd person| ---              | ma ratou/mo ratou

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