The Legal Māori Dictionary

Te Kaupapa Reo-a-Ture Papakupu – He Tauira He kōrero

The Legal Māori Project has been funded to produce the Legal Māori Dictionary by the end of March 2012. This dictionary will contain up to 2,500 headwords that form the basis of legal Māori terminology. The majority of these terms will be legal Māori terms, that is:

A legal Māori term is a word or phrase that has at least one meaning where that meaning that is closely related to Western legal concepts.

Some of the words and phrases included in the dictionary will constitute more general terms that feature frequently in legal Māori language texts, but are not necessarily legal terms in their own right.

As one step on the way to completing that challenging final output we have piloted each phase of the Legal Māori Project. On this page we present the end product of the pilot procedures; a substantial but limited sample of the forthcoming dictionary. This sample includes 110 entries with 155 senses. We provide some information to enable you to be able to read the sample dictionary effectively. We are, as always, interested in your feedback. Please feel free to contact us here at the Project (address) to let us know your thoughts on the sample.


In 2008-2009 we carried out a pilot project to test out our processes, procedures and identification of legal Māori terminology. To pilot our identification processes we created three small pilot outputs:

  • A small Pilot Corpus consisting of a very small number of selected texts from the texts gathered for the main corpus:

    a. Māori language speeches recorded in Ngā Kōrero Paremete from 1902 to 1903; and

    b. Māori language speeches recorded in Hansard between 2006 and 2008

These texts met the criteria of being legal Maori texts. These pilot texts were comparable in type, and separated by roughly a century. These texts were marked up to exclude all proper names and non-Maori words from analysis.

  • From this small corpus we identified a list of terms (the Pilot Lexicon) that met the criteria of being identifiably legal Maori terminology. This pilot lexicon was intended to help us to determine if we were able to accurately and consistently identify legal Maori terminology.
  • From this Pilot Lexicon we created a pilot, or sample, dictionary. To complete this stage we have taken the terms from the Pilot Lexicon and tested how those terms feature within the corpus texts that had, by that stage, been digitised. We spent some time identifying the extent of the legal meanings of the terms from the pilot lexicon as they now appeared in the larger corpus. We also have crafted dictionary entries based on usage examples derived not only from the pilot corpus, but also from the complete Legal Māori Corpus of just on 8 million words of running text.

Pilot Dictionarypdf204KB

Limitations of the sample dictionary

This sample dictionary is not intended to be a perfect and finalised product. Rather, it has been a tool for us to test our processes for designing the final Legal Māori Dictionary. The entries in the sample may well change by the time they are included in the final dictionary.

This sample does, however, provide you with an idea of what final product maywell look like. A number of the entries include substantial references to customary concepts that are more fully explored in Te Mātāpunenga, a Compendium of References to the Terms and Concepts of Māori Customary Law. This compendium has not yet been published by the Mātāhauariki Institute of Waikato University, and the Legal Māori Project gratefully acknowledges the support of members of the Institute in allowing us to utilise and refer to their work in our own. It is our view, based on our past two years of work, that Māori customary legal ideas form the core of the legal Māori terminology that has developed over the past 182 years and more. It is for this reason that entries that allude to such customary ideas are formatted slightly differently to other entries (with a shaded text box, for example).

Please also note that we do not include definitions of legal terms. To do so would require more time and funding than we have available to us. Each dictionary entry contains the following major elements:

  1. the Māori term (headword).
  2. an indication of whether the headword is found only in historical or contemporary texts, or is obsolete or customary.
  3. A brief reference to Te Matapunenga and explanation of the customary concept, where relevant.
  4. An English language translation (gloss) of the headword
  5. information on whether the term features as a noun, verb, or adjective/modifier.
  6. Passive endings as well as nominalisations
  7. Different senses in which the same headword is used to denote related but separate legal meanings.
  8. Phrasal variants that are also found, whereby the term is used in particular phrases that are fixed in form and have specific legal meaning
  9. A Māori language usage example to show how the headword can appear in written texts. All usage examples are taken from texts within the Legal Māori Corpus
  10. A reference to the source text.
Please note that the sample dictionary and the Legal Māori Lexicon (now publicly available) are different products. The Lexicon is a wordlist, with the Māori term and its English language gloss. The sample dictionary provides far more information and context to enable you to make a decision as to whether you will use a given term or not.

Heoi anō, ka nui a mātou mihi ki a koe..

Te Kaupapa Reo-a-Ture