Creating a Written Language
The unwritten Polynesian language was reduced to writing by early missionaries in various island groups during the first half of the nineteenth century, with the Polynesian sounds represented by English letters. Earliest records of the Maori language can be found in the Journals of Cook, who visited New Zealand in 1769. But the first worth-while effort at a vocabulary and grammar was made and published in 1815 by the missionary Kendall. In 1820 the first step towards a dictionary of the Maori language was taken when the vocabulary of 100 pages was published by the Church Missionary Society with the Grammar. Probably the most important of the early works was the first edition of Williams's Maori Dictionary, published in 1844. The Williams family were to produce the best dictionary of any Polynesian or Melanesian language.
During the last half century there has occurred a significant advance in Maori linguistic study. Appropriate techniques have been developed, especially by Bruce Biggs, for establishing the significant sound contrasts in the Maori language. His system, which is based on an inventory of phonetic symbols, provides the most efficient writing system for the Maori language; it provides a means of indicating in writing every meaningful distinction in the sounds of the language, while at the same time ignoring the non-essential, because non-significant sound variations occur.