Transcribing interviews recorded in te reo Maori: Some general guidelines

The first part of transcribing involves the process of writing or typing recorded oral dialogue between the interviewer and interviewee/s which has been captured on an electronic device such as a digital voice or video recorder. The second part involves a critical analysis of that dialogue in terms of comparing and contrasting the information into questions and themes that will inform the purpose of the research. The principles of phonology, morphology, prosody, semantics, pragmatics and orthography are just some of the guiding factors in aiding the work of transcribing (Taiapa, 2017).

Transcribing in your first language or other languages can be a complex undertaking. It may not be a straightforward process at first glance. For me, my first attempt at transcribing interviews given in both English and Maori was a frustrating but very rewarding experience. I have since learnt a few things. It revealed a number of interesting observations that I noted during the transcribing process which helped me cross-over that abyss of unfamiliar territory to other the side where I became a little more aware of the issues associated with the task of transcribing, in particularly, te reo Māori. Acute listening skills, a good command and knowledge of reo and linguistic descriptions that commonly apply to te reo, such as elision are critical components of the work. Here, I provide a list of points relating to practical usage and guidelines for transcribing interviews conducted in te reo Māori and hope it may provide a very broad outline of things to consider in your own work of transcribing. (This is not a comprehensive list but bullet points only, a collection of my thoughts).

Practical guidelines:

  1. Organise every needful thing, such as your workspace, computer is fully charged, headphones if needed, transcribing software (I use quick time player on my Mac but there are better ones available online), turn off your mobile or landline phones to minimize potential distraction, have a Māori dictionary on hand (on use online ones). I find using two monitors is useful for having the transcription and audio player open on one and an online Māori dictionary open on the other.
  2. Make sure you choose a quiet environment where you can transcribe with the least distraction. I find my room/office is best for me but you might have other ideas. It’s what works for you that is the rule of thumb here.
  3. Choose a day/s during the week and a time when you will do your transcribing, for example, Monday and Wednesday 9am-12pm (3 hours) and keep to this schedule until you have completed the work. Take at least 10 mins breaks, drink plenty of water and eat light food like a banana. This will largely be determined by your calendar and lifestyle.

I transcribe in two waves:

  1. Play the interview from start to end and transcribe. Remember to pause to give you time to write or type the information and then carry on in this manner. However, during this first wave, do not stop, rewind and replay when something was unclear, undecipherable or ambiguous as if you were going to do proofreading (this will be done in the second wave), but rather mark the place where this occurs (I type three dots (…) to indicate when I’m not sure what was said at any given point and then I move on). The purpose of this first round is to get the bulk of the interview written down as fast as possible without being tediously frustrated with details. This is done in the second wave.
  2. Play the interview again but this time proofread the information for spelling, punctuation, and especially the areas marked (…) which is now the time to pause, rewind, and replay as many times as needed until you have an accurate account of what was said. If is not possible, then I miss it out and move on. Sometimes, whole chunks of speech may not be relevant to the overall research purpose (e.g. the interviewee going off on a tangent), I will, therefore, discard that information (i.e. not transcribe it) and move on.
  3. Overall, make sure your transcription is typed in an eligible, coherent and cohesive manner as your final copy.

Some things to be aware of:

  1. Elision, the process of joining together or merging things, is common in spoken te reo which often occurs when two or three words are elided together which can sound like one word. This usually happens when a word ending with a vowel elides with another word beginning with the same vowel, such as ‘a’. For example, “Kei te pēhea koe?” “Taua āhua anō” meaning “Same old, same old” (intrusive ‘w’). When elided the answer statement can be visualized like tauaāhuaanō where the pronunciation of the vowels ‘a’ run or merge into each other to create the impression of a single word or sound. I often encountered this phenomenon while transcribing and it seemed to be with words containing the vowel ‘a’ – e.g. ‘Kua whakaara ake’, which at times, did cause some confusion. However, this has helped me to fine tune my listening skills and ultimately my language skills.
  2. Omission, the action of excluding or leaving out someone or something, is another language feature of spoken Māori, and usually occurs when a pronoun is left out of a phrase but is implied from the context. For example, Kua tae mai rātou, ka moe. When they arrived, (they) went to sleep. When transcribing, I sometimes found it useful to include ‘rātou’ in the second sentence to eliminate any ambiguity and to clarify that it was ‘they’ which the statement was referring to. Furthermore, some speakers of Māori (particularly kaumātua) tend to partially pronounce words like ‘mōk’ from ‘mōku’ or ‘māk’ from ‘māku’ (e.g. he kāpu tī anō māk..). Again, identifying this comes through experience and knowledge of Māori language features.
  3. Set sentence structure/s being used throughout the dialogue facilitate comprehension of the wider context in which it is given and act as sign posts to help construct the discourse in more meaningful ways. For example, mā wai…e, māku…e, nā wai…i, nāku…i, ka taea e, passive constructions etc. However, hearing these and understanding them are two different things hence a need to have knowledge of these linguistics features, and particularly if you’re a learner of te reo Māori.
  4. Set phrases, colloquialism and idioms that are not grammatical structures in the sense of the word, for example, i mua noa atu = recently, mau te wēhi = awesome, te kai a te Rangatira = te reo Māori etc. I found only two or three were used in some of my interviews and in others none were used.
  5. Be alert for inconsistencies, and repetition of phrases from the interviewee.
  6. Changes in discourse where the speaker is saying something and then changes their direction of thought to another topic at the beginning or during mid-sentence. Here, if it’s an unrelated tangent, then I usually discard it.
  7. Mumbles or ambiguous words need to be paused and replayed to confirm their authenticity.
  8. Listen for stress/intonation in words, including prefix and suffix words.
  9. Dialect variations may be few and far apart but could come up in your interview if your interviewee is from a tribe, for example, like Taranaki and who chooses to use their way of speaking reo. Fore-knowledge of this is a sign of a knowledgeable interviewer and promotes good practice.
  10. Becoming familiar with interviewee’s intonation, articulation, voice, and mannerism can strengthen relations with your people and connect with them while transcribing.
  11. Personally, I don’t transcribe unwanted language like the ums, and oh.
  12. Always get clarification from the interviewee if you’re unclear about something.
  13. Have fun, be passionate, as you are contributing to a good work.

Proofreading and analyzing data

  1. Check spelling, macrons, and writing conventions, for example, He Pākehā ia, ā, he Māori ahau = He’s European and I’m Māori, referring to the way (, ā, and) is formatted. I use the book by Te Taurawhiri i te reo Māori outlining writing conventions for writing in te reo Māori and this can be downloaded from their website;
  2. Never guess words if they prove hard to hear during the proofreading process because writing the wrong word can change the whole meaning of the sentence but mark it (…) and move on;
  3. In some cases, speech and whole phrases can be garbled and can become lost in interpretation beyond recognition even for experts, this might have to be left out;
  4. Arrange data into comparative and contrastive themes;
  5. Elicit questions and assumptions from the data.

etipuereo©Copyright 2017

  1. #1 by Tangiwai Amopiu on 24/04/2014 - 1:30 pm

    Tēnā koe e te rangatira, thankyou for a glimpse into some expectations of transcribing Te Reo Māori audio interviews. I’m in the process of wanting to transcribe a number of Te Reo Māori interviews we have with our kaumātua.

    Are you able to give me an indication as to how long it will take to transcribe 60 minutes of Te Reo audio, that is unclear, haed to hear, due to the technology utilised, and the different mita used by our kaumātua. I’m trying to look at how big a project transcribing our collections will take, and what $$ will we be looking at.

    Ngā mihi

    • #2 by michaeltaiapa on 25/04/2014 - 9:55 am

      Kia ora Tangiwai, based on your description of audio quality, technology and mita, it could take anything up to 3-5 hours (assuming 20 minute breaks every hour) or even take up a large part of the day. From personal experience, it took me about five hours to transcribe 45-60 minutes (with breaks) of recorded audio in te reo Māori with similar issues to the one’s you have described.

      I have since learnt that listening to and transcribing a recording at least twice can save some time and provide a process for quality check of the transcription. That is, 1) listen and transcribe to get the bulk of what is being said without having to worry about words you have missed or misheard where you end up tediously rewinding and, therefore, wasting a lot of time, 2) the second time you listen to it you can then fill in the gaps you missed in the first listening, and then 3) listen to it again the third time to proofread and complete a quality check. Of course, this is only a guide and you might have another strategy.

      Noho ora mai,


  2. #3 by Sally on 01/05/2015 - 12:11 pm

    Kia ora
    Do you know any companies that will do Maori Transcriptions? I have an interview that is partially in Maori and partially in English but am struggling to find a transcription company that is capably of transcribing the Maori portion. Nga mihi

    • #4 by michaeltaiapa on 03/05/2015 - 10:54 pm

      Kia ora, not that I’m aware of, however, there may be individual entities who do Māori language transcriptions, for example, Māori language students at university looking to earn extra money. You would have to ring around the universities to see if someone is available and willing to do the work. Wish you the best, Michael.

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