Choice of words

Witi Ihimaera’s short story “The Whale” is written using descriptive narrative language, combined with occasional dialogue which allows the characters speak for themselves.

A key language feature of the story is the use of numerous Maori words such as: “‘Te toki. Homai te toki. The axe. Bring me the axe.’ ” or “ ‘Anei ra toku whakama... See? Look upon my shame.’ ” Often, these words and phrases are followed by their English translation which makes it easier for readers that do not know Maori to understand the story. The use of Maori words give authenticity to a story that focuses on Maori culture, and adds to the concerns of the old man that the Maori culture is being lost.

The descriptive language includes several positive words and phrases such as:  “brimmed over with happiness”, “proud place, ringing with joy”, “sweet smell of the hangi”, “singing of the old songs”, etc. These positive descriptions often relate to a happier past and help suggest the main character’s nostalgia while also helping readers imagine certain events.

However, descriptions include many negative words and phrases as well: “his dying world”, “fields choked with weeds”, “gorse creeps over the graveyard”, “the heart-beat is weaker now”, “a flurry of black wings.”, etc. These negative words are related to the present and help convey the main character’s feeling about his dying culture while also setting the mood and tone of the story. This is further emphasised by the use of interjections such as “ ‘Aue! Aue!’ ” which shows the old man’s pain.


A few metaphors add to the story’s language by creating vivid associations that convey deeper meanings.

“This meeting house ha...

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