Dictionary entries in their fullest form consist of:
- a headword,
- some grammatical information about the headword,
- a gloss or glosses,
- illustrative sentence examples with English translations,
- idiomatic phrases and their meanings,
- and finally, in square brackets, some information about derivation of the headword.
The headword of a dictionary entry is the Rarotongan word (or other Cook Islands dialect) word that is being defined. The headword may end with a superscript numeral to distinguish it from other headowrds with the same spelling but unrelated meanings.
So we find, in an extreme case, pā1, pā2, pā3, pā4, pā5, pā6.
The grammatical information includes the part(s) of speech to which the headword belongs. In the case of passivisable verbs (i.e. verbs which are able to be used in the passive voice) the appropriate passive suffixes will be indicated. If the headword is reduplicated partially or fully, the significance of the reduplication will be indicated.
Glosses contain the meanings, expressed as English equivalents of the Cook islands headword. A single Cook Islands headword will usually have a number of English equivalents.
Sentences, together with English translations, illustrate the uses of each headword.
Where a headword is morphemically complex (i.e. consists of many elements) Dr Buse has usually indicated its composition at the end of the entry. The source of words borrowed from other languages is also indicated. In the case of many inherited Cook Islands words the editors have indicated the form the word would have had in an earlier ancestor language. These etyma (i.e. original forms) are marked by an asterisk plus an abbreviation indicating the relative antiquity of the reconstruction.
- Pn. Indicates that the word was part of the Proto Polynesian language spoken about three thousand years ago
- Np. (Nuclear Polynesian)
- Ep. (Eastern Polynesian)
- CE. Central Eastern Polynesian
- Ta. (Tahitic) and
- Ck. (Cookic) indicated other ancestral languages spoken successively nearer to the present time.
The spelling in the dictionary is that recommended by the Cook Islands Language Committee. It is phonemic, except that word juncture is
obscured when, following convention, compound words are written without hyphenation.
Biblical quotations, however, are usually unaltered from the source, which
means that vowel length and glottal stop are indicated.
Writing in the Cook Islands Maori Dictionary
The five short vowel sounds of the Cook Islands language are written a, e, i, o, u and the five long vowel sounds are written ā, ē, ī, ō, ū.
The nine consonant sounds of the language are written ng, m, n, p, t, k, r, w, ‘.
Note that ng represents a single sound, the velar nasal heard in most Polynesian languages.
Glottal stop, which is a particularly frequent phoneme in Cook Islands Maori, is written as a reversed apostrophe.
It is important to note and understand the reasons for the alphabetical order adopted in this dictionary.
When writing Cook Islands Maori, it has been usual to omit any sign for glottal stop and to make no distinction between long and short vowels, so many words which are pronounced differently are distinguished in their spelling.
What is written as a in the Biblia Tapu, for example, may be either a, ‘a, ā or ‘ā in this dictionary.
Cook Islands Maori Alphabetical Order
To make it easier for the user of this dictionary to find words seen in texts where glottal stop and vowel length have not been marked, a special alphabetical order has been adopted which keeps together words that are differentiated only by those two features.
The dictionary order is as follows (notice that the digraph ng is treated as a single letter and ordered between the vowels e and i and that glottal stop is treated as a diacritic on the following vowel):
- (a, ‘a, ā, ‘ā)
- ( e, ’e, ē, ’ē)
- (i, ’i, ī, ’ī)
- k, m, n,
- (o, ‘o, ō, ’ō)
- (u, ‘u, ū, ‘ū)
Words which differ only by vowel diacritics (and only those words) are kept together and in the following order: short vowel, glottalised short vowel, long vowel, glottalised long vowel (e.g. a, ’a, ā, ’ā; ai, a’i, āi; aka, ‘aka, ākā).