New Zealand English: Wikis


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New Zealand English (NZE, en-NZ[1]) is the form of the English language used in New Zealand.

The English language was established in New Zealand by colonists during the 19th century. The most distinctive influences on New Zealand English have come from Australian English, British English in Southern England, Irish English, Scottish English, the prestige Received Pronunciation, and the Māori language[2] .

New Zealand English is close to Australian English in its pronunciation; there are, however, several subtle differences. One of the most prominent differences between the New Zealand accent and that of Australia is the realization of /ɪ/: in New Zealand English, as in some South African varieties, this is pronounced as a schwa.


Dictionaries of New Zealand English

The first comprehensive dictionary dedicated to New Zealand English was probably the Heinemann New Zealand dictionary, published in 1979. Edited by Harry Orsman, it is a comprehensive 1,300-page book, with information relating to the usage and pronunciation of terms that were both widely accepted throughout the English-speaking world and those peculiar to New Zealand. It includes a one-page list of the approximate date of entry into common parlance of many terms found in New Zealand English but not elsewhere, such as "haka" (1827), "Boohai" (1920), and "bach" (1905).

In 1997, Oxford University Press produced the Dictionary of New Zealand English, which it claimed was based on over forty years of research. This research started with Orsman's 1951 thesis and continued with his editing this dictionary. To assist with and maintain this work, the New Zealand Dictionary Centre was founded in 1997. Since then, it has published several more dictionaries of New Zealand English, culminating in the publication of The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary in 2004.

A more light-hearted look at English as spoken in New Zealand, A personal Kiwi-Yankee dictionary, was written by the American-born University of Otago psychology lecturer Louis Leland in 1980. This slim volume lists many of the potentially confusing and/or misleading terms for Americans visiting or migrating to New Zealand. A second edition was published during the 1990s.

Historical development

A distinct New Zealand variant of the English language has been in existence since at least 1912, when Frank Arthur Swinnerton described it as a "carefully modulated murmur," though its history probably goes back further than that. From the beginning of the British settlement on the islands, a new dialect began to form by adopting Māori words to describe the different flora and fauna of New Zealand, for which English did not have any words of its own.[3]




The short front vowels

  • The short-i of KIT is a central vowel around [ə] or [ɘ]. This sounds somewhat similar to (although not quite as open as) a short-u in other forms of English, and contrasts sharply with the [i] vowel heard in Australia. Because of this, some New Zealanders often claim that Australians say "feesh and cheeps" for fish and chips while some Australians conversely claim that New Zealanders say "fush and chups".[4][5][6] The New Zealander's short-i is not phonologically distinct from the schwa /ə/.
  • The short-e /ɛ/ of DRESS has moved to fill in the space left by /ɪ/, and it is phonetically in the region of [e]. It sounds like a short-i itself to most other English speakers.
  • Likewise, the short-a /æ/ of TRAP is approximately [ɛ], which sounds like a short-e to other English speakers.

Documentary films from the first half of the 20th century featuring both Australian and New Zealand voices show that the accents were more similar before the Second World War and they diverged mostly after the 1950s.[citation needed] Recent linguistic research has suggested that the short, flat "i" heard in New Zealand comes from the dialects of English spoken by lower-class English people in the late-19th century. It is, however, also encountered in Scottish English, and given the higher level of Scottish emigration to New Zealand than to Australia, this may[citation needed] also be an influence. The pronunciation of English vowels by native Māori speakers may[citation needed] also have influenced the New Zealand accent. There is also a Māori accent distinct from the accent of native English speakers.

Conditioned mergers

  • The vowels /ɪə/ as in near and /eə/ as in square are increasingly being merged, so that here rhymes with there; and bear and beer, and rarely and really are homophones. This is the "most obvious vowel change taking place" in New Zealand English. There is some debate as to the quality of the merged vowel, but the consensus appears to be that it is towards a close variant, [iə].[7]
  • Before /l/, the vowels /iː/:/ɪə/ (as in reel vs real), as well as /ɒ/:/oʊ/ (doll vs dole), and sometimes /ʊ/:/uː/ (pull vs pool), /ɛ/:/æ/ (Ellen vs Alan) and /ʊ/:/ɪ/ (full vs fill) may be merged .[8][9]

Other vowels

  • /ɑr/-/ɑː/ as in start, bath, and palm is a near-open central-to-front vowel [ɐː] or [ɐ̟ː]. The phonetic quality of this vowel overlaps with the quality for /ʌ/ as in strut. The difference between the two is entirely length for many speakers.[10]
  • The vowel /ɜ/ (as in bird and nurse) is rounded and often fronted in the region of [ɵː~œː~øː].[11]


  • New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic (with linking and intrusive R), except for speakers of the so-called Southland burr, a semi-rhotic, Scottish-influenced dialect heard principally in the Southland and parts of Otago.[12][13] Among r-less speakers, however, non-prevocalic /r/ is sometimes pronounced in a few words, including Ireland and the name of the letter R itself.[14]
  • /l/ is dark in all positions, and is often vocalised in the syllable coda.[15][16] This varies in different regions and between different socio-economic groups; the younger, lower social class speakers vocalise /l/ most of the time.[17]

Other consonants

  • The distinction between /w/ as in witch and /hw/ as in which, retained by older speakers, now seems to be disappearing.[18][19]

Other features

  • As in Australian English, some New Zealanders will pronounce past participles such as grown, thrown and mown with two syllables, inserting an additional schwa /-oʊ.ən/. By contrast, groan, throne and moan are all unaffected, meaning these word pairs can be distinguished by ear.[22] This has also been heard (rarely) in the pronunciation of the word three, where the schwa appears between the 'th' and the 'r', creating a two-syllable word, and in words such as dwarf and Dwane/Duane where the schwa appears between the 'd' and the 'w' (or 'u'), leading to puns like "Duosyllabic Duane".[citation needed]
  • The trans- prefix is commonly pronounced /trænts/. This produces mixed pronunciation of the as in words like "transplant" (/trænzplɑːnt/) whereas in northern (but not southern) British English the same vowel is used in both syllables (/trænzplænt/).
  • The name of the letter H is usually /eɪtʃ/, as in North America, but it can be the aspirated /heɪtʃ/ of Hiberno-English origin also found in Australian English, though this is often considered incorrect.[citation needed] (The /heɪtʃ/ pronunciation of 'h' is now widespread in the United Kingdom, being used by approximately 24% of British people born since 1982.[23])


The phonology of New Zealand English is similar to that of other non-rhotic dialects such as Australian English and RP, but with some distinct variations, which are indicated by the transcriptions for New Zealand vowels in the tables below:[24]

For a basic key to the IPA, see Help:IPA.
Short vowels
IPA Examples
ɘ sit, about, winner
i city
e bed, end
ɛ lad, cat, ran
ɐ run, enough
ɒ not, wasp
ʊ put, wood
Long vowels
IPA Examples
ɐː father, arm
ɵː bird
law, caught
ʉː soon, through
IPA Examples
æe day, pain
ɑe my, wise
oe boy
ɐʉ no, tow
æo now
ɪə near, here
hair, there
ʉɐ tour

New Zealand English vocabulary

There are also a number of dialectical words and phrases used in New Zealand English. These are mostly informal terms most common in casual speech.

New Zealand adopted decimal currency in the 1960s and the metric system in the 1970s. While the older measures are understood by those born before 1960, younger New Zealanders have lived most or all of their lives in a metric environment and may not be familiar with pounds, ounces, stones, degrees fahrenheit, acres, yards, and miles, or pounds sterling, shillings, and pence - unless they have spent some time and effort studying foreign countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. However, that can be questionable.

Differences from Australian English

Many of these relate to words used to refer to common items, often based on which major brands become eponyms:

NZ Australia Explanation
Cellphone / mobile / mobile phone (cell)/phone(mobile) Mobile phone
A portable telephone.
Chilly bin Esky Insulated container for keeping drinks and food cool.
Dairy Delicatessen
Equivalent to convenience store, although the term usage is becoming rarer. In larger cities convenience store or superette are used due to immigration (and to current NZ law forbidding a "dairy" from selling alcohol [25]). Note that the term delicatessen is used in New Zealand for a somewhat different purpose, referring to a shop or a section of a supermarket serving specialty foods such as salamis, fine cheeses, and the like (just as it is in most of the States of Australia).
Domain, field Oval, paddock An area normally used for recreational purposes, usually grass or earth covered
Duvet Doona A padded quilt.
Jandals Thongs Backless sandals (otherwise known as "flip-flops" or "Japanese sandals").
Jersey Jumper Jumper or sweater. In New Zealand and Australia "jersey" is also used for top part of sports uniform (e.g. for rugby) - another term for a sports jersey, guernsey, is frequently used in Australia but only rarely heard in New Zealand
Judder bar[26] / Speed bump Speed bump Humps or the like in urban or suburban roads, designed to limit the speed of traffic. "Speed bump" is also a common term in both New Zealand and Australia
Maroon Maroon, marone Purplish-brown. Called by the same name in New Zealand as in the United Kingdom; Australia occasionally uses a different spelling and predominantly uses a different pronunciation - in New Zealand it rhymes with spoon, in Australia it rhymes with bone
No exit No through road A road with a dead end; a cul-de-sac.
Oil skin / Swanndri Driza-Bone
Oil skin
(also "oil skin parka")
Oil skin: Country raincoat; Swanndri: heavy woollen jersey (often chequered).
budgie smugglera
Swimwear (see Australian words for swimwear)
Trolley Shopping trolley A device, usually four-wheeled, for transporting shopping within supermarkets.
Trolley, Trundler Shopping jeep/granny trolley A two-wheeled device for transporting shopping from local shops (nowadays rarely seen).
Tramp Bush walk Bush-walking or hiking.
Twink Wite-Out or Liquid Paper Correction fluid.
Felts, Felt tips , Marker
Texta A permanent marker pen.
a Used mainly in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the phrase "milk bar" referred to a place that served non-alcoholic drinks, primarily milkshakes, tea, and sometimes coffee. Ice cream was also served.

A traditional difference between the New Zealand "varsity" and the Australian "uni" (for "university"), has largely disappeared with the adoption of "uni" into the New Zealand vocabulary.


  • New Zealanders will often reply to a question with a statement spoken with a rising intonation at the end. This often has the effect of making their statement sound like another question. There is enough awareness of this that it is seen in exaggerated form in comedy parody of working-class / uneducated New Zealanders. This rising intonation can also be heard at the end of statements, which are not in response to a question but to which the speaker wishes to add emphasis. High rising terminals are also heard in Australia, but are said to be more common in, and possibly originating from, New Zealand.[27].
  • In informal speech, some New Zealanders use the third person feminine she in place of the third person neuter it as the subject of a sentence, especially when the subject is the first word of the sentence. The most common use of this is in the phrase "She'll be right" meaning either "It will be okay" or "It is close enough to what is required". This is similar to Australian English.

Māori influence

Many local everyday words have been borrowed from the Māori language, including words for local flora, fauna, and the natural environment. See Māori influence on New Zealand English.

The dominant influence of Māori on New Zealand English is lexical. A 1999 estimate based on the Wellington corpora of written and spoken New Zealand English put the proportion of words of Māori origin at approximately 0.6%, mostly place and personal names[28].

The everyday use of Maori words is usually colloquial, and is far more common among youth, young adults and Maori populations themselves. Examples include words like "Kia Ora" ("Hello"), or "Kai" ("Food") which almost all New Zealanders know.

Māori is also ever-present and has a significant conceptual influence in the legislature, government, and community agencies (e.g. health and education), where legislation requires that proceedings and documents are translated into Māori (under certain circumstances, and when requested). Political discussion and analysis of issues of sovereignty, environmental management, health, and social well-being thus rely on Māori at least in part. Māori as a spoken language is particularly important wherever community consultation occurs.

Pronunciation of Māori place names

The pronunciation of many Māori place names was anglicised for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but since the 1980s, increased consciousness of the Māori language has led to a shift towards using a Māori pronunciation. The anglicisations have persisted most among residents of the towns in question, so it has become something of a shibboleth, with correct Māori pronunciation marking someone as non-local.

Placename Anglicisation correct pronunciation IPA
Paraparaumu para-pa- ram pa-ra-pa-ra-u-mu paˌɾaˌpaˌɾo
Taumarunui Towm-ra-noo-ey tau-ma-ra-nu-i toʊˌmaˌɾaˌnui
Oakura oa-kra o-a-ku-ra ɔaˌkuˌɾa
Hawera ha-w'ra ha-we-ra haˌweˌɾa
Te Awamutu tee-awa-moot or tee-a-mootu te a-wa-mu-tu teˌaˌwaˌmuˌtu
Waikouaiti wacker-wite or weka-what wai-kou-a-i-ti waɪˌkoʊˌaɪˌti
Otorohanga Oh-tra-hung-a or Oh-tra-hong-a o-to-ra-ha-nga ɔtɔɾoˌhaˌŋa
Te Kauwhata Teekah-Wadda te kau-fa-ta teˌkoʊˌɸaˌta

Some anglicised names are colloquially shortened, for example, "coke" for Kohukohu, "the Rapa" (pronounced rapper) for the Wairarapa, "Paraparam" for Paraparaumu and "the Naki" (pronounced nackey, rhymes with lackey) for Taranaki.

Dialects within New Zealand English

Recognisable regional variations is slight, with the exception of Southland, where the "Southland burr" (see above) is heard. This southern area formed a traditional repository of immigration from Scotland (see Dunedin). Several words and phrases common in Scots or Scottish English still persist in this area as well. Some examples of this include the use of wee to mean "small", and phrases such as to do the messages meaning "to go shopping".

Some speakers from the West Coast of the South Island retain a half Australian accent[citation needed] from the region's 19th century gold-rush settlers.

Māori retain a further variation of New Zealand English, with accents of varying degree, and tending to use Māori words more frequently. Bro'Town was a popular TV programme that exaggerated Māori, Polynesian, and other accents.


  • Where there is a distinct difference between British and US spelling (such as colour/color and travelled/traveled), the British spelling is universally used.
  • In words that may be spelled with either an -ise or an -ize suffix (such as organise/organize) New Zealand English, like Australian English, uses the -ise suffix exclusively[citation needed]. This contrasts with American English, where -ize is generally preferred, and British English, where -ise is more frequent but -ize is preferred by some (including the Oxford English Dictionary).
  • New Zealand favours the spelling fiord over fjord, unlike most other English-speaking countries. This is particularly apparent in the name of Fiordland, a rugged region in the country's southwest.

See also


  1. ^ en-NZ is the language code for New Zealand English , as defined by ISO standards (see ISO 639-1 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2) and Internet standards (see IETF language tag).
  2. ^ Donn Bayard. "New Zealand English: Origins, Relationships, and Prospects". Moderna Språk 94(1): 8-14, 2000. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  3. ^ The Story of English by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. BBC Publications and Faber and Faber: London, 1986.
  4. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 587 and 611.
  5. ^ a b Crystal, p 354.
  6. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, pp 23-24
  7. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 582, 592, 610.
  8. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, p 24.
  9. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 589f.
  10. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 582, 588, 590
  11. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 582, 591
  12. ^
  13. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p 605.
  14. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p. 594.
  15. ^ Crystal, p. 354.
  16. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, p. 24.
  17. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p. 611.
  18. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, p 24.
  19. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 606 and 609.
  20. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, p 24.
  21. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, p 24.
  22. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p 611.
  23. ^ John C Wells, Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, page 360, Pearson, Harlow, 2008
  24. ^ Bauer et al. (2007:97–102)
  25. ^
  26. ^ WordWeb online
  27. ^ Crystal, p. 355
  28. ^ Kennedy, Graham & Shinji Yamazaki 1999. The Influence of Maori on the New Zealand English Lexicon. In John M. Kirk (ed), Corpora Galore: Analyses and Techniques in Describing English. Amsterdam: Rodopi: 33-44


  • Bartlett, Christopher. (1992). Regional variation in New Zealand English: the case of Southland. New Zealand English Newsletter 6: 5-15.
  • Bauer, L.; Warren, P.; Bardsley, D.; Kennedy, M.; Major, G. (2007). "New Zealand English". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37 (1): 97–102. doi:10.1017/S0025100306002830. 
  • Cryer, Max. (2002). Curious Kiwi Words. Auckland, NZ: HarperCollinsPublishers (NZ) Ltd.
  • Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  • Deverson, Tony and Graeme Kennedy (eds.) (2005). The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
  • Grant, L.E., and Devlin, G.A. (eds.) (1999). In other words: A dictionary of expressions used in New Zealand. Palmerston North, NZ: Dunmore Press.
  • Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Mesthrie, Rajend; & Upton, Clive (Eds.). (2004). A handbook of varieties of English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Leland, Louis S., jr. (1980). A personal Kiwi-Yankee dictionary. Dunedin, NZ: John McIndoe Ltd.
  • Orsman, H.W., (ed.) (1997). The Dictionary of New Zealand English: a dictionary of New Zealandisms on historical principles. Auckland: Oxford University Press.
  • Orsman, H.W., (ed.) (1979). Heinemann New Zealand dictionary. Auckland, NZ: Heinemann Educational Books (NZ) Ltd.
  • Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th ed. London: Arnold.

External links

Simple English

New Zealand English is the English spoken in New Zealand. This is very similar to British English.


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