New Zealand English

New Zealand English

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 similar to Australian English in pronunciation, with some key differences. One of the most prominent differences is the realisation 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 emigrating 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]

Audio recordings from the 1940s of very old New Zealanders have captured the speech of those born to the first generation of settlers in New Zealand, which means linguists can hear the actual origin of the accent. For example, a recording of 97-year-old Mrs Hannah Cross, who was born in New Zealand in 1851, and lived there her whole life, shows she had a Scottish accent. Even some second generation New Zealanders did not have a noticeable "New Zealand accent", such as Mr Ernie Bissett, who was born in Kaitangata in 1894 and lived in New Zealand his entire life. But people growing up in mining town Arrowtown, where there was a mixture of accents, developed a recognizable New Zealand accent, such as Annie Hamilton, whose parents arrived there in 1862.[4][5] The children growing up exposed to different accents picked up different features of these, but in their children, the second generation, there is a unification towards the ‘foundation accent’.



The short front vowels

  • In New Zealand English the short-i of KIT is a central vowel not phonologically distinct from schwa /ə/, the vowel in unstressed "the". It thus contrasts sharply with the [i] vowel heard in Australia. Recent acoustic studies featuring both Australian and New Zealand voices show the accents were more similar before the Second World War and the KIT vowel has undergone rapid centralisation in New Zealand English.[6] Because of this difference in pronunciation, some New Zealanders claim Australians say "feesh and cheeps" for fish and chips while some Australians counter that New Zealanders say "fush and chups".[7][8][9]
  • The short-e /ɛ/ of YES has moved to fill in the space left by /ɪ/, and it is phonetically in the region of [ɪ]. This was played for laughs in the American TV series Flight of the Conchords, where the character Bret's name was often pronounced as "Brit," leading to confusion.
  • Likewise, the short-a /æ/ of TRAP is approximately [ɛ], which sounds like a short-e to other 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].[10]
  • 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 .[11][12]

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.[13]
  • The vowel /ɜ/ (as in bird and nurse) is rounded and often fronted in the region of [ɵː~œː~øː].[14]


  • 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 Southland and parts of Otago.[15][16] 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.[17]
  • /l/ is dark in all positions, and is often vocalised in the syllable coda.[18][19] This varies in different regions and between different socio-economic groups; the younger, lower social class speakers vocalise /l/ most of the time.[20]

Other consonants

  • The distinction between /w/ as in witch and /hw/ as in which, retained by older speakers, now seems to be disappearing.[11][21]
  • The intervocalic /t/ may be flapped.[11]

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]
  • The trans- prefix is commonly pronounced /træns/. 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. (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 dialectal 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. Despite this, several imperial measures are still widely understood and encountered, such as feet and inches for a person's height, pounds and ounces for an infant's birth weight, and in colloquial terms such as referring to drinks in pints (even though they are sold in 600ml quantities).[25]

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 (that utilises a cellular network) .
Chilly bin Esky Cooler.
Crib / Bach Shack[26] A small, often very modest holiday property, often at the seaside
Dairy Milk bar
Convenience store. In larger cities in New Zealand convenience store is used due to immigration (and to current NZ law forbidding a "dairy" from selling alcohol [27]), though "dairy" is used commonly in conversation. In New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s "milk bar" referred to a soda shop. In some states of Australia "milk bar" is used; other states use "deli".
Duvet Doona A padded quilt.
Ice block Icy pole Ice Pop
Jandals Thongs Flip-flops.
Candy floss Fairy floss Cotton candy.
Judder bar[28] Speed bump Speed bump.
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
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 smugglerb
Swimwear (see Australian words for swimwear)

a Used in New South Wales. b Refers to Swim Briefs.


  • 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 and are more common.[29]
  • 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.
  • Speakers of New Zealand English sometimes colloquially, affectionately or disparagingly refer to their own speech as "Newzild",[30] which represents a local pronunciation of the international-English phrase "New Zealand".[31]

Māori influence

Many local everyday words have been borrowed from the Māori language, including words for local flora, fauna, and the natural environment.

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.[32]

The everyday use of Maori words, usually colloquial, occurs most prominently 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 Te Reo Maori IPA
Paraparaumu para-pa- ram pa-ra-pa-ra-u-mu pɑ.ɾɑ.pɑ.ɾɑ
Taumarunui towm-ra-noo-ey tau-ma-ra-nu-i tɑu.mɑ.ɾɑ.nui
Hawera ha-w'ra ha-we-ra hɑː.we.ɾɑ
Te Awamutu tee-awa-moot or tee-a-mootu te a-wa-mu-tu te ɑ.wɑ.mu.tu
Waikouaiti wacker-wite or weka-what wai-kou-ai-ti wai.kou.ɑːi.ti
Otorohanga oh-tra-hung-a or oh-tra-hong-a o-to-ra-ha-nga oː.to.ɾo.hɑ.ŋɑ
Te Kauwhata tee-ka-wodda te kau-fa-ta te kɑu.ɸɑ.tɑ

Some anglicised names are colloquially shortened, for example, "coke" for Kohukohu, "the Rapa" (pronounced rapper) for the Wairarapa, "Kura" for Papakura, "Papatoe" (pronounced Papatowie) for Papatoetoe, "Otahu" for Otahuhu, "Paraparam", or more simply, "Pram" for Paraparaumu and "the Naki" (pronounced nackey, rhymes with lackey) for Taranaki.

Dialects within New Zealand English

Recognisable regional variations are 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 Māori have an accent distinct from the general New Zealand accent, tending to use Māori words more frequently. Bro'Town was a TV programme that exaggerated Māori, Polynesian, and other accents. Linguists recognise two main New Zealand accents, denoted "Pākehā English" and "Māori English"; with the latter strongly influenced by syllable-timed Māori speech patterns. Pākehā English is beginning to adopt similar rhythms, distinguishing it from other stress-timed English accents.[33]


  • Where there is a distinct difference between British and US spelling (such as cancelling/canceling 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 prefers -ise. This contrasts with American English, where -ize is generally preferred, and British English, where -ise is more frequent but -ize is preferred by some (the Oxford spelling).[34]
  • New Zealand favours the spelling fiord over fjord, unlike most other English-speaking countries [35]

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. ^ Bayard, Donn (2000). "New Zealand English: Origins, Relationships, and Prospects". Moderna Språk (Sweden: Linnaeus University) 94 (1): 8–14. ISSN 2000-3560. Retrieved 2010-07-24. 
  3. ^ The Story of English by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. BBC Publications and Faber and Faber: London, 1986.
  4. ^ "Lingua Franca - 19/03/2005: The New Zealand Accent : 1". 2005-03-19. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  5. ^ "Lingua Franca - 26/03/2005: The New Zealand Accent : 2". 2005-03-26. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  6. ^ a b Zoë Evans and Catherine I. Watson, 2004, An acoustic comparison of Australian and New Zealand English vowel change
  7. ^ Crystal, p 354.
  8. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 587 and 611.
  9. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, pp 23-24
  10. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 582, 592, 610.
  11. ^ a b c d Trudgill and Hannah, p 24.
  12. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 589f.
  13. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 582, 588, 590
  14. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 582, 591
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p 605.
  17. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p. 594.
  18. ^ Crystal, p. 354.
  19. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, p. 24.
  20. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, p. 611.
  21. ^ Kortmann and Schneider, pp 606 and 609.
  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. ^ Dignan, J. R. E.; O'Shea, R. P. (1995). "Human use of metric measures of length". New Zealand Journal of Psychology 24: 21–25. 
  26. ^ Kate Nixon (2011-01-03). ""Queensland beach shack"". Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  27. ^ [2][dead link]
  28. ^ judder bar. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
  29. ^ Crystal, p. 355
  30. ^ Compare:Acker (1966). Newzild and how to speak it [New Zealand English and how to speak it]. Illustrations by Eric Heath. Wellington: Reed. p. 46. 
  31. ^ Deverson, Tony (August 2000). "From Staten Landt to Aotearoa new Zealand: the naming of 'Pacific's Triple Star'" (PDF). NZWords (Melbourne: Oxford University Press) (4): 1–3. ISSN 1440-9909. Retrieved 2010-04-15. "A different kind of abbreviation of the primary name is found in New Zild (also Newzild, Noo Zild), a conventional representation of the broad, maximally elided Kiwi pronunciation, which is traced in DNZE to the book New Zild and How to Speak It (1966), Arch Acker’s answer to Strine, where New Zild is used both for the accent and for the country itself (although DNZE cites it as name of the country only from the 1990s). Other (less clipped) renderings of the broad New Zild pronunciation recorded in DNZE include New Zillun(d) and Noo Zilland and, more idiosyncratically, NyaZilnd, N’yerzillun, and Newzyullind. All such forms normally have either a jocular or a judgmental implication." 
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ Jeanette King on the influence of Māori pronunciation on New Zealand English, 6/2/2010.
  34. ^ [3][dead link]
  35. ^ The fiord spelling was the normal one in English until the early 1920s,[4] and is preserved in many place names worldwide. In New Zealand it is used for a whole region (Fiordland, a rugged region in the country's southwest).


  • 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. ISBN 9780195583809.
  • 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.

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