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New Zealand English

New Zealand English is the dialect of English spoken in New Zealand.

In most respects, New Zealand English is very similar to Australian English. Both favour British spelling and choices between words given differences between American and British English. Many local words, largely borrowed from the indigenous Maori population, have arisen to describe the local flora, fauna, and the natural environment, and some other Maori words have made their way into the language.

In 1998 Oxford University Press produced a Dictionary of New Zealand English that it claimed was based on over 40 years of research. This research started with Harry Orsman[?]'s 1951 thesis and continued with his publishing this dictionary as the editor. To assist with and maintain this work, the New Zealand Dictionary Centre[?] was founded in 1997.

See also: English

Table of contents


Most of the names for native flora and fauna come directly from the Maori names. Examples of native birds are of course the kiwi, as well as the kea, kakapo, tui and pukeko[?], the extinct giant moa, and the kotuku[?] or white heron. There are also fish such as hoki[?], kahawai[?] and terakihi[?], and shellfish like toheroa[?] and paua[?].

Most of the native trees also have names from Maori, such as the kauri, rimu, totara, kowhai, matagouri[?] and pohutukawa. Other vegetation with Maori names includes the kumara[?], the native sweet potato.

The word kiwi has acquired other meanings, most commonly as an informal term for New Zealander, or as an adjective instead of New Zealand. The use of kiwi by Americans to refer to the kiwifruit is not part of New Zealand English and will irritate many New Zealanders.

Many Maori words or phrases that describe Maori culture have become part of New Zealand English. Some of these are:

  • haka[?]: a chant[?] and (war) dance of challenge, popularised by the All Blacks rugby team, who use it to put off the opposition
  • hangi[?]: a method of cooking food in a pit; or the occasion at which food is cooked this way
  • iwi: tribe, or peoples
  • mana: a combination of authority, integrity, power and prestige
  • marae: ceremonial meeting area in front of the meeting house; or, the entire complex surrounding this, including eating and sleeping areas
  • pakeha: people of non-Maori origin, especially those of European origin
  • whanau: extended family

Other Maori words may be recognised by most New Zealanders, but generally not used in everyday speech:

  • aroha: love, affection
  • haere mai: welcome
  • ka pai: good; well done
  • kai: food
  • kia ora: hello
  • korero: to chat; to speak in Maori
  • puku: belly
  • tangi: to mourn; or, a funeral at a marae
  • taniwha: legendary sea monster
  • tapu: sacred, taboo; to be avoided because of this
  • te reo: "THE tongue"; the Maori language
  • tohunga: priest, shaman
  • turangawaewae: one's own turf
  • wairua: spirit
  • whakapapa: genealogy, to genealogise

Leaving aside slang terms, there are a few non-Maori words that are unique to New Zealand English, or shared with Australia.

  • bach: A small holiday home, often with only one or two rooms and of simple construction. Pronounced "batch".
  • chip: The unit by which strawberries and certain other fruit are sold; depending on the region, this may also be known as a punnet or pottle.
  • crib: Another word for bach, more commonly used in the south of the South Island.
  • footpath: Pavement or sidewalk.
  • pavlova: A favourite meringue-like dessert made from egg whites, frequently served with cream and kiwifruit.

Differences from British English

The most noticeable diffeence in pronounciation is probably the flat "i" so that Six is pronounced as "SEEEX, similar to the Australian six while Eggs is pronounced "IGGS". An increasing trend is the doubling of some syllables, thus KNOWN is often pronounced know-en and HOME as "HOWEM"

That paragraph was taken from Culture of New Zealand - and is somewhat questionable, as to a New Zealander's ears, nz's six sounds very different to austrailia's

Additional Schwa

Typically, a New Zealander will insert the Schwa to words such as grown, thrown and mown, resulting in grow-en, throw-en and mo-wen. However, groan, throne and moan are all unaffected meaning these word pairs can be distinguished by ear, unlike in British English.

Differences from Australian English

Although foreigners can find it hard to distinguish the New Zealand dialect from the Australian, there are differences in the pronunciation of vowel sounds, which are considerably more clipped in New Zealand English. (Canadians face a similar problem, frequently being mistaken for U.S. Americans by non-North Americans.) The main distinguishing sounds are the short 'i' and 'e', as well as words like "chance", as described below.

Short i

The short 'i' in New Zealand English is pronounced as a schwa (IPA [ə]). In Australian English, the short 'u' is the vowel closest to the New Zealand pronunciation, so an Australian hears "fush and chups" when a New Zealander is saying "fish and chips". Conversely, the closest sound in New Zealand English to the Australian short 'i' (IPA [ɪ]) is 'ee' (IPA [i]), so New Zealanders may hear Australians talking about the "Seedney Harbour Breedge".

Recent linguistic research has suggested that this trait is sourced from dialects of English spoken by lower-class English people in the late 19th century, though why it persisted in New Zealand whilst disappearing from Australia is a mystery.

Short e

The short 'e' in New Zealand English has moved to fill in the space left by 'i', and sounds like a short 'i' itself to other English speakers. For example, you may hear New Zealanders talk about having "iggs for brickfast".

Chance, dance, etc.

The New Zealand pronunciation of words like "dance" uses the same vowel sound as the "a" in "car", i.e. [dαnts]. The common Australian pronunciation rhymes with "ants", i.e. [dænts]. However, either form may be used in Australia, with the former usually used in South Australia, and common in New South Wales.

Other differences

Other differences in the dialects relate to words used to refer to common items, often based on major brands:

NZ Australia Explanation
jandals[?]thongs backless sandles
chilly bin Esky[?] insulated container for keeping drinks and food cool
Swanndri[?] Driza-Bone[?] The quintessential back-country farmer's jacket of each country, a woollen shirt and oilskin jacket respectively.
dairymilk bar A kind of convenience store.

In New Zealand, the word "milk bar" refers only to the milk bar of the 1950s and 1960s.

Dialects within New Zealand English

Most Kiwis speak Newzild "as she is spoke": geographical variations appear slight, and mainly confined to individual special local words. One group of speakers, however, hold a recognised place as "talking differently": the South of the South Island (Murihiku) harbours a "Celtic fringe" of people speaking with a "Southland[?] burr" in which a back-trilled "R" appears prominently. The area formed a traditional repository of immigration from Scotland.

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