From the 1790s, New Zealand was visited by British, French and American whaling, sealing and trading ships. Their crews traded European goods with the indigenous Māori. The first settlers to New Zealand were mainly from Australia, many of them ex-convicts or escaped convicts. In addition, Sailors, explorers and traders from Australia and other parts of Europe settled.
The New Zealand accent appeared first in towns with mixed populations of immigrants from Australia, England, Ireland, and Scotland. These included the militia towns of the North Island and the gold-mining towns of the South Island. In more homogeneous towns such as those in Otago and Southland, settled mainly by people from Scotland, the New Zealand accent took longer to appear.
Unlike Australia, which developed over 50,000 years ago, New Zealand was the last habitable landmass in the world to be colonized. The Polynesian ancestors of the Maori arrived only at about 1150-1200 AD, several centuries after Scandinavians and Inuit arrived in Iceland and Greenland.Large-scale organized settlement from both Britain and Australia began, and by mid-century the indigenous Maori were outnumbered by the incoming Pakeha (as people of European ancestry were and are called).
One additional and very important source of NZE vocabulary, and that which makes it uniquely different from any other English dialect, is the Maori language. As the North American colonists borrowed hundreds of words from Native American and First Nations peoples, so the Pakeha appropriated a large number of words to describe phenomena unknown to them.
Clearly then, the closest dialectal relative of NZE is Australian English; indeed, in many ways NZE is descended from Australian English. South African English is also fairly close, as all three southern hemisphere countries were settled at roughly the same time. The ties go back to southeastern England and RP. Some have tried to derive both NZE and Australian English from the Cockney accent of London, but this is a gross over exaggeration; the two accents share some features, but differ markedly in others (e.g., h-dropping and /-t-/ glottalisation in words like "butter").
Since the latter 20th century, New Zealand society has gradually divested itself of its fundamentally British roots and has adopted influences from all over the world, especially in the early 21st century when New Zealand experienced an increase of non-British immigration, which has since brought about a more prominent multi-national society. The Internet, television, movies and popular music have all brought international influences into New Zealand society and the New Zealand lexicon. Americanization of New Zealand society and language has subtly and gradually been taking place since World War II and especially since the 1970s, as has happened also in neighboring Australia.
Features of the New Zealand accent
Phonologically New Zealand English (NZE) has the same 20-vowel phoneme system as British Received Pronunciation (RP), but the New Zealand phonemes are realised differently from RP. However, many New Zealand speakers in the 2000s have only 19 vowel phonemes because they do not make a distinction between the phonemes in NEAR and SQUARE.
Vowels in the New Zealand accent
In NZE the START vowel in words like ‘park’, ‘calm’ and ‘farm’ is central or even front of central in terms of tongue position. It is one of the most noticeable features of New Zealand and Australian English for people in the northern hemisphere. Unlike today, almost half of a sample of people born in the later 19th century used the short vowel of TRAP in words like ‘dance’ and ‘chance’.
The pronunciation of the KIT vowel clearly distinguishes New Zealanders from Australians. It is commonly claimed that New Zealanders say ‘fush and chups’ where Australians say ‘feesh and cheeps’. Recorded spoken evidence suggests that the NZE pronunciation of KIT as nearer to ‘cut’ first appeared between 1910 and 1930.
GOOSE and FLEECE vowels
In NZE the GOOSE vowel is very central. It is sometimes realised as a diphthong so that ‘boot’ sounds like ‘boat’. The FLEECE vowel can also appear as a diphthong so that ‘feet’ sounds like ‘fuh-eet’.
TRAP and DRESS vowels
The TRAP vowel is raised in NZE, and outside New Zealand is often mistaken for the DRESS vowel. A New Zealander overseas, Pat, asked people to address him as Patrick instead because he disliked being asked why he was called ‘pet’. The DRESS vowel is also raised in NZE and can be confused with KIT – which is why New Zealanders overseas are given pins when they ask for pens.
A recent change is the further raising of the DRESS vowel into the area of the FLEECE vowel, so that ‘best’ can sound like ‘beast’, and ‘bed’ like ‘bead’.
In NZE this is pronounced with rounded lips, and is relatively front and high so it overlaps with the GOOSE vowel. This can cause confusion, where outsiders might hear the NZE word ‘terms’ as ‘tombs’.
High Rise Intonation
The most widely reported intonational feature of NZE is the High Rising Terminal Contour (HRT), a rise in pitch used on declarative sentences. Outsiders mistakenly interpret this as a questioning intonation pattern. The HRT is a politeness feature used by a speaker wishing to involve the hearer in a conversation.
New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic (with linking and intrusive R), except for speakers with the so-called Southland burr, a semi-rhotic, Scottish-influenced dialect heard principally in Southland and parts of Otago.
Older Southland speakers use /ɹ/ variably after vowels, but today younger speakers use /ɹ/ only with the NURSE vowel and occasionally with the LETTER vowel. Younger Southland speakers pronounce /ɹ/ in third term /ˌθɵːɹd ˈtɵːɹm/ (General NZE pronunciation: /ˌθɵːd ˈtɵːm/) but sometimes in farm cart /fɐːm kɐːt/.
/l/ is "dark"
The sound /l/ is velarized ("dark") in all positions, and is often vocalized in syllable codas so that ball is pronounced as [boːʊ̯] or [boːə̯]. Even when not vocalized, it is darker in codas than in onsets, possibly with pharyngealization. Vocalization varies in different regions and between different socioeconomic groups; the younger, lower social class speakers vocalize /l/ most of the time.
Many younger speakers have the wine–whine merger, which means that the traditional distinction between the /w/ and /hw/ phonemes no longer exists for them. All speakers are more likely to retain it in lexical words than in grammatical ones, therefore even older speakers have a variable merger here.
/t/ may be flapped
As with Australian English and American English the intervocalic /t/ may be flapped, so that the sentence "use a little bit of butter" may be pronounced [jʉːz ə ləɾo bəɾ əv bɐɾə] (phonemically /jʉːz ə lətəl bət əv bɐtə/).
In the past people complained that the New Zealand accent was due to laziness or bad influences. Today it is thought to be based on the accent of south-east England, where most migrants came from. Nowadays the accent spreads quickly and varies between social classes.
1. Gordon, Elizabeth, and Tony Deverson. New Zealand English and English in New Zealand. Auckland: New House Publishers, 1998.
2. The Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand / Ed. by K. Sinclair.- Auckland, 1990.-389 p.
3. New Zealand English: Its Origins and Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press /Gordon, Elizabeth, Lyle Campbell, Jennifer Hay, Margaret Maclagan, Andrea Sudbury, Peter Trudgill.2004.
4. Wall, Arnold. New Zealand English: How it Should be Spoken, Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs.1939.