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NEW ZEALAND ENGLISH Short form NZE. The English language as used in New Zealand, a country of the Southern Pacific and a member of the COMMONWEALTH. English has been used in New Zealand for over 200 years, from the first visit of Captain James Cook and his English-speaking crew in 1769. He recorded in his diary some MAORI words, such as pah (a fortified village) and on a later visit pounamu (greenstone or nephrite), that later became part of the vocabulary of all New Zealanders. However, a more realistic starting-point is 1840, when the Maori, inhabitants of the islands since the 9c, ceded kawanatanga (governorship, interpreted by the British as sovereignty) to the British Crown in the Treaty of Waitangi. From that time, settlers from the British Isles began to arrive in increasing numbers, bringing their regional modes of speech with them.

Australian and New Zealand English

Parallels are often drawn between AusE and NZE. Although the two varieties are by no means identical, they are often indistinguishable to outsiders. Some phoneticians consider that there is a social and historical continuum in which three varieties of pronunciation can be identified: Cultivated New Zealand, General New Zealand, and Broad New Zealand. If this is so, NZE is similar to AusE, in which these categories are generally established, but other phoneticians regard the matter as unproved. Many speakers of NZE share with many speakers of AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH and CANADIAN ENGLISH the habit of using an upward inflection of the voice in declarative sentences, often considered by non-New Zealanders to produce a tentative effect, as if inviting confirmation of a statement. This intonational pattern, however, serves to check that someone is still following what one is saying. See AUSTRALASIAN ENGLISH.


NZE is non-rhotic, with the exception of the Southland BURR, the use by some speakers in Southland and Otago, South Island, of an /r/ in words like afford and heart. It is believed to derive from ScoE, since Otago was a predominantly Scottish settlement. It has been said that the norm of educated NZE is the RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION of the BBC World Service. There are, however, relatively few RP-speakers in New Zealand, a larger proportion speaking what is now called NEAR-RP. Its consonants do not differ significantly from those in RP except that a wh/w distinction is often maintained in words like which/witch. In words like wharf, where no near-HOMONYM *warf exists, aspiration is less detectable.

Features of General New Zealand include: (1) Such words as ham, pen perceived by outsiders as ‘hem’, ‘pin’. (2) Centralization of short i to SCHWA: ships pronounced /ʃəps/ in contrast with General Australian /ʃips/. These usages are sometimes stigmatized in print as ‘shups’ and ‘sheeps’ respectively. (3) The maintenance of RP ‘ah’ in castle /kɒːsl/, dance /dɒː:ns/ by contrast with General Australian /kæsl, dæns/. (4) Schwa used in most unstressed syllables, including /ə'fɛkt/ for both affect and effect, and /'rʌbəʃ/ for rubbish. (5) A tendency to pronounce grown, mown, thrown as disyllabic with a schwa: ‘growen’, ‘mowen’, ‘throwen’. (6) A distinctive pronunciation for certain words: geyser rhyming with ‘riser’, oral with ‘sorrel’; the first syllable of vitamin like ‘high’, as in AmE and ScoE; the Zea of Zealand pronounced with the vowel of kit. Occasional pronunciations such as basic /'bæsɪk/ and menu /'miːjuː/ are also heard. (7) A tendency to diphthongize some long vowels, opening with a schwa, as in boot /bəuːt/ and bean/been /bəiːn/. (8) Lengthening of final -y in such words as city, happy: /'sətiː/, /'hæpiː/. (9) Full pronunciation of -day in Monday, Tuesday, etc. (10) A policy of the Broadcasting Corporation that words and place-names of Maori origin be pronounced by announcers as in Maori, rather than in Anglicized forms. kowhai not /'kəω(W)ɑɪ/but /'ɔːfai/.


(1) Standard NZE is to all intents and purposes the same as standard BrE. However, the plural forms rooves and wharves are preferred to roofs and wharfs, and in spelling New Zealanders like Australians use -ise as in centralise, not -ize. Although -ise is common in BrE, -ize is widely used. (2) Nouns of Maori origin often appear in NZE, as in Maori itself, without a plural marker: iwi a tribe, as in A Maori nation exists comprising various iwi (not iwis); marae a courtyard of a meeting house, as in Marae have always been open to all (not maraes). The word Maori itself is now commonly spoken and written in plural contexts without a final -s: the powerlessness which frustrates so many Maori. Such usage is, however, currently controversial. (3) In recent works of literature, Maori speakers of non-standard English have begun to be portrayed, drawing attention to syntactic aspects of Maori English: Here's your basket nearly finish ( Patricia Grace, 1986); You big, brave fellow, eh? ( Bruce Mason, 1963).


In the absence of a comprehensive dictionary of NEZ on historical principles, the number of distinctive words cannot be estimated with any certainty, but the total is likely to be less than a third of the 10,000 claimed for AusE. This vocabulary falls into five classes: LOANWORDS from Polynesian languages, words showing extension of or departure from the meanings of general English words, the elevation of regional BrE words into standard currency, loanwords from AusE, and distinct regional word forms. In more detail, these are:

Loanwords from Maori.

In addition to names of flora and fauna, there is an increasing number of Maori loanwords for abstract concepts and tribal arrangements and customs: aue an interjection expressing astonishment, distress, etc., haere mai a term of greeting, iwi a people, tribe, mana power, prestige, authority, manuwhiri a visitor, guest, mauri the life principle, rahui a sign warning against trespass, tupuna an ancestor. There are also some verbs, such as hikoi to march, hongi to press noses. Some Maori words have been Anglicized to such an extent that they no longer look like Maori words: biddy-bid a plant with prickly burrs (Maori piripiri), cockabully a small fish (Maori kōkopu), kit a flax basket (Maori kete).

Loanwords from Samoan.

Samoan loanwords are not widely used by non-Samoan New Zealanders. They include: aiga an extended family, fale a house, palagi a non-Samoan, talofa a ceremonial greeting, and the returned loanword afakasi a half-caste.

Extensions and alterations.

Adaptations of general English words include: bach a holiday house at beach (a clipping of bachelor), creek (also AusE) a stream, crook (also AusE) ill, go crook at (also AusE) to be angry with, farewell as in to farewell someone (also AusE) to honour that person at a ceremonial occasion, section a building plot, tramp to walk for long distances in rough country, hence tramper one who does this.

Standardization of British English dialect words.

BrE dialect words promoted to standard, all also AusE, include: barrack to shout or jeer (at players in a game, etc.), bowyang a band or strip round a trouser-leg below the knee, to prevent trousers from dragging on the ground, burl a try or attempt, as in give it a burl, chook a chicken, fowl, dunny a lavatory, larrikin a hooligan, lolly a sweet of any kind, especially boiled, Rafferty's rules no rules at all, smooge a display of amorous affection, wowser a killjoy or spoilsport.

Loanwords from Australian English.

Words acquired from AusE include, from the preceding section, larrikin, Rafferty's rules, and: backblocks land in the remote interior, battler someone who struggles against the odds, dill a fool, simpleton, ocker a boor, offsider a companion, deputy, partner, shanghai a catapult. However, many AusE words are not used in NZE, especially words of Aboriginal origin and words associated with the swagmen (old-time itinerant workers). Similarly, many NZE words are unknown in Australia, especially words of Maori origin like the common fish names hapuku, kahawai, tarakihi, toheroa.

Distinct word forms.

Regional coinages include compounds, fixed phrases, and diminutives: (adjective + noun) chilly bin a portable insulated container for keeping food and drink cool, silver beet seakale beet; (noun + noun) Canterbury lamb from the name of a province, kiwifruit the Chinese gooseberry; (diminutive suffix -ie) boatie a boating enthusiast, postie a person delivering post (shared with ScoE and CanE), truckie a truck-driver (also AusE), wharfie a waterside worker, stevedore (also AusE); (diminutive suffix -o, -oh): bottle-oh a dealer in used bottles, compo compensation, especially for an injury.

English and Maori

The most significant social issue relating to language is the relationship between the European majority and the Polynesian minority. This includes issues such as the status of Maori as an official language on a par with English in the courts and the pronunciation of Maori words, including place-names, in English. See L-SOUNDS, MAORI ENGLISH.


The place-names of New Zealand reflect mixed linguistic origins over some 200 years. According to the New Zealand Geographic Board, the body charged by Act of Parliament with registering place-names, 58% of officially recognized names (including those of rivers and mountains) are of Maori origin and 42% of European origin. The numerical breakdown between the two islands reflects the patterns of Maori and European settlement: in the North Island, 79% Maori and 21% European; in the South Island, 33% Maori and 67% European.

1. Maori names.

These are of two kinds: those which conform to the sound and spelling pattern of the Maori language, such as Awakino (valley + ugly: ‘ugly valley’), Maunganui (mountain + big: ‘big mountain’), Waikaremoana (‘great lake of rippling water’), and Waitangi (‘weeping water, waterfall’); and those which have changed with time or been altered by Europeans, as in Amuri from Maori Haumuri (‘east wind’), and Pitone from Maori Pito-one (‘end of the beach’). The longest officially recognized place-name is Taumatawhakatangihangakouauotamatepokaiwhenuakitanatahu, the name of a hill in southern Hawkes Bay, North Island. It means ‘The hill on which Tamatea, circumnavigator of the land, played his kouau (flute) to his loved one’.

2. European names.

Most place-names of European origin are English: (1) Transfers of names for places that settlers were associated with in the British Isles, such as Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains, and Dunedin (an alternative name for Edinburgh); (2) Names commemorating people, as with Clive, Greytown, Nelson, and Onslow; (3) Names reflecting new experiences, as with Bay of Plenty, Cape Foul-wind, and Poverty Bay. There has been a scattering of other European influences, such as French Aiguilles Rouges (‘red needles’), Danish Dannevirke, Austrian Franz Joseph (named for an emperor), and the Dutch second element in the hybrid name New Zealand (‘sea land’).

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