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New Zealand English

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

New Zealand English is close to Australian English in pronunciation, but has several subtle differences often overlooked by people from outside these countries. Some of these differences show New Zealand English to have more affinity with the English of southern England than Australian English does. Several of the differences also show the influence of Māori speech. The most striking difference from Australian and other forms of English (although shared partly with South African English) is the flattened i of New Zealand English. The New Zealand accent also has some Scottish influences, particularly in the southern regions of the South Island a result of the large number of early Scottish settlers who arrived in the 19th century.


For a basic key to the IPA, see .
Short vowels
IPA Examples
ɘ sit, about, winner
i city
e bed
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

Historical development

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


Where there is a distinct difference between British and US spelling (such as colour/color and travelled/traveled), the British spelling is universally found in New Zealand - New Zealand English sticks very closely to British English in spelling. Some Americanisms have begun to creep in through their exposure in mass media (for example, the use of "math" rather than "maths" as an abbreviation for mathematics), though these spellings are non-standard. Similarly, the British standard name for the last letter of the alphabet, zed, is standard within New Zealand.


New Zealand is perhaps unique among English-speaking countries in its spelling of the word fjord, favouring the spelling fiord. This is particularly apparent in the name of Fiordland, a rugged region in the country's southwest.

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.

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 Māori has led to a shift back to correct Māori pronunciations. The Anglicisations have persisted most among natives 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
Paraparaumu para-pram pa-ra-pa-ra-u-mu
Taumaranui Towm-ra-nooey tau-ma-ra-nu-i
Oakura oa-kra o-a-ku-ra
Hawera hara ha-we-ra
Te Awamutu tee-awa-moot or tee-a-mootu te-a-wa-mu-tu
Waikouaiti wacker-wite or weka-what wai-kou-a-i-ti
Katikati Kati-kat ka-ti-ka-ti
Otorohanga Oh-tra-hung-a or Oh-tra-hong-a o-to-ra-ha-nga
Manukau Manna-cow ma-nu-kou
Piopio Pew-pew pi-o-pi-o
Makara Meck-rah ma-ka-ra
Te Kauwhata Teekah-Wadda te-kau-wha-ta

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

Many southern Māori words, which have a distinctive pronunciation that differs from standard Māori (one example being Mount Cook, which is Aorangi in standard Māori but Aoraki' in southern Māori), are frequently mistaken for Anglicisations and "corrected". These include the pronunciation of Oamaru as Om-a-roo and of Kawarau as Ka-warra.

A mixture of southern Māori speech patterns and Anglicisation leads to a third trend, the removal of the final vowel of place names, or the reduction of final vowels to a schwa. This is particularly common in the southern South Island. This pattern also results in local shibboleths, and result in pronunciations such as Wakatip for Lake Wakatipu, and o-taag-uh for Otago.

New Zealand English vocabulary

There are also a number of dialectical words and phrases used in New Zealand English, although most of these are regarded as very informal, and are far more common in speech than writing.

Differences from British English

Front vowels and the flattened 'i'

Additional schwa

As in Australian English, some New Zealanders 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 English language in England. This characteristic may be inherited from Lincolnshire English (although it is also a feature of Mackem (Sunderland) English).

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".

Distinction between /eə/ and /ɪə/

In thicker New Zealand accents, words like "chair" and "cheer", (/tʃɪə/) are pronounced the same way (/tʃɪə/, that is the same way as "cheer" in British or Australian English). The same occurs with "share" and "shear" (both pronounced /ʃɪə/); bear, bare and beer; spare and spear. This pronunciation is not universal as some New Zealanders do distinguish these words. Lack of distinction is somewhat stigmatised.

Younger speakers tend to merge toward /ɪə/, while middle-aged speakers tend to merge toward /eə/. This merging has been seen in some other varieties of English, but notably not in Australian English.

Lack of distinction between ferry and fairy

For many speakers of New Zealand English, the vowel in ferry is raised and becomes indistinguishable from fairy. The vowel length distinction, however, is usually retained.

Use of mixed vowels

The common New Zealand pronunciation of the trans- prefix rhymes with "ants" (/ænz/) and is likely to be a result of northern English dialects, or (less likely) American English influence. 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/).

Rising intonation

New Zealanders will often reply to a question with a statement spoken with a rising intonation on the last couple of words (known in linguistics as a high rising terminal). 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 various other regional forms of English.

Use of she as third person neuter

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.

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. (Speakers of Canadian English, similarly, are easily mistaken for Americans, and vice versa, 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 /ə/. In Australian English, the short 'u' is often thought to be the vowel closest to the New Zealand pronunciation. So Australians frequently joke about New Zealanders having "fush and chups" instead of "fish and chips". However, it is really closer to an almost dropped vowel, so it is more like "f'sh and ch'ps".

Conversely, the closest sound in New Zealand English to the Australian short 'i' /ɪ/ is 'ee' /i/, so New Zealanders may hear Australians talking about the "Seedney Harbour Breedge" or "feesh and cheeps". 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 diverged mostly after the 1950s.

Recent linguistic research has suggested that the short, flat 'i' heard in New Zealand comes from dialects of English spoken by lower-class English people in the late nineteenth century, though why it is prevalent in New Zealand while not being part of Australian speech is not known. It is, however, also encountered in Scottish English, and given the relatively higher level of Scottish emigration to New Zealand than Australia, this may also be an influence. The pronunciation of English vowels by native Māori speakers may also have influenced the New Zealand accent. There is a Māori accent distinct from the accent of native English speakers.

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" or hear an airline attendant asking to "kollikt your hid-sits" (collect your head-sets).

Chance, dance, prance, advance etc.

The New Zealand pronunciation of words like "dance" typically uses the same vowel sound as the "a" in "car", that is, /daːns/, resembling the broad A of southern British English. In Australia, a pronunciation similar to the North American /dæns/ is common in many areas. However, /dæns/ is not universal in Australia, and /dæns/ pronunciation is found in Southland (Bartlett 1992).

Fool, pool, etc.

Less known than dance/chance, but more diagnostic, is the pronunciation of /u/ followed by /-l/, as in fool and pool. /u/ is usually centralised, but is moved back and lowered, so that the vowel sounds more like "good" /ʊ/. Thus "fool" and "pool" sound like "full" and "pull" respectively. In contrast, Australian English retains the central position, and often adds a diphthong /əʉ/.

Bird, nurse, etc.

Another diagnostic pronunciation difference in /ɜ/ (e.g., bird and nurse). In New Zealand, it is fronted and slightly round /ɵ/, whereas in Australia it is further back.

Schwa in unstressed syllables

New Zealanders tend to be more likely to turn a vowel in an unstressed syllable into a schwa, although this is far from a universal trait. A clear example of this trait is shown in the pronunciation of Queensland, which in IPA terms would be /'kwinzlənd/ to a New Zealander (rhyming with "seasoned"), but /'kwinzˌlænd/ to an Australian (rhyming with "freehand"). However, both pronunciations occur within New Zealand and also Australia.

Letter 'h'

Pronunciation of the name of the letter 'h' is usually /eɪtʃ/, as in Great Britain and North America, but can be the aspirated /heɪtʃ/ of Hiberno-English origin found in Australian English.

Letter 'l'

The dark l at the end of a words like 'kill' is replaced by some speakers with the semivowel 'w'. For these speakers, 'bill' is pronounced the same way as 'bull', both having 'w' instead of 'l'. It also affects 'l' before consonsants — 'build' may be said 'buwd' and 'milk' as 'muwk'. This varies in different regions and between different socio-economic groups.

Vocabulary differences

Other differences in the dialects 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 Milk bar
convenience store
Equivalent to convenience store, although the term usage is becoming rarer. In larger cities convenience store or superette are used due to immigration. 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 specialist foods such as salamis, fine cheeses, and the like (just as it is in most states of Australia).
Domain, field Oval, paddock An area normally used for recreational purposes, usually grass/earth.
Duvet Doona A padded quilt.
Jandals Thongs Backless sandals (otherwise known as "flip-flops" or "Japanese sandals").
Jersey Jumper Garment for warmth. In NZ and Australia jersey also used for top part of sports uniform (e.g. for rugby)
Judder bar / Speed bump bump Humps or the like in urban or suburban roads, designed to limit the speed of traffic. Speed bump a common term in both New Zealand and Australia
No exit No through road A road with a dead end; a cul-de-sac.
Oil skin / Swanndri Driza-Bone
Oil skin
Country raincoat.
budgie smuggler
Swimwear (see Australian words for swimwear)
Trolley Shopping trolley A device, usually four-wheeled, for transporting shopping within supermarket precincts.
Trolley, Trundler Shopping jeep/granny trolley A two-wheeled device for transporting shopping from local shops (now rarely seen).
Tramp Bush walk Bush-walking or hiking.
Twink White-Out Correction fluid.
Texta A permanent marker pen.
Wee Little, small In Australian English, "wee" is slang for urine.
a Used mainly in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

In New Zealand, the word "milk bar" refers to the milk bar of the 1950s and 1960s, a place that served non-alcoholic drinks, primarily milkshakes, tea and sometimes coffee. Ice creams were also served. "Milk bar" can also refer to a bar of white chocolate, with derivitations from the Milky Bar, a popular New Zealand confectionary of white chocolate.

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.

Dialects within New Zealand English

Most Kiwis speak New Zealand English "as she is spoke": geographical variations appear slight and mainly confined to individual special local words, and between rural and urban areas.

However, one group of speakers is recognised as having a distinct way of talking: the south of the South Island (Murihiku) harbours a "Celtic fringe" of people speaking with a "Southland burr" in which a trilled 'r' appears prominently. This dialect is also rhotic; that is, speakers pronounce the 'r' in "bird", "work" as the 'r' sound is said at the beginning of a word, and so on, while other New Zealanders do not. This southern area formed a traditional repository of immigration from Scotland. 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". Many of the region's place names also reflect their Scottish origin; such as those of the region's two main cities (Invercargill and Dunedin) which both have Scots Gaelic origins.

The trilled 'r' is also used by some Māori speakers, who may also pronounce 't' and 'k' sounds almost as 'd' and 'g', especially in the south of the country (see Māori language for more details). This is also encountered in South African English, especially among Afrikaans speakers. The Māori 'r', though, is more like a short 'd'.

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

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 American-born University of Otago psychology lecturer Louis Leland in 1980. This slim but entertaining 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.

See also



  • 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. et al. (2007), " New Zealand English", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37 (1): 97–102.
  • Cryer, Max. (2002). Curious Kiwi Words. Auckland, NZ: HarperCollinsPublishers (NZ) Ltd.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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