New Zealand English Phonology
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New Zealand English Phonology

This article covers the phonological system of New Zealand English. While New Zealanders speak differently depending on their level of cultivation (i.e. the closeness to Received Pronunciation), this article covers the accent as it is spoken by educated speakers, unless otherwise noted. The IPA transcription is one designed by Bauer et al. (2007) specifically to faithfully represent a New Zealand accent, which this article follows in most aspects (see the transcription systems table below).


Variation in New Zealand vowels[1]
Lexical set Phoneme Phonetic realization
Cultivated Broad
TRAP /?/
KIT /?/
NEAR /i?/ [] []
SQUARE /e?/ [e]
FACE /æ?/ [æ?] []
PRICE // [] [? ~ ]
GOAT // [] []
MOUTH /æ?/ [a?] [e]
Monophthongs of New Zealand English, from Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008:21).
Part 1 of New Zealand English closing diphthongs, from Bauer et al. (2007:99). [] represents the phonetic outcome of a neutralization of the non-prevocalic sequences /?l/ and /l/.
Part 2 of New Zealand English closing diphthongs, from Bauer et al. (2007:99).
Centring diphthongs of New Zealand English, from Bauer et al. (2007:99). The speaker in question does not differentiate between /i?/ and /e?/.

The vowels of New Zealand English are similar to that of other non-rhotic dialects such as Australian English and RP, but with some distinctive variations, which are indicated by the transcriptions for New Zealand vowels in the tables below:[2]

Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close e i: ?: ? o:
Mid ? ? ?: ?
Open ? ?:
  • The original short front vowels /æ, e, ?/ have undergone a chain shift, which is partially reflected in their NZE transcription /?, e, ?/.[3] Recent acoustic studies featuring both Australian and New Zealand voices show the accents were more similar before World War II and the short front vowels have changed considerably since then as compared to Australian English.[4] Before the shift, these vowels were pronounced close to the corresponding RP sounds. Here are the stages of the shift:[5]
  1. /æ/ was raised from near-open to open-mid ;
  2. /e/ was raised from mid to close-mid ;
  3. /?/ was first centralised to and then was lowered to , merging with the /?/ of COMMA;
  4. /e/ was further raised to near-close .
  • Cultivated NZE retains the open pronunciations and and has a high central KIT .[1]
  • The difference in frontness and closeness of the KIT vowel ([ ~ ?] in New Zealand, in Australia) has led to a long-running joke between Australians and New Zealanders whereby Australians accuse New Zealanders of saying "fush and chups" for fish and chips[3] and in turn New Zealanders accuse Australians of saying "feesh and cheeps" in light of Australia's own KIT vowel shift.[6][7][8]
  • The NURSE vowel /?:/ is higher and/or more front than the corresponding RP vowel /?:/. Contrary to it, New Zealand /?:/ is typically realised with rounded lips. John Wells remarks that the surname Turner /'t?:n?/ as pronounced by a New Zealander may sound very similarly to a German word Töne /'tø:n?/ (meaning 'tones').[9] Possible phonetic realizations include near-close front , near-close central , close-mid front , close-mid central , mid front and open-mid front .[10][11][12][13] It appears that realizations lower than close-mid are more prestigious than those of close-mid height and higher, so that pronunciations of the word nurse such as [nø?:s] and [noe:s] are less broad than [nø:s], [n?:s] etc.[10][14] Close allophones may overlap with monophthongal realizations of /?:/ and there may be a potential or incipient NURSE-GOOSE merger.[14]
  • The PALM/START vowel /?:/ in words like calm /k?:m/, spa /sp?:/, park /p?:k/ and farm /f?:m/ is central or even front of central in terms of tongue position.[15] New Zealand English has the trap-bath split: words like dance /d?:ns/, chance /t:ns/, plant /pl?:nt/ and grant /:nt/ are pronounced with an /?:/ sound, as in Southern England and South Australia.[6][16] However, for many decades prior to World War II there existed an almost 50/50 split between the pronunciation of dance as /d?:ns/ or /d?ns/, plant as /pl?:nt/ or /pl?nt/, etc.[17]Can't is also pronounced /k?:nt/ in both New Zealand and Australia and not /k?nt/ (unlike the pronunciation found in United States and Canada). Some older Southland speakers use the TRAP vowel rather than the PALM vowel in dance, chance and castle, so that they are pronounced /d?ns, tns, 'k?s?l/ rather than /d?:ns, t:ns, 'k?:s?l/.[18]
Closing æ? o? æ?
Centring i? e?
  • The NEAR-SQUARE merger (of the diphthongs /i?/ and /e?/) is on the increase, especially since the beginning of the 21st century[19] so that here /hi?/ now rhymes with there /ðe?/ and beer /bi?/ and bear /be?/ as well as really /'?i?li/ and rarely /'?e?li/ are homophones.[3] 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, [i?].[20][21]
  • // is becoming rarer. Most speakers use either /?:?/ or /o:/ instead.[22]
  • The phonetic quality of NZE diphthongs are as follows:
    • As stated above, the starting points of /i?/ and /e?/ are identical in contemporary NZE. However, conservative speakers distinguish the two diphthongs as [] and [e].[1]
    • The starting point of // is , whereas its ending point is close to cardinal .[20][23][24] In certain phonetic environments (especially in tonic syllables and in the word no), some speakers unround it to , sometimes with additional fronting to .[25]
    • The fronting-closing diphthongs /æ?, , o?/ can end close-mid or close .[26]
    • Sources do not agree on the exact phonetic realizations of certain NZE diphthongs:
      • The starting point of // has been variously described as near-close central [23] and near-close near-back .[24]
      • The ending points of /i?, e?, / have been variously described as mid [24] and open-mid .[23]
      • The starting point of /o?/ has been variously described as close-mid back [24] and mid near-back .[23]
      • The starting point of // has been variously described as near-open back [24] and near-open central .[23]
      • The starting point of /æ?/ has been variously described as varying between near-open front and open-mid front (with the former being more conservative)[20] and as varying between near-open front and near-open central .[27]
      • The ending point of /æ?/ has been variously described as close central [26] and close-mid near-back .[23] According to one source, most speakers realise the ending point of /æ?/ as mid central , thus making /æ?/ a centring diphthong akin to /i?, , e?/.[28]

Sources differ in the way they transcribe New Zealand English. The differences are listed below. The traditional phonemic orthography for the Received Pronunciation as well as the reformed phonemic orthographies for Australian and General South African English have been added for the sake of comparison.

New Zealand English AuE GenSAE RP Example words
This article Wells (1982:608-609) Bauer et al. (2007:98-100) Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008:21-34)
? ? ? ? ? ? ? kit
? bit
? ? ? comma, letter
i: i: i: i i: i: i: fleece
i i i happy
i? i? i? i? near
? ? ? ? ? ? ? foot
?: u: ?: u ?: ?: u: goose
?:? cure
?: fury
o: ?: o: sure
o: ? o: ?: thought, north
e e e e e e e dress
?: ?: ?: ? ?: ø: ?: nurse
? æ ? æ æ æ æ trap
?: a: ?: a ?: ?: ?: palm, start
? ? ? ? ? ? ? strut
? ? ? ? ? ? ? lot
æ? æe ei æ? e? e? face
e? e? e? e? e: e: e? square
o? oe? goat
o? oe ?i o? choice
?e ai a? a? price
æ? æ? æo a? æ? a? a? mouth

Conditioned mergers

  • Before /l/, the vowels /i:/ and /i?/ (as in reel /?i:l/ vs real /?i?l/, the only minimal pair), as well as /?/ and // (doll /d?l/ vs dole /dl/, and sometimes /?/ and /?:/ (pull /p?l/ vs pool /p?:l/), /e/ and /?/ (Ellen /'el?n/ vs Alan /'?l?n/) and /?/ and /?/ (full /f?l/ vs fill /f?l/) may be merged.[16][29]


  • 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.[30][31] Older Southland speakers use /?/ variably after vowels, but today younger speakers use /?/ only with the NURSE vowel and occasionally with the LETTER vowel. Younger Southland speakers pronounce /?/ in third term /:?d 't?:?m/ (General NZE pronunciation: /:d 't?:m/) but sometimes in farm cart /f?:m k?:t/ (same as in General NZE).[stress needed][32] The rhotic Southern New Zealand accent was depicted in The World's Fastest Indian, a movie about the life of New Zealander Burt Munro and his achievements at Bonneville Speedway. On the DVD release of the movie one of the Special Features is Roger Donaldson's original 1971 documentary Offerings to the God of Speed featuring the real Burt Monro.[33] His (and others) southern New Zealand accent is definitive. Among r-less speakers, however, non-prevocalic /?/ is sometimes pronounced in a few words, including Ireland /'l?nd/, merely /'mili/, err /?:?/, and the name of the letter R /?:?/ (General NZE pronunciations: /'l?nd, 'mi?li, ?:, ?:/).[34] Like most white New Zealand speakers, some M?ori speakers are semi-rhotic, although it is not clearly identified to any particular region or attributed to any defined language shift. The M?ori language itself tends in most cases to use an r with an alveolar tap [?], like Scottish dialect.[35]
  • /l/ is velarised ("dark") in all positions, and is often vocalised in syllable codas so that ball is pronounced as [bo:] or [bo:].[36][6] Even when not vocalised, it is darker in codas than in onsets, possibly with pharyngealisation.[37] Vocalisation varies in different regions and between different socioeconomic groups; the younger, lower social class speakers vocalise /l/ most of the time.[8]
  • 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.[38][39][40]
  • 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 [j?:z ? 'lo b ?v 'b] (phonemically /j?:z ? 'l?t?l b?t ?v 'b?t?/).[38]

Other features

  • Some New Zealanders pronounce past participles such as grown /'n/, thrown /'n/ and mown /'mn/ with two syllables, the latter containing a schwa /?/ not found in other accents. By contrast, groan /?n/, throne /?n/ and moan /mn/ are all unaffected, meaning these word pairs can be distinguished by ear.[8]
  • The trans- prefix is usually pronounced /tns/. This produces mixed pronunciation of the as in words like transplant /'tnspl?:nt/. However, /t:ns/ is also heard, typically in older New Zealanders.[]
  • The name of the letter H is almost always /æ?t?/, as in North American, and is almost never aspirated (/hæ?t?/).[]
  • The name of the letter Z is usually the British, Canadian and Australian zed /zed/. However the alphabet song for children is sometimes sung ending with /zi:/ in accordance with the rhyme. Where Z is universally pronounced zee in places, names, terms, or titles, such as ZZ Top, LZ (landing zone), Jay Z (celebrity), or Z Nation (TV show) New Zealanders follow universal pronunciation.[]
  • The word foyer is usually pronounced /'fo/, as in Australian and American English, rather than /'fo?æ?/ as in British English.[]
  • The word with is almost always pronounced /w?ð/, though /w/ may be found in some minority groups.[]
  • The word and combining form graph is pronounced both /:f/ and /f/.[]
  • The word data is commonly pronounced /'d?:t?/, with /'dæ?t?/ being the second commonest, and /'d?t?/ being very rare.[]
  • Words such as contribute and distribute are predominantly pronounced with the stress on the second syllable (/k?n'tbj?:t/, /d?'stbj?:t/). Variants with the stress on the first syllable (/'k?ntbj?:t/, /'d?stbj?:t/) also occur.[]

Pronunciation of M?ori place names

The pronunciations of many M?ori place names were anglicised for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but since the 1980s increased consciousness of the M?ori language has led to a shift towards using a M?ori pronunciation. The anglicisations have persisted most among residents of the towns in question, so it has become something of a shibboleth, with correct M?ori pronunciation marking someone as non-local.[]

Placename English pronunciation Te Reo M?ori M?ori pronunciation
Cape Reinga /?kæ?p ?i'/ re-i-nga [':i]
Hawera /'h?:we, -w-, -?:/ ha-we-ra ['h?:w]
Otahuhu /t?'h?:h?:/ o-ta-hu-hu [?:'t?:h?h?]
Otorohanga /t'h, -'h/ o-to-ra-ha-nga ['?:th]
Paraparaumu /?pp?'?æ?m?:/ pa-ra-pa-rau-mu [pp?'?aum?]
Taumarunui /?tæ?m'n?:i/ tau-ma-ra-nu-i ['taumn?i]
Te Awamutu /?ti'm?:t?:/ te a-wa-mu-tu [t? ?w?'m?t?]
Te Kauwhata /?ti: k?'hw?t?/ te kau-fa-ta [t? 'kaut?]
Waikouaiti /'w?k?wt, -w?t/ wai-kou-ai-ti ['w?ik?u:iti]

Some anglicised names are colloquially shortened, for example, Coke /kk/ for Kohukohu, the Rapa /'p?/ for the Wairarapa, Kura /'k?/ for Papakura, Papatoe /'p?p?ti/ for Papatoetoe, Otahu /t?'h?:/ for Otahuhu, Paraparam /'ppm/ or Pram /pm/ for Paraparaumu, the Naki /'n?ki/ for Taranaki, Cow-cop /'kæ?k?p/ for Kaukapakapa and Pie-cock /'pk?k/ for Paekakariki.[]

There is some confusion between these shortenings, especially in the southern South Island, and the natural variations of the southern dialect of M?ori. Not only does this dialect sometimes feature apocope, but consonants also vary slightly from standard M?ori. To compound matters, names were often initially transcribed by Scottish settlers, rather than the predominantly English settlers of other parts of the country; as such further alterations are not uncommon. Thus, while Lake Wakatipu is sometimes referred to as Wakatip,[English IPA needed]Oamaru as Om-a-roo and Waiwera South as Wy-vra /'wv/, these differences may be as much caused by dialect differences - either in M?ori or in the English used during transcription - as by the process of anglicisation.[] An extreme example is The Kilmog /'k?lm/, the name of which is cognate with the standard M?ori Kirimoko.[41]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Gordon & Maclagan (2004), p. 609.
  2. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), pp. 98-100.
  3. ^ a b c "Simon Bridges has the accent of New Zealand's future. Get used to it". NZ Herald. 26 February 2018. Retrieved 2020.
  4. ^ Evans, Zoë; Watson, Catherine I. (2004). "An acoustic comparison of Australian and New Zealand English vowel change". CiteSeerX Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008), pp. 41-42.
  6. ^ a b c Crystal (2003), p. 354.
  7. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 587.
  8. ^ a b c Gordon & Maclagan (2004), p. 611.
  9. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 607-608.
  10. ^ a b Wells (1982), p. 607.
  11. ^ Roca & Johnson (1999), p. 188.
  12. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), pp. 582, 591.
  13. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), p. 98.
  14. ^ a b Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 591.
  15. ^ "3. - Speech and accent - Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". 2013-09-05. Retrieved .
  16. ^ a b Trudgill & Hannah (2008), p. 29.
  17. ^ The New Zealand accent: a clue to New Zealand identity? Pages 47-48
  18. ^ "5. - Speech and accent - Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". 2013-09-05. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "4. Stickmen, New Zealand's pool movie - Speech and accent - Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". 2013-09-05. Retrieved .
  20. ^ a b c Bauer & Warren (2004), pp. 582, 592.
  21. ^ Gordon & Maclagan (2004), p. 610.
  22. ^ Gordon et al. (2004), p. 29.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Bauer et al. (2007), p. 99.
  24. ^ a b c d e Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008), p. 26.
  25. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 592.
  26. ^ a b Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 582.
  27. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), pp. 98-99.
  28. ^ Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008), p. 25.
  29. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 589.
  30. ^ "Other forms of variation in New Zealand English". Te Kete Ipurangi. Ministry of Education. Archived from the original on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  31. ^ Gordon & Maclagan (2004), p. 605.
  32. ^ "5. - Speech and accent - Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". 2013-09-05. Retrieved .
  33. ^ "The World's Fastest Indian: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Iain Rea, Tessa Mitchell, Aaron Murphy, Tim Shadbolt, Annie Whittle, Greg Johnson, Antony Starr, Kate Sullivan, Craig Hall, Jim Bowman, Roger Donaldson, Barrie M. Osborne, Charles Hannah, Don Schain, Gary Hannam, John J. Kelly, Masaharu Inaba: Movies & TV". Retrieved .
  34. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 594.
  35. ^ Hogg, R.M., Blake, N.F., Burchfield, R., Lass, R., and Romaine, S., (eds.) (1992) The Cambridge history of the English language. (Volume 5) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521264785 p. 387. Retrieved from Google Books.
  36. ^ Trudgill & Hannah (2008), p. 31.
  37. ^ Bauer & Warren (2004), p. 595.
  38. ^ a b Trudgill & Hannah (2008), p. 30.
  39. ^ Gordon & Maclagan (2004), pp. 606, 609.
  40. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), p. 97.
  41. ^ Goodall, M., & Griffiths, G. (1980) Maori Dunedin. Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books. p. 45: This hill [The Kilmog]...has a much debated name, but its origins are clear to Kaitahu and the word illustrates several major features of the southern dialect. First we must restore the truncated final vowel (in this case to both parts of the name, 'kilimogo'). Then substitute r for l, k for g, to obtain the northern pronunciation, 'kirimoko'.... Though final vowels existed in Kaitahu dialect, the elision was so nearly complete that p?keh? recorders often omitted them entirely.


  • Bauer, Laurie; Warren, Paul (2004), "New Zealand English: phonology", in Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.), A handbook of varieties of English, 1: Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 580-602, ISBN 3-11-017532-0
  • Bauer, Laurie; Warren, Paul; Bardsley, Dianne; Kennedy, Marianna; Major, George (2007), "New Zealand English", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 37 (1): 97-102, doi:10.1017/S0025100306002830
  • Crystal, David (2003), The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press
  • Gordon, Elizabeth; Maclagan, Margaret (2004), "Regional and social differences in New Zealand: phonology", in Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.), A handbook of varieties of English, 1: Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 603-613, ISBN 3-11-017532-0
  • Gordon, Elizabeth; Campbell, Lyle; Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Sudbury, Peter; Trudgill, Andrea, eds. (2004), New Zealand English: Its Origins and Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Gordon, Elizabeth (2008), New Zealand English, Dialects of English, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0-7486-2529-1
  • Roca, Iggy; Johnson, Wyn (1999), A Course in Phonology, Blackwell Publishing
  • Trudgill, Peter; Hannah, Jean (2008), International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English (5th ed.), London: Arnold
  • Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Volume 3: Beyond the British Isles (pp. i-xx, 467-674). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-52128541-0 .

Further reading

  • Bauer, Laurie (1994), "8: English in New Zealand", in Burchfield, Robert (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language, 5: English in Britain and Overseas: Origins and Development, Cambridge University Press, pp. 382-429, ISBN 0-521-26478-2
  • Bauer, Laurie (2015), "Australian and New Zealand English", in Reed, Marnie; Levis, John M. (eds.), The Handbook of English Pronunciation, Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 269-285, ISBN 978-1-118-31447-0
  • Warren, Paul; Bauer, Laurie (2004), "Maori English: phonology", in Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.), A handbook of varieties of English, 1: Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 614-624, ISBN 3-11-017532-0

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