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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: September 2009

6 - The variables of early New Zealand English


By and large there are no fundamentally unhealthy sounds in New Zealand speech … However as a race, you are not very good at short vowels. You would, for instance, rather say ‘yeees’ than ‘yes’; ‘mulk’ rather than ‘milk’; and ‘bull’ rather than ‘bill’. Your diphthongs frequently expire in a drawl or resolve themselves into triphthongs … Your long vowels tend to be placed in the wrong part of the mouth – ‘harm’, ‘there’ for example. And the things done to the final ‘y’ sound – ‘Anthonee, gloree!’ … Casting a quick (and tactful) glance at your consonants, may I observe that, as a whole, New Zealand tongues are idle. The ‘l’ sound is treacherous. Your plosives, too, tend to disappear without trace. And just a word about the way you ‘manhandle’ the name of your country … [I]s it to be ‘New Zealand’ or ‘Nu Zilland?’

(Trinity College Examiner, Andrew Morrison, ‘The New Zealand Voice’, NZ Listener 19 (491) November 1948, p. 7)


In this chapter, we present the main phonological variables important in the development of New Zealand English. We discuss each variable in turn. Firstly, we present what is known (or can be inferred) of the variable's antecedents in relevant parts of the British Isles. Secondly, we consider what has been said in the written records about the variable in New Zealand. Mostly these written comments are complaints about ‘improper’ language, but are revealing about the history of New Zealand English.

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