The Development of New Zealand English

Seminar Paper, 2006

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Recent Research on New Zealand English

3. Sources of New Zealand English
3.1. European Sources of New Zealand English
3.1.1. English English
3.1.2. Scottish English and Irish English
3.2. Australian English
3.3. Maori

4. New Zealand English in Progress: Recent Development

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

When Captain James Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, arrived in New Zealand in 1769, the sailors found nothing but dangerous wilderness and some Maori people living there – and they soon left again. It took another 71 years until New Zealand became a British colony. Only few Europeans settled there before then; mainly sailors, tradesmen and whaling station workers[1]. Nonetheless, New Zealand developed into a nation with a distinct identity and language, a variety of English. The academic analysis of New Zealand English (henceforth NZE) is a rather new field of study but many non-academic attempts have been made to explain its origins:

„Much discussion has focused on the origins of [Australian English] and [NZE] pronunciation, and at times the speculations have been wild. Some have maintained that these accents are caused by climate, by a national nose inflammation as a result of pollen or hay, and even by fear of opening the mouth on account of dust and flies; other accounts look to carelessness, laziness, some kind of gross national inferiority complex, a free-wheeling and adventurous spirit, or on outlaw heritage. Even ill-fitting dentures have been suggested as a likely cause.”[2]

This essay will investigate the origins of NZE and its development as a distinct variety of English. As an introduction there will be a short outline of recent research on NZE and the different theories concerning its sources. Afterwards the role of the early European settlement will be discussed because the “origins and development of New Zealand English are, quite obviously, intimately intertwined with the history of immigration to new Zealand.”[3] The influence of several varieties of English shall be described, starting with the European Englishes (English English, Scottish English, and Irish English[4] ) and their significance for phonetic and lexical characteristics of NZE. The role of New Zealand’s geographical neighbour, Australia, shall be part of the analysis as well. In addition to that the contributions of a non-English source, namely the indigenous Maori language, will be discussed. The analysis only looks at these main sources.

The last part of this essay shall deal with significance of language for national identity and the recent development of NZE. Changes in the vowel pronunciation of NZE speakers will be examined. Finally, some non-New Zealand attitudes towards the NZE pronunciation shall be briefly considered.

2. Recent Research on New Zealand English

New Zealand is a young nation with a relatively recent history of settlement and language development. The linguistic interest in the country’s language variety is much younger. Serious academic treatment of NZE began only in the late 1970s, probably as a result of a growth of a New Zealand national culture and political independence, as Hundt argues[5]. For a long time the analysis of NZE had been overshadowed by that of Australian English (henceforth AusE) and was treated like a regional variety of AusE[6]. Today this is compared with the treatment of Canadian and American English[7]. Linguists recently identified NZE as an independent variety of English and began their descriptive work which mainly dealt with vocabulary and pronunciation, the most obvious differences to other varieties.

Still, NZE belongs to those varieties “that are not fully institutionalised […], i.e. its standard has not yet been described”.[8] This is why Clyne classified NZE as a “semi-centre” variety in 1995, i.e. a variety which has been identified as such but there are no attempts to codify it. In contrast Clyne terms British English and American English as “full centres” and AusE as “nearly full centre”[9]. This is no longer valid. Several dictionaries of NZE have been published since, the most important are The New Zealand Dictionary (1994) and the Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English (1997). Of course dictionaries record mainly lexical information but there are extensive works on NZE grammar (Hundt 1998) as well as on phonetic and phonological characteristics (e.g. Gordon et al. 2004; Bell/Kuiper 2000). So one can definitely say that NZE has crossed the threshold and become at least “nearly full centre” in Clyne’s terminology. Nevertheless, there is still much research to be done.

Concerning the origins and historical development of NZE there are basically two opposing theories: On the one hand, there is the ‘single origin theory’ which was strongly supported by leading researchers in the 1980s and early 1990s. They were convinced that NZE developed from only one source “with a dash of others”[10] but they did not agree about the original source: One group believed that NZE derived from London Cockney, the other group was sure that AusE, which was actually strongly influenced by Cockney, had the major impact[11]. On the other hand, there is the ‘mixing bowl theory’ or ‘new-dialect formation’ which claims that NZE is an “amalgam of the various relocated dialects”[12] brought to New Zealand by settlers from the British Isles and Australia. This approach is the dominant one today, even researchers that stuck to the single origin theory before (e.g. Gordon/Trudgill and Bauer) now believe that the mixing bowl theory is more likely. But still the single origin approach is not completely excluded.

3. Sources of New Zealand English

One of the major problems in trying to make out the origins of NZE, which definitely contributed to the rift among researchers, is the only semi-reliable historical data. Many sources, like lots of 19th century immigration questionnaires, have been destroyed or the listings of immigrants are not necessarily convincing because they are based on shipping records which only list departure harbours and not passengers’ original domiciles[13]. Despite that many sources of NZE could be clearly identified.

3.1. European Sources

As mentioned above quite a long time went by between the first English contact with New Zealand in 1769 and the consequent settlement from the 1840s on. In 1839 only 2,000 non-Maori people, mostly of British origin, lived in rather isolated enclaves along the coast permanently, often in mutual dependence with the local Maori communities[14]. New Zealand was a mostly ungoverned outpost of the Australian colony of New South Wales, and when Australians claimed more and more land in the neighbouring country, the few settlers called Britain for help. The conflict was settled when the British government and the Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840[15] which marked the beginning of the nation of New Zealand. Unlike Australia, New Zealand was a free colony right from the beginning, and soon after the treaty had been signed, a rapid immigration from the British Isles began[16].


[1] Bell, Allan and Koenraad Kuiper: New Zealand and New Zealand English. In: Bell/Kuiper: New Zealand English. 11-22. p.11/12.

[2] Burridge, Kate and Jean Mulder: English in Australia and New Zealand. An Introduction to Its History, Structure, and Use. Melbourne: OUP 1999. 37.

[3] Gordon, Elizabeth et al.: New Zealand English. Its Origins and Evolution. Cambridge: CUP 2004. 36.

[4] Welsh English will be excluded from the analysis because the data that could be derived from the secondary literature showed that there was no significant influence of Welsh English on the development of NZE. Cf. Gordon et al. 2004; Bauer 2000.

[5] Cf. Hundt, Marianne: New Zealand English Grammar. Fact or Fiction? Amsterdam: Benjamins 1998.

(= Varieties of English Around the World 23) 2.

[6] Many publications are on both AusE and NZE but basically focus on the analysis of AusE, even recent ones, e.g. Burridge 1999.

[7] Cf. McCrum, Robert et al.: The Story of English. 3rd ed. London: Faber and Faber 2002. 328; Hundt 1998: 2/3.

[8] Hundt 1998: 1.

[9] Cf. Clyne, Michael: The German Language in a Changing Europe. Cambridge: CUP 1995. 22-23.

[10] Burridge/Mulder 1999: 37.

[11] Cf. Gordon et al. 2004: 70-79.

[12] Burridge/Mulder 1999 : 37.

[13] Cf. Bauer, Laurie: The Dialectal Origins of New Zealand English. In: Bell/Kuiper 2000. 40-52. p. 40, and Gordon et al. 2004: 37.

[14] Cf. Gordon et al. 2004: 38.

[15] 18.02.2006

[16] McCrum et al. 2002: 329.

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The Development of New Zealand English
University of Hannover
Varieties of English: Australian English
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Development, Zealand, English, Varieties, English, Australian, English
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Jasmin Ostermeyer (Author), 2006, The Development of New Zealand English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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