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 table under § Transcriptions).
|Lexical set||Phoneme||Phonetic realization|
|PRICE||/aɪ/||[ɑ̟ɪ]||[ɒ̝ˑɪ ~ ɔɪ]|
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:
- The original short front vowels [æ, e̞, ɪ] have undergone a chain shift to [ɛ, e̝, ə]. 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. Before the shift, these vowels were pronounced close to the corresponding RP sounds. Here are the stages of the shift:
- [æ] was raised from near-open [æ] to open-mid [ɛ];
- [e̞] was raised from mid [e̞] to close-mid [e];
- [ɪ] was first centralised to [ɪ̈] and then was lowered to [ə], merging with the word-internal allophone of /ə/ as in abbot /ˈɛbət/. This effectively removes the distinction between full and reduced vowels from the dialect as it makes /ə/ a stressable vowel.
- The now-close-mid [e] was further raised to near-close [e̝] (the only phase not encoded in the transcription system used in this article).
- Cultivated NZE retains the open pronunciations [æ] and [e̞] and has a high central KIT ([ɪ̈]).
- The difference in frontness and closeness of the KIT vowel ([ɪ̈ ~ ə] in New Zealand, [i] 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 and in turn New Zealanders accuse Australians of saying "feesh and cheeps" in light of Australia's own KIT vowel shift.
- In the morpheme-final position, the distinction between /ə/ and /a/ is neutralized towards the open /a/ in the word-final position and towards the mid /ə/ elsewhere. For instance, the plural of sofa /ˈsaʉfa/ is /ˈsaʉfəz/, with the mid /ə/. Because of that, the names of the lexical sets COMMA and LETTER are not used in this article.
- Initial unstressed KIT is at times as open as STRUT, so that inalterable /ənˈoːltəɹəbəl/ can fall together with unalterable /anˈoːltəɹəbəl/, resulting in a variable phonetic KIT–STRUT merger. This is less common and so it is not transcribed in this article.
- The unstressed close front vowel in happy and video is tense and so it belongs to the /iː/ phoneme: /ˈhɛpiː/, /ˈvədiːaʉ/.
- The vowel that historically corresponds to KIT in ring or in the second syllable in writing is much closer and more front than other instances of KIT and it is also associated with FLEECE by native speakers. This merger is assumed in transcriptions in this article, which is why ring and writing are transcribed /ɹiːŋ/ and /ˈɹaɪtiːŋ/ (note that when the g is dropped, the vowel also changes: [ˈɹaɪɾən]. Such forms are not transcribed in this article.). This makes FLEECE the only tense vowel that is permitted before /ŋ/. Some speakers also use this variant before /ɡ/ and, less often, before other consonants. As both KIT and FLEECE can occur in those environments, it must then be analysed as an allophone of KIT. It is transcribed with a plain ⟨ə⟩ in this article and so not differentiated from other allophones of /ə/.
- The NURSE vowel /øː/ is not only higher and more front than the corresponding RP vowel /ɜː/, but it is also realised with rounded lips, unlike its RP counterpart. John Wells remarks that the surname Turner /ˈtøːna/ as pronounced by a New Zealander may sound very similarly to a German word Töne /ˈtøːnə/ (meaning 'tones'). Possible phonetic realizations include near-close front [ʏː], near-close central [ɵ̝ː], close-mid front [øː], close-mid central [ɵː], mid front [ø̞ː] and open-mid front [œː]. 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 [nø̞ːs] and [nœːs] are less broad than [nøːs], [nɵːs] etc. Close allophones may overlap with monophthongal realizations of /ʉː/ and there may be a potential or incipient NURSE–GOOSE merger.
- STRUT /a/ forms a short-long pair with START /aː/, which means that hut /hat/ contrasts with heart /haːt/ purely by length, like in Australian English. The quality of those vowels is that of retracted cardinal [a]: [a̠, a̠ː], open central [ä, äː], or somewhat higher [æ̠(ː) ~ ɐ(ː)].
- New Zealand English has the TRAP–BATH split: words like dance /daːns/, chance /tʃaːns/, plant /plaːnt/ and grant /ɡɹaːnt/ are pronounced with an /aː/ sound, as in Southern England and South Australia. However, for many decades prior to World War II there existed an almost even split between the pronunciation of dance as /daːns/ or /dɛns/, plant as /plaːnt/ or /plɛnt/, etc. Can't is also pronounced /kaːnt/ in New Zealand (like Australia but unlike the North American pronunciation /kænt/ with the TRAP vowel). Some older Southland speakers use the TRAP vowel rather than the PALM vowel in dance, chance and castle, so that they are pronounced /dɛns, tʃɛns, ˈkɛsəl/ rather than /daːns, tʃaːns, ˈkaːsəl/.
- The FOOT vowel /ʊ/ may become centralised even when stressed, making "good" /gʊd/ sound like /gəd/.
- Before /l/, /ʉː/ is retracted to [uː], whereas /e/ is lowered to [ɛ], yielding a merger with TRAP. This makes too [tʉː] sound different from tool [tuːl] and leads to Ellen /ˈelən/ and Alan /ˈɛlən/ both being pronounced [ˈɛlən]. Mergers before /l/ may also occur between: /iː/ and /iə/ (as in reel /ɹiːl/ vs real /ɹiəl/, the only minimal pair), and /ɒ/ and /aʉ/ (doll /dɒl/ vs dole /daʉl/), /ʊ/ and /ʉː/ (pull /pʊl/ vs pool /pʉːl/).
|Closing||æɪ aɪ oɪ æʊ aʉ|
|Centring||iə eə ʉə|
- The NEAR–SQUARE merger (of the diphthongs /iə/ and /eə/) is on the increase, especially since the beginning of the 21st century so that the phrase that's neither here nor there is pronounced [ˈðɛts niːða ˈhiə noː ˈðiə] in General NZE, with here rhyming with there. In Cultivated NZE, the distinction is maintained: [ˈðæts niːða ˈhiə noː ˈðeə]. Similarly, beer and bear as well as really and rarely are homophones: [biə], [ˈɹiəliː]. 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, [iə]. The proportion of teenagers showing the merger increased from 16% in 1983 to 80% in 1999. As the merger is not yet fully complete, it is transcribed only in phonetic transcription, whereas in phonemic transcription the distinction is maintained: /ˈðɛts niːða ˈhiə noː ˈðeə/, etc.
- /ʉə/ (as in "tour") is becoming rarer. Most speakers use either /ʉːə/ or /oː/ instead.
- The phonetic quality of NZE diphthongs are as follows:
- On the Cultivated end of the spectrum, the starting points of the fronting-closing diphthongs /æɪ/ and /aɪ/ are front [æɪ] in the first case and central [äɪ] or advanced back [ɑ̟ɪ] (both hereafter written with ⟨aɪ⟩) in the second case. These are the usual NZE realizations. On the Broad end of the spectrum, they are both retracted, so that /æɪ/ acquires a central onset [aɪ], whereas the first element of /aɪ/ is retracted and rounded to [ɒɪ], sometimes with raising to [ɔɪ] (both hereafter written with ⟨ɒɪ⟩), approaching the CHOICE vowel /oɪ/ but without an actual merger. This means that the diphthong [aɪ] can stand for either vowel, depending on the variety of NZE. However, unlike the front vowel shift, rounded variants of PRICE are stigmatised, and younger female speakers tend to opt for the conservative variants of those diphthongs even when they exhibit the most advanced variety of the front vowel shift, which leads to the white rabbit [ˌhwaɪt ˈɹɛ̝bɐt] phenomenon.
- The ending points of FACE /æɪ/, PRICE /aɪ/ and CHOICE /oɪ/ vary between close-mid front [e] and close front [i]. In Cultivated NZE, FACE [æe̝] consistently has a higher offset than PRICE [ae], much like in General Australian English, but in Broad NZE they normally have the same ending point [e]: [ae, ɒe]. In General NZE, they have been reported to differ as [æe] (with a close-mid ending point) vs. [ae̞] (with a mid ending point) by one source. Elsewhere in the article, the offsets of the fronting diphthongs are written with ⟨ɪ⟩ regardless of their precise height, following the way they are usually transcribed in English.
- The onset of /æʊ/ is normally raised open front, [æ], whereas its ending point varies between the close back [ʊ] and the close central [ʉ]. Unlike in Australian English, the open-mid back ending point [ɔ] does not occur. In Broad NZE, the starting point is higher, giving [ɛ] or [ɛ̝], whereas the offset is centralized and unrounded to [ə], effectively turning MOUTH into a centring diphthong that encroaches on the Cultivated realization of SQUARE. This [ɛə] realization is gaining ground among younger speakers of the General variety. The Cultivated realization is [äʊ] (hereafter written without the diacritic), a glide from the open central position to the close back position, which differs from the General NZE GOAT /aʉ/ only by the backness of the second element. According to one source, [aʊ] is sometimes also used in General NZE, though more commonly with a somewhat more front onset: [æ̠ʊ].
- The starting point of /aʉ/ is [ä], whereas its ending point is close to cardinal [ʉ], making it a glide from STRUT to GOOSE. In certain phonetic environments (especially in tonic syllables and in the word no), some speakers unround it to [ɨ], sometimes with additional fronting to [ɪ], making no sound like nigh. In the Cultivated variety, the onset is mid central and rounded, whereas the ending point is more back: [ɵʊ].
- As stated above, the starting points of /iə/ and /eə/ are identical ([ɪ]) in contemporary NZE. However, conservative speakers distinguish the two diphthongs as [ɪə] and [e̞ə].
- Sources do not agree on the exact phonetic realizations of certain NZE diphthongs:
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||Australian||South African||RP||Example words|
|This article||Wells 1982||Bauer et al 2007||Hay et al 2008||Rogers 2014|
|ʉː||uː / yː||ʉː||u||ʉ||ʉː||ʉː||uː||goose|
|oː||ɔː / oː||oː||sure|
|øː||ɜː / øː||ɵː||ɜ||ɞ||ɜː||øː||ɜː||nurse|
|eə||eə / eː||eə||eə||eə||eː||eː||eə||square|
- 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. Older Southland speakers sound the [ɹ] variably after vowels, but today younger speakers use [ɹ] only with the NURSE vowel and occasionally with the LETTER vowel. Younger Southland speakers pronounce [ɹ] in third term [ˌθøːɹd ˈtøːɹm] (General NZE pronunciation: [ˌθøːd ˈtøːm]) but not in farm cart /ˈfaːm kaːt/ (same as in General NZE). Among r-less speakers, however, non-prevocalic [ɹ] is sometimes pronounced in a few words, including Ireland [ˈaɪɹlənd], merely [ˈmiəɹliː], err [øːɹ], and the name of the letter R [aːɹ] (General NZE pronunciations: [ˈaɪələnd, ˈmiəliː, øː, aː]). Some Māori speakers are semi-rhotic, although it is not clearly identified to any particular region or attributed to any defined language shift. The Māori language itself tends in most cases to use an r with an alveolar tap [ɾ], like Scottish dialect.
- /l/ is velarised ("dark") in almost all positions, and is often vocalised in syllable codas so that ball is pronounced as [boːʊ̯] or [boːə̯]. Even when not vocalised, it is darker in codas than in onsets, possibly with pharyngealisation. Vocalisation varies in different regions and between different socioeconomic groups; the younger, lower social class speakers vocalise /l/ most of the time.
- 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.
- 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 [jʉːz a ˈləɾo bəɾ əv ˈbaɾa]. Evidence for this usage exists as far back as the early 19th century, such as Kerikeri being transliterated as "Kiddee Kiddee" by missionaries.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2018)
- Some New Zealanders pronounce past participles such as grown /ˈɡɹaʉən/, thrown /ˈθɹaʉən/ and mown /ˈmaʉən/ with two syllables, the latter containing a schwa /ə/ not found in other accents. By contrast, groan /ɡɹaʉn/, throne /θɹaʉn/ and moan /maʉn/ are all unaffected, meaning these word pairs can be distinguished by ear.
- The trans- prefix is usually pronounced /tɹɛns/. This produces mixed pronunciation of the as in words like transplant /ˈtɹɛnsplaːnt/. However, /tɹaːns/ is also heard, typically in older New Zealanders.
- The name of the letter H is almost always /æɪtʃ/, as in North American, and is almost never aspirated (/hæɪtʃ/).
- 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 /ziː/ 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 /ˈfoɪa/, as in Australian and American English, rather than /ˈfoɪæɪ/ as in British English.
- The word and combining form graph is pronounced both /ɡɹaːf/ and /ɡɹɛf/.
- The word data is commonly pronounced /ˈdaːta/, with /ˈdæɪta/ being the second most common, and /ˈdɛta/ being very rare.
- Words such as contribute and distribute are predominantly pronounced with the stress on the second syllable (/kənˈtɹəbjʉːt/, /dəˈstɹəbjʉːt/). Variants with the stress on the first syllable (/ˈkɒntɹəbjʉːt/, /ˈdəstɹəbjʉːt/) also occur.
Pronunciation of Māori place names
This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2018)
The pronunciations of many Māori place names were anglicised for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but since the 1980s increased consciousness of the Māori language has led to a shift towards using a Māori pronunciation. The anglicisations have persisted most among residents of the towns in question, so it has become something of a shibboleth, with correct Māori pronunciation marking someone as non-local.
|Placename||English pronunciation||Te Reo Māori||Māori pronunciation|
|Cape Reinga||/ˌkæɪp ɹiːˈɛŋa/||re-i-nga||[ˈɾɛːiŋɐ]|
|Hawera||/ˈhaːweɹa, -wəɹ-, -aː/||ha-we-ra||[ˈhɑːwɛɾɐ]|
|Te Awamutu||/ˌtiː əˈmʉːtʉː/||te a-wa-mu-tu||[tɛ ɐwɐˈmʉtʉ]|
|Te Kauwhata||/ˌtiː kəˈhwɒta/||te kau-fa-ta||[tɛ ˈkauɸɐtɐ]|
Some anglicised names are colloquially shortened, for example, Coke /kaʉk/ for Kohukohu, the Rapa /ˈɹɛpa/ for the Wairarapa, Kura /ˈkʉəɹa/ for Papakura, Papatoe /ˈpɛpətaʉiː/ for Papatoetoe, Otahu /ˌaʉtəˈhʉː/ for Otahuhu, Paraparam /ˈpɛɹəpɛɹɛm/ or Pram /pɹɛm/ for Paraparaumu, the Naki /ˈnɛkiː/ for Taranaki, Cow-cop /ˈkæʊkɒp/ for Kaukapakapa and Pie-cock /ˈpaɪkɒk/ for Paekakariki.
There is some confusion between these shortenings, especially in the southern South Island, and the natural variations of the southern dialect of Māori. Not only does this dialect sometimes feature apocope, but consonants also vary slightly from standard Māori. 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 /ˌɒməˈɹʉː/ and Waiwera South as Wy-vra /ˈwaɪvɹa/, these differences may be as much caused by dialect differences – either in Māori or in the English used during transcription – as by the process of anglicisation. An extreme example is The Kilmog /ˈkəlmɒɡ/, the name of which is cognate with the standard Māori Kirimoko.
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