Pronunciation model: New Zealand English

View the key for New Zealand English here.

The relatively homogenous varieties of English spoken in New Zealand (Gordon & Maclagan 2008) in one sense make this one of the more straightforward varieties to represent. Historical influences from settlers from across the British Isles and Australia have resulted in patterns and contrasts clearly similar to these varieties in many respects, with Southern English by far the most significant phonological influence (although a semi-rhotic Scottish-influenced quality remains in Southland and parts of Otago on the South Island).

The base New Zealand English model is therefore largely based on the phonetic qualities described by Bauer & Warren (2008), and influenced by the contrasts portrayed in Deverson & Kennedy’s (2005) The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary (NZOD). The vowel keywords and their symbols are given in the table below.


Of the compromises required in developing this model, one is deserving of particular mention. Bauer & Warren note how lip-rounding is relatively weak in New Zealand English, but there an auditory impression of lip-rounding can still be heard even where the lips are not strongly rounded. This is particularly apparent in words such as nurse. Rather than introduce a new symbol to represent this particular phonetic feature, or use a rounded vowel symbol which would misrepresent lip positioning, the most appropriate symbol within the OED’s existing symbol set was instead for the unrounded vowel /ɜː/. This reflects that there is a difference in quality from the British /əː/, but the compromise is that it is conflated with the Australian equivalent.

In general, New Zealand English is not a rhotic variety, so /r/ sounds pattern more similarly to British English than American English, but ‘flapping’ of /t/ to /d/ (bitter as /ˈbɪdə/) is commonplace and reflected consistently between vowels and between vowels and syllabic consonants.

Despite the consistency across much of the New Zealand English variety, its model is unique amongst OED models in having a distinct pronunciation subset. Words of Māori origin are treated slightly differently from the rest. Although it is not the intention to represent a distinct Māori English (as described by Warren & Bauer 2008) nor adopt pronunciations simply reflective of the Māori language, the changing cultural and socio-political scene in New Zealand appears to have resulted in many European-origin speakers adopting less anglicized pronunciations of Māori terms, which the standard pronunciation model is insufficient to capture. Considerable evidence can be found on public video-hosting sites of speakers fluently interspersing their New Zealand English speech with Māori-approximating pronunciations of particular words. As Bauer & Warren suggest, these can be considered instances of code-shifting, i.e. the speaker is no longer speaking ‘English’ but a different language. Speakers who use non-native forms may adopt forms which are closer or more distant from the Māori, with ‘nativist’ and ‘assimilationist’ degrees of anglicization. The pronunciations of those English speakers using near-native Māori pronunciations can be captured by permitting variations of length to existing New Zealand vowels, with varying degrees of anglicization reflected in subsequent pronunciations depending on the word.

The Māori-origin pronunciations therefore use ten vowel symbols, five short and long pairs, as shown in the table below, which broadly correspond to the Māori spelling (the basis for the grid is from the Maori Language Commission 2015). It should be noted that not all sources display the macrons (the lines above the longer vowels) and they do not appear in the headwords of OED entries, but they are frequently given in the etymology sections of such words.

Maori spellingPrimary NZ spellingIn more Anglicized New Zealand English forms
aʌʌ, sometimes word-finally ə
ee e, occasionally æe (unstressed e and/or i)
eː, iː and/or æe (unstressed e and/or i)
ii i
ooo and ɒ, possibly ʌu
oː, possibly ʌu
uuu or ʊ
ngŋword-initially n; word-medially ŋ(ɡ)

Diphthong vowels, where two vowel qualities are glided between but within the same syllable (as in British face or voice), are also a feature of Māori-origin pronunciations, but it is not always straightforward to determine these situations versus those where vowels are produced in sequence over two syllables. Vowel rendering can therefore lead to coincidental two-vowel sequences such as /ʌu/ for vowels where anglicization would be more commonly to an /æu/ diphthong (this may be apparent where the first British pronunciation gives /aʊ/). Relatedly, the stress patterns of Māori words are also different from English, based around units of speech known as morae, though the extent to which New Zealand English speakers retain Māori stress patterning is unclear at present. Review of these patterns is ongoing, with further revisions to be expected.