NZSM Online

Get TurboNote+ desktop sticky notes

Interclue makes your browsing smarter, faster, more informative

SciTech Daily Review

Webcentre Ltd: Web solutions, Smart software, Quality graphics

Quick Dips

Kiwis Sound like Victorian British

Canterbury University researchers have found that New Zealanders are hanging on to British speaking habits dating back to Victorian times.

How we say the vowels in such words as "pet" or "pat" might be closer to the original 19th-century British pronunciations than we realised.

"Although once vilified as errors of colonial speech, many New Zealand pronunciations are features of 19th-century British speech that have been retained here but not in Britain because of a phenomenon called 'colonial lag'," says project leader Professor Elizabeth Gordon.

The Origins of New Zealand English research project is looking at the historical development of New Zealand English (NZE), especially the distinctive accent. It is supported by the Public Good Science Fund.

Kiwi speech has shown much independent development in, for example, how we say the "i" in words like fish, a perpetual source of amusement to the other colonials across the Tasman.

"This was once thought to have been due to the influence of early Lowland Scots settlers, but we now know that's not true. It's a 20th-century New Zealand innovation," says Gordon.

Researchers have also been surprised to find "extremely early" examples of current NZE features in the speech of people born as early as the 1860s and 1870s.

"We have called these examples 'embryonic variants', and their discovery is of some international importance."

The research team has studied the speech of more than 200 New Zealanders born between 1850 and 1900, recorded by the Broadcasting Service's Mobile Unit from 1946-48. The resulting phonetic analysis of their speech is used to:

  • identify features of old British dialects that were important in the formation of NZE (the "original ingredients")
  • pinpoint when and how features now part of NZE emerged
  • test general theories about how languages change