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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




“Southland speech” or “the Southland dialect” is a regional variant of New Zealand English popularly associated with the provincial district of Southland in the south and south-west of the South Island. It has developed from the original lowland Scottish dialect-complex of the early immigrants. Though more noticeable in rural Southland, many of the features of the dialect extend over most of rural Otago, and one at least (the pronunciation of r before consonants or at the end of words) well into South Canterbury. In the cities of Dunedin and (perhaps) Invercargill “the Southland dialect” is giving way to the general New Zealand dialect.

“The Southland dialect” is usually recognised by the following tendencies:


  1. Long a of car replaced by the short front “a” of cat before (n and m+consonant) (dance, chance, example) and, less regularly, before f, s, th (after, Castle Street, path). This tendency was noticed by the Scottish elocutionist, McBurney, in 1886, and is usual in northern English and Scottish dialects.

  2. A “burred” r is pronounced at the end of words and before consonants (beer, there, shore, after, march, port, certain), and was noticed by McBurney in 1886 in Dunedin, Christchurch, and Nelson. (The usual r of very is often trilled.)

  3. Diphthong au of cow has a first element like the e of very, and a fronted second element – eu. Some speakers turn it into a tripthong eiu by inserting a glide between the first and second elements – (abeut, abeiut) rather than (about) for about.

  4. The first element of the diphthong ei of day tends to be lowered to near the e of very.


  1. The use of words usually associated with northern English or Scottish dialect, and not found, or not used so frequently, in general New Zealand speech: e.g., Ashet “a large meat plate, carving dish” (sometimes “roasting pan”) from Northern dialectal “a dish or large flat plate” from Fr. assiette (so, NED); (potato) Shaws “(withered) potato tops” from Scottish “stalks and leaves of certain plants, esp. potatoes and turnips” (NED); wee commonly used for little.

  2. A perpetuation of the general use in the South Island of English, instead of Maori, names for use in the natural objects, e.g., red pine for rimu, black pine for matai.

  3. Regional words, such as crib for general New Zealand bach “seaside cottage; beach house; weekend cottage”; sulky for usual English “(baby's) pushchair.” Here, also, words which perhaps had their first New Zealand use, or origin, in the area before passing into general New Zealand usage: Australasian billu (the container), New Zealand dag (“wag, character”), (old) identity (“first settler; established local character”).

by Harold William Orsman, M.A.(N.Z.), Lecturer in English, Victoria University of Wellington.