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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.



Present Characteristics

The position in New Zealand at present may be thus summarised: a certain number of people, not by any means a majority, speak standard English exactly as if they had been born and brought up in London, or Kent, or Cambridge, but the majority speak more rapidly, more roughly, often with a nasal tendency and with a greater proportion of slang than the average English speaker. There are also certain differences in the pronunciation of certain classes of words and of English place names which have been transplanted to this country, such as Wellesley in three syllables, Mahlborough, Rollëston, in three syllables, for Rolleston, odd variants of Hawarden, Arundel stressed on -run for Arundel, Heethcoat for Heathcote, and so on.

The Maori place names, in spite of the admirable system of perfectly phonetic spelling, are often most gravely mutilated and mispronounced. The pronunciation of the professional announcers on the radio is generally excellent and should serve as a model to the “man in the street” but does not appear to have much, if any, influence in this direction. The speech of persons other than the staff over the radio is of course apt to vary greatly. As a general rule, here as elsewhere, the speech of women is better in every respect than that of men because, it is usually agreed, women appreciate the value, especially the social value, of good speech better than men do. Men often tend to regard “good” speech as effeminate or “cissy” and are apt to cultivate a manner of speech which is sometimes described as “kiwi”. It is often noticed that the speech of English-speaking Maoris is more musical, less nasal and harsh than that of the Pakeha.

In two respects the New Zealand pronunciation of English is old fashioned and preserves the sounds of an older generation. WH is pronounced here with its old “sharp” sound which disappeared completely from southern English during the nineteenth century. This is possibly due to the influence of Scottish and Irish settlers but is more probably rather a bit of pedantry initiated and encouraged by the teachers who, as a class, are apt to allow the spelling of a word to determine its pronunciation. Another sound heard here is the sheer for shire in the names of the counties which was formerly sheer in England but which gave way to sher in present-day speech and is so recognised by authorities.