The New Zealand accent was first noticed in children and blamed on laziness or the influence of the home and the street. However, Professor Arnold Wall and others claimed that it had developed from the Cockney dialect of London. Later it was suggested that it was transported to New Zealand from Australia.
The recordings of the Mobile Unit archive of 19th-century-born New Zealanders correlate with the documentary evidence which shows that the largest group of immigrants came from the south-east of England. Of the 95 speakers analysed, only one had northern-England speech patterns.
Later explanations are more complex and depend on information about immigration and early New Zealand settlement patterns. Most of the migrants came from Britain – mostly from England. London and the south-east was the largest contributing area, and linguistically they won out. These settlement patterns explain why New Zealand English, like Australian and South African English, is closest to the south-eastern variety of English.
Role of children
It is recognised that children and adolescents are agents of change in new dialect formation. From 1877 free compulsory education ensured that children came together for their schooling, and peer-group pressure would have contributed to the rapid spread of the New Zealand accent.
The New Zealand accent appeared first in towns with mixed populations of immigrants from England, Ireland, Scotland and Australia. These included the militia towns of the North Island and the gold-mining towns of the South Island.
In more homogeneous towns such as those in Otago and Southland, settled mainly by people from Scotland, the New Zealand accent took longer to appear.