Understanding ‘Kiwi Speak’

Pimsleur Approach • January 11, 2013 • Language HistoryComments (0)
Kiwi Speak: New Zealand

Image via Wikipedia

New Zealanders have a unique way of speaking that often has tourists – even fellow native English speakers – throwing up their hands in despair. “Kiwi speak” or “New Zild”, as New Zealand English is jokingly referred to, has a tendency to be fast-paced, peppered with slang and finished off with an inflection which sounds like a question is being asked, even if it isn’t. Throw in an accent, or ‘ekkcent’, which manages to strangle most of the vowel sounds and you’re guaranteed to have some very baffled listeners. But things aren’t as complicated as they seem. Read on for an introduction to ‘New Zild’s’ key features, helping you get to grips with this unique dialect.

First of all, it’s important to know that New Zealanders have a particular way of using vowels, so an ‘a’ sounds like an ‘e’, and an ‘e’ sounds like an ‘i’. For example the sentence “She is actually married to a happy man”, when pronounced by a Kiwi sounds like “She is ectually merried to a heppy men”. By the same token, the words ‘pen’ and ‘bed’ can sound like ‘pin’ and ‘bid’ with a Kiwi accent.

The High Rising Terminal, or HRT, is also a feature of the dialect. This is when the intonation rises at the end of a sentence so it seems a little uncertain and often more like a question than a statement. The HRT is especially common amongst New Zealand women, and is also found among Australians.

New Zealand accents tend to fall into three categories – broad, general and cultivated. In the not-too-distant past everyone had a Scottish burr and rolled their ‘R’s’ as well, but this is now something you’ll only hear in Southland – along with Scottish origin words and phrases like ‘wee’ meaning ‘small’ and ‘to do the messages’ meaning to go shopping.

Although not always Scottish, many Kiwi words can be traced back to New Zealand’s British heritage. For example, the word ‘chokka’ (meaning that someone, or something, is full-up) comes from the old English nautical phrase ‘chock-a-block’. But a wide range of words and phrases are exclusive to New Zealand’s 19th century agricultural beginnings, so terms like ‘rattle your dags’ (hurry up), ‘going bush’ (retreat from society), and ‘living in the wops’ (rural area) are exclusive to the country. Kiwis also have a habit of shortening long words, so vegetables become ‘veggies’, presents/gifts become ‘pressies’, television become ‘telly’, relations become ‘rellies’, and so on.

Maori words are another important feature of New Zealand English. From the earliest days, through trading and religion, Maori people quickly learned the English language, and many of their own words found their way into everyday European speech. Some of the most well-known you’ll hear are ‘kia ora’ (hello), ‘kai’ (food) ‘kia kaha’ (stay strong) and ‘whanau’ (family).

Kiwi Speak: Billy T. James

Billy T. James – Image via Wikipedia

Maori TV comedian Billy T. James parodied the Maori way of speaking English to hilarious effect in the 1980s, and because of this many New Zealanders now end a sentence with the word ‘eh?’ Maori kinship terms like ‘cuz’ (cousin), ‘bro’ (brother) and the popular saying ‘chur bro’, which means ‘cheers (thanks) brother’, are also widely used by Kiwi youth. Some other staple colloquialisms you’ll hear on the street include: ‘Gidday mate’ (hello), ‘No worries’ and ‘She’ll be right mate’ (it’ll be fine).

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want a greater insight into the dialect, check out this Kiwi Slang website, and you’ll soon be speaking ‘New Zild’ confidently with the locals. Chur bro!

Angela Pearse is a freelance travel writer from New Zealand who is currently living and writing in the United Kingdom. She has written travel articles for various publications and sites, and is the creator of a travel website Bella Italia which provides travel tips, accommodation and locality reviews about Italy.

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