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New Zealand English

New Zealand English
Region New Zealand
Native speakers
3.8 million in New Zealand (2013 census)
150,000 L2 speakers of English in New Zealand (Crystal 2003)
Latin (English alphabet)
Unified English Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

New Zealand English (NZE) is the variant of the English language spoken by most English-speaking New Zealanders. Its language code in ISO and Internet standards is en-NZ. English is one of New Zealand's three official languages (along with New Zealand Sign Language and te reo Māori) and is the first language of the majority of the population.

The English language was established in New Zealand by colonists during the 19th century. It is one of "the newest native-speaker variet[ies] of the English language in existence, a variety which has developed and become distinctive only in the last 150 years". The most distinctive influences on New Zealand English have come from Australian English, English in southern England, Irish English, Scottish English, the prestige Received Pronunciation (RP), and Māori. New Zealand English is most similar to Australian English in pronunciation, with some key differences.

The first comprehensive dictionary dedicated to New Zealand English was probably the Heinemann New Zealand Dictionary, published in 1979. Edited by Harry Orsman (1928–2002), it is a 1,337-page book, with information relating to the usage and pronunciation of terms that were widely accepted throughout the English-speaking world and those peculiar to New Zealand. It includes a one-page list of the approximate date of entry into common parlance of the many terms found in New Zealand English but not elsewhere, such as "haka" (1827), "Boohai" (1920), and "bach" (1905). A second edition was published in 1989 with the cover subtitle "the first dictionary of New Zealand English and New Zealand pronunciation". A third edition, edited by Nelson Wattie, was published as The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand English by Reed Publishing in 2001.

Variation in New Zealand vowels
Phoneme Phonetic realization
Lexical set Bauer et al. WP Cultivated Broad
KIT /ɘ/ /ɪ/ [ɪ̠] [ə]
COMMA /ə/ [ə]
DRESS /e/ /ɛ/ [] []
TRAP /ɛ/ /æ/ [æ] [ɛ̝]
FACE /æe/ // [æe̝] [ɐe]
PRICE /ɑe/ // [ɑ̟e] [ɒ̝ˑe], [ɔe]
MOUTH /æo/ // [aʊ] [e̞ə]
GOAT /ɐʉ/ // [ɵʊ] [ɐʉ]
NEAR /iə/ /ɪər/ [i̞ə], [e̝ə] [i̞ə]
SQUARE /eə/ /ɛər/ [e̞ə]
NZ Australia Translation to US/UK English
mobile phone
mobile phone
a portable telephone. Note: "Cell" and "cellphone" are predominantly US. "Mobile" and "mobile phone" are predominantly UK. New Zealand uses the terms "cell" and "cellphone" predominantly. Australia uses the terms "mobile" and "mobile phone" exclusively. The term "cell" is only used in Australia as in cellular tower. The US and New Zealand term Cellular Network is called Mobile Network in Australia.
chilly bin Esky an insulated box used to keep food or drink cool
shack a small, often very modest holiday property, often at the seaside
dairy milk bar
convenience store, a small store selling mainly food
duvet Doona Doona is an Australian trade mark for a brand of duvet which has replaced the term duvet entirely.
ice block
ice block
Icy Pole
Ice pop
thongs flip-flops
thong (clothing) G-string thong (clothing)
candy floss fairy floss Candy floss in the UK, cotton candy in the US
cattle stop
cattle grid
cattle grid a device for preventing cattle wandering on country roads
sallies salvos A follower of the Salvation Army church
speed bump
judder bar
speed bump
speed hump
a raised section of road used to deter excessive speed
drinking fountain bubbler
drinking fountain
a device designed to provide drinking water. This term is also used in Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
shrimp prawn NZ usage follows general international usage whereby shrimp refers to smaller sized species (such as in a "shrimp cocktail") and prawn to larger varieties whereas in Australia prawn is the sole term for both.
no exit no through road signage for a road with a dead end, a cul-de-sac
togs swimming costume
budgie smugglers
swimwear, swimming costumes, or other clothes designed to be worn in water
Twink Liquid Paper
Correction fluid. Note that Twink is a New Zealand brand name which has entered the vernacular as a generic term, being the first product of its kind introduced in the 1980s. The common Australian general term is white-out. Liquid Paper is also a brand name which is sometimes used as a generic term in Australia or New Zealand. As with other countries (but not Australia) the European brand Tipp-Ex is also available in New Zealand and is sometimes used as a generic term as well.
Motorway Freeway In Australia, Controlled-access highways can be named as either Freeway (a term not used in NZ) or Motorway, depending on the state.
"hello" (etc.)
Although the greeting "G'day" is as common in New Zealand as it is in Australia, the term "Howdy" can be heard throughout New Zealand but not frequently in Australia. This contraction of "how do you do?" is actually of English origin (South English dialect ca. 1860), however is contemporarily associated with Southern American English, particularly Texan where it is a common greeting. It is possible the NZ origin is from the earlier British usage.
marker pen
felt tips
a marker pen
hiking travel through open or (more often) forested areas on foot

  • New Zealand English
  • Aussie (noun) – Australia. This extension of the term to mean the country is unique to New Zealand. In Australia and internationally, Aussie means Australian (person or thing), as opposed to Australia (the country.) The normal adjectival usage is also used in New Zealand
  • big-huge (adj) – large object ("big-huge building"), extensive ("big-huge mess"), glaring ("big-huge mistake")
  • choice! (interj) – one-word rejoinder expressing satisfaction
  • chur (interj) – many uses, the most common being a form of greeting, or a contraction of "cheers" most commonly heard in "chur, bro". It is also used as an alternative to "good on you"
  • dairy (noun) – corner shop; convenience store
  • fang it (phrase) – to go fast.
  • get your beans (phrase) – get what's coming to you; be punished
  • Gib board, Gibraltar board (noun) – the common NZ term for drywall, plasterboard interior wall lining (a genericised trademark; Gib™ is a trademark of Winstone Wallboards Ltd)
  • Good as gold (phrase) – All is well (found in other forms of English as well)
  • handle (noun) – the pint (actually 500 mL) glass of beer with a handle, as sold in pubs
  • hardout/hard – used to show agreement, or used to show emphasis/intensity. Examples: Agreement: "Yeah hard/hardout". "He was running hardout."
  • heaps (adjective, adverb) – abundant, plenty, plentifully. Examples: "There are heaps of cops surrounding the house." "I love you heaps." "Give it heaps!" - Give it your best effort!
  • iwi (noun) – Māori word for tribe
  • jandals (noun) – the NZ term for flip-flops. Originally a trademarked name derived from 'Japanese sandals'.
  • kai (noun) – Māori word for food
  • Kiwi (adj) – Not only does Kiwi mean 'a New Zealand person', but it is sometimes used to replace the word New Zealand in NZ businesses or titles, such as KiwiRail and Kiwibank or New Zealand-related nouns, e.g. "Kiwi-ism". This practice may be seen by non-New Zealanders as overly kitsch or cute. It is also used to address something that is particularly related to New Zealand, e.g. "that house is pretty kiwi"
  • luncheon sausage (noun) – devon sausage (also called "fritz" or "belgium" in some parts of New Zealand)
  • metal road (noun) – a dirt road overlaid with gravel to assist drainage and keep dust down, typically found in rural settings
  • munted (adj, slang) – a) destroyed; trashed; broken, b) of a person, weird or odd
  • polony (noun) – a small cocktail sausage, dyed red and made of mixed processed meats. Polony has other meanings in Australia, South Africa and the UK
  • pooped (adj) – tired, exhausted (found in other forms of English as well)
  • puckerood (adj) – broken; busted; wrecked, (from Māori "pakaru")
  • puku (noun) – Māori word for stomach (belly)
  • ranchslider, ranch slider, (noun) – the universal NZ term for a sliding door, usually of aluminium frame and containing glass panels (a genericised trademark; Ranchslider™ is a registered trademark of Fletcher Window & Door Systems).
  • rattle your dags! (phrase) – hurry up! Dags are faeces stuck to the wool of a sheep, which rattle if dry
  • rough as guts (phrase) – of machinery, not working properly; of behavior uncouth or unacceptable (this also in UK)
  • shingle (noun) – gravel. A shingle road is an un-sealed road
  • shot – (acknowledgement or interj)
    • thank you
    • to express joy
    • give praise; well done!
  • scull (verb) – to drink a glass or handle (see above) of beer in one go
  • stoked (adv) – very pleased; delighted
  • sweet as!' (interj) – Cool! Awesome!
  • tar seal road (noun) – chipseal road
  • tiki tour (noun) – a guided tour; exploration; a meandering route taken in order to waste time
  • togs (noun) – informal term for swimsuit (either gender)
  • town house (noun) – a small self-contained, free standing house with little or no back yard, often with a shared driveway with neighbouring houses. The NZ meaning is unique and differs from the American, Asian, Australian and European meaning of townhouse (typically terraced houses) as well as the older UK meaning (city houses of nobility)
  • tramping (noun) tramp (verb) – Bushwalking, hiking. Usage is exclusive to New Zealand
  • tucker (noun) – food
  • up the boohai / up the Puhoi [River] / in the wop wops – to be lost or stranded, of unknown whereabouts or when unwilling to divulge whereabouts. In the outback, or in the boondocks
  • wahine (noun) – Māori word for woman; wife
  • wee (adjective) – 1) a short time, a little bit, as in "my chicken was a wee bit overcooked." 2) small, little, as in "he was a wee boy." This is directly from Scottish English and is in common formal use throughout New Zealand whereas in other English speaking countries, apart from Scotland, this usage is uncommon or used only informally. It is not part of Australian English, for example
  • whanau (noun) – Māori word for family
  • whiteware – major kitchen appliances (white goods in UK)
  • thank you
  • to express joy
  • give praise; well done!
  • Where there is a difference between British and US spelling (such as cancelling/canceling and jewellery/jewelry), the British spelling of double-L is universally used. The British use of single-L is also universally used in words such as enrol.
  • New Zealanders spell tires as tyres unless a Trademark such as Cooper Tires.
  • The Commonwealth spelling of kerb is used over US curb.
  • New Zealand spelling of -re words such as centre, mitre, litre, and theatre have always officially followed the British spelling as opposed to American center, miter, liter, and theater, although in practice American spellings are often used such as in Real Estate listings, buy-and-sell websites such as Trade Me, AutoTrader, and others.
  • Words with the -ce suffix such as defence, and pretence are always spelt with -ce as opposed to the American defense, and pretense.
  • With -our words like colour/color or behaviour/behavior the spelling of -our is always used unless a Trademark, such as Colorsteel or The Color Run, etc. Foreign official awards such as the FBI Medal Of Valor always retain their US spelling in New Zealand texts. Additionally the online version of the New Zealand Herald newspaper republishes articles with US spelling when the original article is written with US spelling, such as articles from the Associated Press. Since the advent of Word Processors with spell-checkers, in modern assignment writing in New Zealand universities the rule is to use either 100% British spelling or 100% American spelling the emphasis being consistency.
  • For words ending -(e)ment as in judg(e)ment, either spelling is acceptable in New Zealand usage, although -ement is the preferred British usage.
  • New Zealand English retains the distinctions between program ("computer heuristic") and programme ("schedule", "broadcast show"), disk ("information storage device") and disc ("flat circular object"), and analog (as in analog stick) and analogue (all other senses) as found in British and often in Australian English.
  • It is usual to form past tenses and past participles of certain verbs with -t and not -ed in New Zealand English. For example, learn becomes learnt, spoil becomes spoilt, burn becomes burnt, dream becomes dreamt /dɹemt/, and lean becomes leant /lent/. These verb forms are pronounced with a final unvoiced /t/ sound, meaning spoilt is pronounced /spoelt/ not /spoeld/. This contrasts with American English, where -ed is far commoner and is pronounced /d/ (e.g. dwelled /dweld/ is an American form of dwelt /dwelt/. Learned, the adjective meaning "wise", is universally spelt thus and pronounced as two syllables (/ˈlɵːnɘd/). The past tenses and past participles of earn and boil are earned and boiled respectively, though they may be pronounced ending with a /t/ sound.
  • Words with the digraphs ae and oe in British English are usually spelt as such in New Zealand English (e.g. faeces not feces) rather than with just e as with American English. There are some exceptions where certain words are becoming universally spelt with e such as encyclopaedia, chamaeleon, hyaena, and homoeopathy which are now spelt encyclopedia, chameleon, hyena, and homeopathy respectively. Coincidentally, this is also occurring in British English in these cases too.
  • In hyperbolic statements, the spellings of ton and tons are commonly used (e.g. I have tons of friends and I feel tons better), despite the metric system with its tonne having been introduced in the 1970s.
  • In words that may be spelt with either an -ise or an -ize suffix (such as organise/organize) New Zealand English, like Australian English, mainly prefers -ise. This contrasts with American English, where -ize is generally preferred, and British English, where -ise is also generally preferred but by some, including the Oxford Dictionary, -ize is preferred. In New Zealand it is not wrong to use either spelling.
  • New Zealand favours fiord over fjord, unlike most other English-speaking countries, although fjord is not unseen.
  • When spelling words with macrons borrowed from Māori, New Zealand English can either spell them with macrons or without (e.g. Maori and Māori are both accepted spellings). In informal writing, macrons are not usually kept. New Zealand tends to spell these words with macrons more often than other countries and there is a growing tendency to do so.
  • New Zealand always uses jail over British and Australian gaol.
  • Gram, the unit of mass, is commonly spelt as such and not gramme, which is somewhat found in British English. The same holds true for the word's derivates (e.g. kilogram is more common than kilogramme).
  • All abbreviations of words where the last letter of the abbreviation does not correspond to the last letter of the full-length word are abbreviated without a full stop in New Zealand English. Thus the abbreviation of Doctor is Dr and the abbreviation of Mister is Mr do not have full stops after them, as opposed to Dr. and Mr. in American English. Initialisms and acronyms such as USA and NASA (or Nasa), are also abbreviated without a full stops in New Zealand English. This practice has been in place in New Zealand since the late 1970s.
  • Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Gordon, Elizabeth (2008), New Zealand English, Dialects of English, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN  


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