Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How To Speak Like a Kiwi

A couple of posts ago, I ranted and raved about how English spelling shouldn't be simplified, and happened to mention one of the differences between New Zealand English and other forms. Sarakastic and Jenkneebee commented that they'd like to hear more - and as today is Waitangi Day, a national holiday and the anniversary of when the Maori tribes and the English Crown signed a treaty about land distribution etc, it seemed very appropriate!

It's difficult to know exactly where to start - perhaps it should be with this. The ways we are different or the same. In general, New Zealanders have lost some of the slight differences between sounds that most other English-speaking countries have, probably because we tend to speak very fast and aren't exactly strict with our diction. For example, when I was in Australia, people kept asking me if my name was Allie or Ellie - but in New Zealand we wouldn't hear the difference between them, so it took me a while to figure out what they meant. We would say both names as Allie.
1) New Zealanders are a little like Brits in that we say words like path or dance or can't with the same "a" sound as in hard, not as in ban or can.
2) As I mentioned in that other post, we don't use a "non-prevocalic r" - which means we don't pronounce the "r" in words like beard or hard, although obviously we still pronounce it in words like right, because it's at the start of a syllable. [Exception: those Kiwis who come from the very bottom of the South Island still pronounce the "r" in hard because there were a lot of Scottish settlers in that area.]
3) Non-NZers find it hard to understand us when we say words like bed - they sound more like bid. Likewise, bid sounds more like bud. :) Hence, Australians take the crap out of us for saying "fush and chups" whereas we think they say "feesh and cheeps". Also, if you want to say the word New Zealand and sound like a native, DO NOT say "New Zeeland". You'll immediately sound foreign. Most of us say "New Zilland". Horrible, but true.
4) We've lost differences between similar words such as pool and pull. Both come out sounding like pull. Words like tour and cure are starting to have only one syllable.
5) The difference that is probably most famous to linguists is that we no longer say the difference between the sounds in the words near and square. So, hair, hear, here, hare are all pronounced exactly the same, unlike in British English.
6) Another famous oddity of NZ English is that our sentences sound different, inflexion-wise. Most speakers of any language, when asking a question, will slightly raise their voices in pitch at the end of the sentence, so that people know it's a question. New Zealanders do that not only in questions but in a lot of statements.
7) We tend not to say the difference between woman and women.
8) We're quite casual about the less important words such as 'to' and 'the', so when we say a sentence like "I'm going to the shops" it generally comes out as "I'm going t' th' shops". That might be universal but NZers really do talk so fast that that's the norm.
9) The 'eye' sound often comes out sounding like 'oi' - this is what I like least about my accent, actually. So "nice" becomes "noice", etc etc.

Those are most of the differences I can remember but there's sure to be more! Here's some examples I found on YouTube for you:
This video is about thirty seconds from a Flight of the Conchords episode. It is a very funny demonstration of the bed --> bid confusion. (Basically if you want to hear a NZ accent, watch any Flight of the Conchords episode and you'll get an excellent example, but this one is particularly about the Kiwi accent.)
This video is just one example of how Australians make fun of us! One of my favourite shows while I was living in Australia was The Chaser, a group of comedians who go and make fun of everyone. This is one of them trying to make Helen Clark, the NZ Prime Minister, say "six" - which to Australians, sounds like "sex".
And I haven't actually watched this video, but apparently it's a Channel One News item on how the NZ accent has changed over the last thirty years.

Other than pronunciation itself, New Zealanders have a lot of words we use all the time that no one else understands. I thought you should learn at least some:
Bach (pronounced 'batch') is a holiday home. Must be slightly rundown.
Togs = swimsuit.
Lollies = candy.
G'day. Aussies use this too, yes. Pretty self-explanatory - a shortening of "good day".
A hard case is someone who's a bit of a joker.
A hissy fit is a tantrum. Not just for toddlers, though.
To be knackered is to be exhausted.
To kick the bucket is to die.
To pack a sad is to get moody or morose.
Tramping is the equivalent of hiking, and is usually an overnight affair.
Mana is a Maori word, but is used widely to signify prestige, status or authority.
Mate = friend. Very very widespread.
Pakeha = non-Maori person/people. Usually of European descent. (Maori has no "s" sound so the plural is just Pakeha too.)
A Pom is an Englishman.
Scroggin is a mixture of anything, eg nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, that you take with you on tramps to eat as a snack.
Sweet as = A kind of equivalent of "no worries", "fine", "great".
Wopwops = isolated rural areas.
For more, visit this website.

Another major feature of New Zealand English is the Maori place names. Obviously places like my hometown, Christchurch, have English names, but a lot of towns, rivers, lakes, mountains etc have Maori names, and really there are two ways to pronounce these - the Anglicised way or the proper way. You will have to master both. Example:
Waikouaiti is a small town. In Maori it should be pronounced something like this - Why-koh-why-tee. But most Pakeha would call it Wack-a-white.
Taupo, a lake and town, is generally pronounced Tow-poh (Tow as in Cow), but should be pronounced Toh-por.
Aaand Lake Te Anau is often pronounced Tee-ar-now but should be Teh-ar-noh.

There's not a whole lot of variation within New Zealand English because we're quite a small, young nation. But - as I mentioned before - southerners tend to use the non-prevocalic "r". And there's another important group that have a sort of dialect of their own - Maori and Pacific Island New Zealand English! This is used a lot more in the north than the south and is a very cool accent, I think. I won't go into it but I will point you to some great examples.
This is Maori comedian Billy T. James who used to have a TV show way back.
This is a trailer for NZ's equivalent of The Simpsons - Bro'Town. Be warned, it's funny but if you're not into toilet humour...
Otherwise, watch a movie like Whale Rider.

Finally, I'm going to give you some phrases to practice. Say these over and over, do some study on YouTube, and perhaps you will be able to fool someone one day. Still, apparently the NZ accent is one of the hardest to imitate. Sir Anthony Hopkins tried, in The World's Fastest Indian, and he did quite well, but there were moments when he just couldn't get it right. The problem is that it's not just the actual sounds but the way you structure your sentences - they have to have the right rhythm and intonation and twang, which is quite difficult.
G'day mate = Guday mate.
NZ = Enzed. (Very important - NOT enzee).
I'd like some chicken chips = Ud luk sim chucken chups. (Don't exaggerate the "u" in chucken chups too much - it's really somewhere between "chips" and "chups".)
Good on you, mate = Goodonya mate.
She'll be right = Shill be roight. (as in, everything will be okay)
Give us a squiz = Givz a squiz (as in, give us a look)
Pop round for a cup of tea = Pop round fora cuppa.
Or - just add an "eh" onto the end of every observation. Ie, "She's looking good, eh." "I'm pretty tired, eh." "Work's hard, eh?"

But really, the most important thing of all towards being accepted as a Kiwi is to understand that the Australian accent is sillier than ours.


LEstes65 said...

I'm wondering if Tracy Ullman or Meryl Streep can pull off a good NZ accent. Most people that try accents for any extended period eventually lose it or show their true heritage on a few words here or there. I'm good at accents but need to hear the tougher ones often to keep them going.

NZ - I can't get it consistently. I can get a few words here or there. But I'd be a lousy deep cover spy in your country. HA!

That Flight of the Conchords clip slayed me. "He may be did"! HAHAHA!

heidikins said...

I absolutely love this post!! Granted, I am TERRIBLE at any kind of accent, and I'm sure I'd sound less silly just sticking to my Western US twang instead of trying to master (read: attempt) talking like a Kiwi. But this is an absolutely fantastic post!


~Virginia~ said...

Wow! You really put in a lot of effort!! I especially like the word "tramping"...

JenKneeBee said...

Holy crap, I'd be a terrible NZer. I'll have to practive before I come to visit... er vusut.

Sarakastic said...

You did a fantastic job of describing something that is almost impossible to describe. Give Sarakastic lollies & she'll be right.

Tavis Xavier said...

Wow, I enjoyed this posting immensely.

I have been trying to brush up on my Kiwi in preparation of gracing NZ's borders once again.

I am afraid I still annunciate all the letters in each word.

I'm so not going to fit in.

Neil said...

Nah, the Kiwi accent is sillier than the Aussie one!

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Thats great, would you be keen to teach me how to speak like a Kiwi? ha.. thanks in advance :)

Daniel said...

Well said mate! I'm a homesick kiwi living in Seattle right now and the longer I've been here, the harder it is to keep my accent up. So it's great to see some reminders up like this!

vegemitevix said...

Funny post! I found your blog doing a search on my blog and How to Speak Kiwi. Have a squiz here at my version of explaining to the Poms how to speak like a New Zildr.