Any New Zealander can immediately recognise where I grew up, thanks to my Southland accent.
A former flatmate and I would often make frivolous bets. Anytime I lost, I had to say “Dirty purple work shirts” like a ‘normal person’.
Some of us are proud of our New Zealand accents, and some of us consider them a twangy embarrassment. They are a constant source of fun for Australians, but then their accent is also a constant source of fun for us.
I have kept my Southland accent, my sister has long since lost hers.
If anybody is interested in the New Zealand accent, there is a comprehensive documentary New Zild: The Story of the New Zealand Accent available on the website of New Zealand on Screen. The documentary covers the development of the New Zealand accent all the way up to 2005.
Pens or pins?
The major differences between the New Zealand accent, and other English accents are in the vowels. Our “fantastic” sounds like “fentestic” to many English speakers. “Pen” sounds like “pin.” Perhaps most famously commented on by Australians, especially, “fish and chips” sounds like “fush and chups.”
Then, the words “here,” “hair,” and “hare” all sound the same when said by Kiwis, as do “chair” and “cheer”, or “ear” and “air.”
One of these differences is the ‘r’ sound. Some Kiwis say ‘faam’, some say ‘farm’ and others say ‘farrrrm.’ Another difference is the difference between ‘grown up’ and ‘growen up.’ Some of us say ‘offen’ while others say ‘often.’
The difference in ‘r’ sound is based on location. The different between grown and ‘growen’.
In public broadcasting, these shifts were first noticed in the 1960s, when Allison Holst was on television teaching the nation how to cook “fush.”
But there is not just one New Zealand accent. Last summer Ashburton Museum hosted the Year 10 classes of Ashburton College, who came to visit the museum and listen to radio broadcasts from our Sounds Like Us exhibition.
One of the things that struck me most was how different the student’s accents are to those in the broadcasts. Equally how difficult it was at times, for the students to pick the detail of accents from history.
Having these students visit has made me think further about the diversity of New Zealand accents.
A who’s who
Some of these differences are differences between generations. Radio personalities like Aunt Daisy, who was on the radio from 1930 – 1963, sound very different to most people today.
Aunt Daisy spoke with ‘Received Pronunciation’, a standardised form of English, and a benchmark for how English is properly spoken, which was commonly heard on radio.
Some of the first people to make note of these varied accents were the Kiwi comedians of the 1970s. The differences in speech between Lynn of Tawa (Ginette McDonald), Billy T James (William James Te Wehi Taitoko) and Fred Dagg (John Clark) were the first to display a humorous awareness of distinct New Zealand accents.
So what is the Ashburton accent? I’ve noticed a strong generational gap since moving here. Older Ashburtonians often
speak with an accent quite similar to a New Zealand version of Received Pronunciation, while younger Ashburtonians speak with a variety of accents.
Part of this is the recent population growth of Ashburton. Accents from all over New Zealand are mingling, along with accents of people from all over the world.
Perhaps the next generation of Ashburtonians will speak with their own version of English? Unique from the more general Cantabrian English, South Island English or New Zealand English?
Accents are constantly shifting, and the shift is generally not noticed for about twenty years after it takes root. Perhaps there is already a unique Ashburton accent. Next time you are speaking with members of the younger generations listen carefully.
Pay attention to how they say their vowels, do they pronounce the ‘r’ in ‘park?’ Will they be taking a new Ashburtonian accent out to the masses?
By Max Reeves
- A postage stamp with radio icon Aunt Daisy.
- “If it weren’t for ya gumboots, where would ya be?” sung Fred Dagg in his rural kiwi accent of the 1970s, immortalised here in a gumboot icon radio Sounds Like Us.
- Pronounce this – a test of your kiwi accent. A ‘fush and chups’ radio in Sounds Like Us.
- Ashburton street signs. With a keen ear, you could probably work out what town you were in by how people read the signs aloud.