I wrote this paper in 2006 for a linguistics class. So, there are a couple of long paragraphs. Sorry they look so meaty here. That said, this essay still cracks me up and I don't know how I got away with turning it in and getting full credit on the assignment. I hope it amuses you, too.
As strange as the title may seem, for an American, this sentiment sums up how New Zealand is viewed by Australia. It is also the view that many English-speaking nations have as well. The effect is that as Canadians are seen as an extension of American culture, New Zealanders are viewed as just another group of Australians. New Zealanders resent this comparison as much as Canadians do. It does not help matters when the distinctions between dialects of the two nations are nearly undetectable. This is the point at which the comparison between Canada and New Zealand begins to break down. Because of the nation’s short history, there has not been enough time for New Zealand English to develop into a dialect in its own right. The result is a nation’s unique voice that is just beginning to emerge.
For a nation with such a short history, it is of little wonder that its language has yet to diverge from its parent. Although settlement of New Zealand occurred around the same time as Australia, the low numbers and social class of the British who were a part of the initial colonization had a large impact on the use of English. Australia served as a sort of dumping ground for the British who were looking for ways to rid London of groups they felt were undesirable. No other colonial territory looked as promising as Australia. One could debate that this was due in part to the distance of the island continent from the British Isles.
Regionally speaking, however, New Zealand and Australian immigrants hailed from the same areas of Britain. The result may directly be the cause of why many view New Zealand English as being Australian. David Crystal (2003), in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, states “New Zealand English is the dark horse of World English regional dialectology. It has long been neglected, mentioned only in passing as part of a treatment of Australian English or assumed by outsiders to be identical with it in all salient respects” (p. 354). When the history of the country is taken into account, it becomes clearer as to why people view New Zealand English in this manner. One would expect the dialectal variances to be minimal at best with an immigration of people stemming from the same locations within Britain.
To get a clearer picture of New Zealand and its emerging dialect, one must look at how the country was founded. The islands that comprise the nation were discovered by European explorers in the late seventeenth century. Whaling and sealing were the primary interest of the Americans, the French, and the British in the 1790s. According to Wikipedia.org, the British wanted to forestall any possibility of another European power from getting a foothold on the islands and to also help curtail lawlessness in New Zealand waters predominately by English traders. Known as the Treaty of Waitangi, this document paved the way to set New Zealand apart from Australia culturally and linguistically.
New Zealand’s colonial start is much different than Australia’s on several different levels. The treaty described above is just one example of how different the two nations are from one another. In addition to granting permission for the establishment of settlements on New Zealand, attempts were made to recognize Maori rights from the beginning whereas Australians took time to grant rights and recognition to the Aborigines. The geographical differences between the two nations are significant for the reasons behind New Zealander efforts to have a peaceful coexistence with both cultures. According to the website for New Zealand Tourism Online Ltd. (2006), both of the main islands are dominated by mountain spines (“New Zealand Geography”). Thus, there are few places for people to live in New Zealand. There is a great deal of incentive for the people to get along contrasted against the relative flatness of Australia.
The original European settlers did not begin to colonize the country in earnest until after the Treaty of Waitangi. Before that point, it was mainly Christian missionaries, traders, and whalers who called New Zealand home. David Crystal (2004) points out in The Stories of English that much of the missionary work begins in 1814. This is important in seeing the differences between New Zealand and Australian English. Where the main body of colonizers of Australia was criminals that had been exported, the initial settlers of New Zealand came from a higher class and willingly moved to the new colony. Donn Bayard notes that after the signing of the treaty, settlers came from Ireland, Britain, Australia, and America in increasing numbers; however, more importantly the accents were mixed in Australia before being imported to New Zealand. This probably accounts for the lack of distinction between the English spoken in both nations. Even David Crystal is guilty of addressing the two nations together under an entry for Australia in The Stories of English.
Much of the information on the history of New Zealand English seems to be limited as much from the nation’s short history as it does from its relative closeness to Australian English. South African English also bears striking similarities to New Zealand English as well. Donn Bayard (2001) states that “the ties go back to southeastern England and RP [Received Pronunciation] … and the Cockney accent of London” (“Origins”). He also points out that there are more differences between these English dialects than the markers they share with Cockney. It is easy to see why New Zealanders would be upset with the belief that their use of English is often mistaken for Australian English, even by Australians. While they share similarities, the histories of language usage and social class differences have helped define the approach to national identity that these neighbors have taken.
New Zealanders have striven to separate themselves linguistically and culturally from Australia in numerous ways. Where Australians have a habit of looking to America as a source of influence, the New Zealanders prefer to look towards Britain. David Crystal (1997) points this out in English as a Global Language by stating that the nation has “a greater sympathy for British values and institutions. Many people speak with an accent which displays clear British influence” (37). With American English and British English being the two dominant and oldest sources for world English to draw from, the comment essentially asserts that the drive to distinguish between the two nations is as much deliberate as it is based on the reasons for the establishment of the original colonies. Similarly, Canada had a much friendlier relationship with Britain when it achieved nationhood compared to America. As a result, New Zealand and Canada are similar in that while they strive to use an English dialect closer to British usage, they are influenced by their larger neighbors.
A key characteristic difference between New Zealand and Australia comes in the form of the languages of the indigenous peoples of each nation. Where Australians were slow to giving rights to Aborigines and recognizing their language, the New Zealanders were not. Neither nation could escape the linguistic borrowings for geographic formations, flora, and fauna that have characterized the development of English. New Zealand has a crucial difference that marks it as distinct from other English dialects. David Crystal notes in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language that “New Zealand has more loan words from Polynesian languages than any other variety of English” (355). With the amount of trade and exploration of the Pacific, and even Hawaii as part of the United States, it is startling to see how little other English-speaking nations have absorbed words from these languages.
When one considers how English as treated many languages as it spread across the globe, the actions of New Zealanders stands in contrast to other English-speaking nations. The Australians, for example tried to extinguish the languages of the indigenous people. Wikipedia.org states “a concerted effort by past Australian governments to eradicate Aboriginal culture and languages, through punishment, forced relocations, sterilization, and forced removal of children from their families” (Wikipedia.org). Although these actions have ceased, it clearly indicates the stark differences between the Australians and the New Zealanders.
As far as English usage is concerned, there are a few differences that mark the speech and writing of a New Zealander as separate from his Australian counterpart. In addition to preferring the British –ise ending over the –ize, the New Zealanders use it at nearly all instances. According to the New Zealand English webpage for Wikipedia.org, this preference is more rigid than the British, who have dictionaries and style manuals that favor –ize endings (Wikipedia.org). One peculiar trait is the spelling of “fjord” as “fiord.” While both are acceptable, New Zealand is perhaps the only place to find the latter as the accepted form. The spoken differences are less pronounced outside of the Maori influence. There is a concerted effort to use the Maori pronunciation of Maori words over their anglicized form. With differences in Maori dialects on the North and South Islands, there is confusion over whether the pronunciation of a word is a southern Maori or anglicized one on the South Island (Wikipedia.org). It is difficult to imagine how non-New Zealander English speakers would have trouble recognizing the difference between Australians and New Zealanders.
The factors that are perhaps most responsible in causing other English speakers to be unable to distinguish between New Zealanders and Australians is that their textbooks were imported from Britain and the overwhelming majority of the people are confined to cities. In English as a World Language, Robert Eagleson states that while settlers had spread out, industrialization has been one of the greatest contributors to the retraction of rural living and spurred by World War II (416). It is easy to envision how concentrating the population to a few locations in both countries has helped to create a lack of regional differences as well as contributing to the problems distinguishing between speakers from both nations and helped to preserve the Received Pronunciation as the model of speech and writing to emulate.
Vowel shifts in New Zealand English help a listener determine which country a speaker comes from. The New Zealand English webpage on Wikipedia.org lists the short “i” sound has become a schwa found in Scottish English, causing the short “e” to take its place and the retaining of the British English broad “a” (wikipedia.org). These changes appear to be influenced by Scottish dialects as much as the changes in vowels. Eagleson quotes P. R. Hawkins concerning the “a uvular fricative [r] found in parts of Southland and Westland, a throwback to the Scottish ancestry of the inhabitants” (426). With a higher number of Scottish immigrants, the differences between these two nations are easier to discern. In both nations, however, this has given rise to sheep jokes that play on the pronunciation of words. Wikipedia.org’s page concerning New Zealand humor gives the example of “a farmer who is having unnatural relations with a sheep is asked if he should rather be shearing his sheep (Wikipedia.org). Where a New Zealander would hear “sharing,” an Australian hears “shearing.” This play on accents is useful in illustrating on just how distinguishable the English of both nations truly are from one another.
The concentration of the people in so few cities, the vowel shifts, and linguistic ties to the British RP has kept the English usage of both nations relatively close. There is a divergence between New Zealand and Australia emerging as New Zealanders cling to British usage and Australians being more open to American variations. Though it borrows from Polynesian languages, there is still relatively little adaptation of the language of the indigenous people. The Maori pronunciation and usage of English has influenced the way New Zealanders treat Maori words, but it is unclear as to how this may affect spoken English. The differences in their histories and drive of New Zealanders to be distinguished from their more numerous neighbors help fuel the changes in their English. Too many forces are in play for this relatively young nation English-speaking nation’s emergence of an accent that the world English community can recognize as being unique. One can speculate on what may arise as the quintessential traits of this dark horse, but not enough time has passed to see if accent leveling with the Maori people and Polynesian linguistic influences will become the national characteristic of New Zealand English. Until then, people are likely to treat the New Zealanders linguistically as an extension of Australia (as Canada is for Americans), a problem that has plagued many nations with regional variances of a common language much to their chagrin.
Bayard, Donn. 2001. Origins of New Zealand English.
Crystal, David. 2003. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, David. 1997. English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, David. 2004. The Stories of English. New York: The Overlook Press.
Eagleson, Robert D. 1983. In Bailey, Richard W. and Manfred Görlach (eds.). 1983. English as a World Language. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
“Indigenous Australian Languages.” Wikipedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Aboriginal_languages
“New Zealand English.” Wikipedia.org. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_English
“New Zealand Humor.” Wikipedia.org. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_humour
New Zealand Tourism, Ltd. 2006. New Zealand Geography: New Zealand Landscape. http://www.tourism.net.nz/new-zealand/about-new-zealand/geography.html