This is the third post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.
In the third chapter, the authors introduce the reader to NZE’s morphosyntax. Morphology concerns how different parts of a word work together to create meaning. After something is done it can be undone. The un here signals the reversing of the action, though it signals other things in other words. Syntax concerns how words are put together with other words to form meaning, like word order, for example.
One interesting aspect of NZE morphosyntax is the use of the past participle for the simple past tense. Take, for example, the English word write. Its past form is wrote, and its past participle is have written. Researchers have found that some speakers of NZE will say such as “I seen a bottle” instead of either “I saw a bottle” or “I have seen a bottle.” Other examples include done for did, come for came, and rung for rang. On the other end, some speakers of NZE make use of what has been called the “intrusive have.” “If I had have known, I wouldn’t have told her” might be heard in place of “If I had known…”
Next the authors address modal verbs, verbs like could, would, can, will, which help us understand how to read other verbs in the sentence. A feature of NZE here is a lack of the modal verb shall, in comparison with General American and even with Australian English. Speakers of NZE will also more frequently talk about the future with the modal verb be going to than other Englishes. “I will go to the movies tonight” might be said, “I am going to go to the movies tonight.”
Some modal verbs require the verb have in certain cases. “I should have done it already.” In both written and spoken NZE the have is sometimes replaced with an of (a phenomenon that is not restricted to NZE and is often viewed as a mistake). Another interesting aspect of these have-constructions is how they are negated in NZE. Because should’ve (or should of) is understood to be a single unit, instead of “should not have,” some speakers of NZE will say things like “should of not” or “could’ve not.”
Other distinctive features of NZE morphosyntax are the use of the singular there is or there was for there are or there were; a relatively high rate compared with other Englishes of the singular they, and even occurrences of “themself”; yous or you guys as a plural for you; and variations in comparatives: more cleaner, more clean, and most cleanest, for example, instead of cleaner or cleanest.