This is the fourth post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.
In the fourth chapter, the authors explore NZE vocabulary and related discourse features. Already in the 1679 visit of James Cook to Aotearoa (New Zealand), Māori words such as pā were adopted into the English language. Up until about 1860 though, NZE stopped most of its borrowing from Māori. It wasn’t until the 1970s that new borrowings began again on a larger scale. Māori loanwords can be sorted into three categories: flora and fauna (tōtara and kiwi), society and culture (haka and marae), and proper nouns (mostly place names, such as Whakatāne). (Unfortunately the authors do not use macrons, which I have inserted here. This is perhaps due to how they are represented in NZE, but this does not account for increasing recognition of macrons on the part of speakers of NZE). From the 1970s onwards, new words like Aotearoa, waka, and tangata whenua.
In NZE, various loanwords took on new pronunciations. Waka, for example, often rhymes with NZE rocker rather than NZE sucker. Some place names were shortened. In Canterbury, for example, many speakers of NZE refer to the Waimakariri River as the Waimak, rhyming with back. It is also common to make Māori nouns plural by adding an S to the end, whereas in Māori the plural is indicated by the preceding article or the context. We do not speak of many Māoris but many Māori. The authors note that while innovations such as this are typical of the lives of loanwords, some have also criticised these innovations as insensitive to Māori culture. This is fair and I think the authors would have done well to provide a slightly more extended comment here.
NZE has also borrowed from Australian English. Borrowings include skite (to boast, or someone who boasts), and hard case (“someone who has a big personality, may do unusual things but basically is a real laugh.”). NZers show preference for some American words over British ones: guys over fellows, muffler over silencer, truck over lorry.
It is not only from external sources that NZE has developed. Languages develop internally too. Unique internal vocabulary developments include words like freezing works, number eight wire, and sausage sizzle. Speakers of NZE show a preference for suffixing words with a -y or -ie, such as in chippy. Speakers of Aus. E. tend to suffix with an -o, such as in smoko, which has also been borrowed by NZers. Slang words include dag (“a lock of wool clotted with dry manure on the rear end of a sheep” [p.80]), cop shop (police station), and Ashvegas (Ashburton a town in Canterbury). I would be interested in learning more about the role of slang among different demographics in NZE, as I wasn’t sure how much a strong distinction could be erected between slang and other language. Although the authors don’t erect such a distinction, neither was it confronted.
Two words used frequently in discourse by some speakers of NZE are eh, more prevalent among Māori, and like, prevalent among young women but not especially unique to NZE. “Yeah, I don’t know eh.” “Like no one does that any more.”