*A World without ‘Whom’,* by Emmy J. Favilla


Written by the chief copy editor at BuzzFeed, A World without ‘Whom’ addresses language in a fast-changing world. The title of the book refers to one of the greatest markers of this change, the use of the word “whom,” often deliberately avoided for its datedness or unconsciously substituted with “who.” Favilla provides an accessible take on various rules regarding spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style that are becoming obsolete in many areas, particularly in internet media such as BuzzFeed itself. She also provides helpful comment on developing conventions in different media, such as what to do in a text vs. an email, a tweet, etc. Published in 2017, it is perhaps not surprising that even now some of the content is appearing a little dated! Nonetheless, it is still an important read.

Favilla’s copy-editing philosophy is particularly notable. Early on, she writes, “Inaccurate information, insensitive language, and sentences that have egregious structural issues all put wear and tear on credibility…. You never want a reader to be jolted from their engrossment from a story because they’ve been distracted by an awkwardly structured, unclear, or offensively worded sentence” (33). Of course, there are exceptions to this. I would prefer to use the inclusive language of “pregnant people,” rather than simply “pregnant women,” despite it likely causing some readers a little jolt, for example, and there will be many similar situations. Perhaps this observation relates to Favilla’s critical take on the “just be consistent” mantra that often appears as a bottom-line in style guides. “There isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach to language. And that’s really been the basis of the BuzzFeed Style Guide since day one: a fluid, evolving set of standards that shouldn’t be thought of as the iron-fisted rulers of prose… but as a thing that exists to just sorta help everyone out” (35). And quite a bit later: “How do you form an electrifying relationship with your reader? By speaking their language! Not by using the grammar rules our teachers taught us in 1989… or pretending that people aren’t really saying things like ‘I forgot how to person.'” (194).

Below I would like to offer critical comment on some of Favilla’s conclusions and suggestions. This should not be taken as a dismissal of her overall project though, which I think is basically brilliant.

In her chapter on “How Not to be a Jerk,” Favilla accepts APS* style on the distinction between a refugee and a migrant. “Use refugee when referring to ‘a person who is forced to leave his home or country to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.’ Use migrant when referring to someone seeking economic oportunity” (62). But this is problematic. First, there is not always a clear-cut distinction between the migrant and the refugee. Can this persecution be the spectre of growing far-right groups in someone’s vicinity, or must it be state-sponsored violence? What constitutes a natural disaster that is significant enough to warrant refugee status? Seasonal flooding? Second, the implication that migrants seek economic opportunity overlooks a whole lot of other factors. What about those seeking education or family? Etc? Even if the distinction appears in legal texts, the responsibility of journalists and other writers involves being critical of inhumane laws, especially those that uphold such a distinction in order to prevent particular people from migrating. (*I am assuming this refers to the American Physical Society, but please let me know otherwise).

In the same chapter, Favilla commends “LGBT” and “queer” as collective terms, against such as “gay,” for example in “the gay community.” This is not simply her own conclusion but the result of many discussions with LGBTQ+ people. While I’m hetero myself, it would have been good to see comment here in regard to different approaches to the acronym. At the very least, surely a + could be included so as not to confuse say intersex people with trans people or pansexual people with bi people? L, G, B, and T don’t quite cut it as representatives themselves of a much larger collection of people. Then there is “queer,” which, while many may find it a helpful umbrella term, is potentially problematic when non-queer writers use it (especially as it originates as a slur or exonym and still carries those connotations for some), and also fails when some people who might otherwise be identified as queer reject the term altogether, even as a self-designation.

Also in this section, Favilla rejects the use of -phobic words such as “homophobic” or “transphobic,” preferring “anti-gay” and “anti-trans.” Her reasoning is that “the suffix -phobic implies a fear, and although this fear may or may not be figurative, it also implies something inherent that cannot be helped, and its use can perpetuate stereotypes.” This, however, is simply etymological fallacy, confusing a word’s meaning with its origin. I’m sure people are smart enough to be able to differentiate between agoraphobia, claustrophobia (and, it may need some work, but both the term as it is used clinically and its perhaps more common, colloquial form), and homophobia. Moreover, the noun form of the word disappears altogether. Are we to replace “transphobia” with “anti-transness?” Think also of the often helpful “xenophobia.” Don’t be so “anti-other”! I’ve had it up to here with “anti-otherness!”

On quite a different topic, I didn’t find myself quite agreeing with Favilla on capitalisation, though she suggests a great rule. “In general … you’re safer capitalizing anything derived from a proper noun than you are lowercasing it” (118). But this means that we end up with “Brussels sprouts” and “French fries”! Admittedly, Favilla reveals, “I’ll take ’em either way” (118). For such common terms, I’m much more inclined to lowercase, though perhaps this derives from my experience in theological writing where I consistently lowercase “christological” and “trinitarian” (but not “Christian” or “Triune God,” whoops). Maybe though, this whole paragraph stems from my offence at the great cheese appearing in the appendix as capital-B “Brie.” Favilla also argues that “G/god” should be lowercased “in common expressions” so: “thank god” and “god only knows,” etc. whereas it should often otherwise be capitalised (124). The reasoning is, quite rightly, that “someone’s god could be a saltshaker” (124). I wonder though, if this overlooks the other side, that someone’s god in those expressions could be quite real to them. Even atheists and agnostics (not all, I’m sure!) can harbour a poetic or literary appreciation for a G/god or two, and one that may find expression in letter case as well.

The book’s namesake also warrants comment. I wonder if Favilla is being ironic when in her very first paragraph she employs such as “nary” and “frolicking” (1). Just a few pages on a “hodgepodge” can be spotted (4). Are these not the glorious companions of the departing “whom”? (Perhaps only “frolicking”; I find the other two significantly less glorious). Why, then, does Favilla proceed to argue: “Face it: You hate whom. If you don’t, you’re likely a liar or someone with an English degree who actually still really hates whom but can’t bear to come to terms with your traitorous hatred for fear of your overpriced degree being snatched from your cold dead hands” (151)? She compares it with “shall,” as both are rarely used, unless ironically, in spoken language. (Notably, my American friends living in NZ recently asked, “Why does everyone say ‘shall’ over here?”). Her most compelling argument, however, is in an example of its incorrect usage. “They were not sure whom would do a better job” (151). Now, I can accept “whom” going out of style in spoken language (though I have often heard it and am happy to use it myself in spoken language), and this being reflected in some forms of written media (virtually all forms within another fifty years, I’m sure). But maybe I’m still in the grieving stages as “whom” enjoys continued use in my academic writing (a use also enjoyed by me), so I’m being all nit-picky about Favilla’s half-archaisms (datedisms?) in the first few pages. And, really, I’m all on board with farewelling “whom” if we can finally agree that “me and [person]” as the subject of a sentence is now acceptable English (because usage!).

I don’t know if this is just me either, but I found Favilla’s rejection of the verb “to Facebook” a little frustrating. “Why? Because Facebooking sounds silly; that’s why” (156). But Favilla is quite happy in the same chapter to accept the verbs “to Instagram” and “to Snapchat.” Hmmm. Maybe it’s because the first is ambiguous. If you Instragram something, you post it on Insta. If you Snapchat/snap someone, you send them a snap. If you Facebook something you… look it up on FB search? If you Facebook someone you… contact them over Messenger? Actually, this is the form of the verb I have used and still use. It probably derives from the earlier days before Messenger became a second thing. I’m quite happy telling someone I’ll either Messenger them or Facebook them, just as much as I am telling them I’ll “send [them] a message on Facebook/Messenger.” Also of note here is that the BuzzFeed Style Guide in the appendix lowercases “google” as a verb. Perhaps this is because it’s the most common? But I think there is a need for an executive decision here. Either all verbs deriving from proper nouns retain their capitals, so “to Google [something],” or they automatically lose them in becoming a verb, so “to snap(chat) [someone].” There is precedent for the former, in much older words such as “Judaise,” though I think I would prefer a blanket lowercasing, even on the older words.

Finally, I’m likely to be outvoted here, but I’d like to offer a little apology for the !? interrobang, as opposed to the ?! one that Favilla favours, writing, “the logic being that the sentence it punctuates is a question more so that it is an exclamatory phrase; the is just an added bonus” (250). I find the !? much more aesthetic, however. The question mark hints at enclosing the exclamation mark, somewhat like a bracket. Compare (thing!) with (thing)! The other thing is that I read a phrase or sentence with an interrobang in quite the opposite way to Favilla. When someone says, “What!?” it is their surprise, anger, enthusiasm, etc. that is apparent to me ahead of their asking a question. The logic of the exclamation-first interrobang follows this (though perhaps this symbol should have another name, as its order does not reflect “interrobang”: a “banginter?” “bangative?”).

Reposted by me on my Goodreads with my permission.


Conjunction agreement after neither/nor and weder/noch clauses in English and German

I have been doing some translating recently and have been having difficulty rendering sentences like this in English:

Weder die Historie, die beweist, daß Jesu tatsächlich gelebt hat, noch die Tradition der Kirche, die solches immer schon gelehrt hat, kann und soll dieses Paradox einsichtig machen.

I tend to settle with something like this:

Neither the history that proves that Jesus has actually lived nor the tradition of the church that has taught this all along can or should make this paradox comprehensible.

That is, where the German uses an und to coordinate the conjunctions following the weder/noch clause, I think this is best rendered in English with an or, rather than an and, the latter being the most common and obvious translation in pretty much all instances.

As far as I can tell, in English an or is required to coordinate verbs that have their subject in a preceding neither/nor clause. Though I have not been able to find information about this on the internet, it seems that translators have already noticed this. Take this sentence from Barth:

Wie wir selbst keine Fähigkeit zur Gemeinschaft mit Gott haben, und also keine Fähigkeit, Gott anzuschauen und zu begreifen, ihm gegenüber wahrhaftig Empfangende und Schaffende und also Subjekt jener Erkenntnis zu sein, so gibt es an sich weder eine Notwendigkeit noch auch nur eine Möglichkeit, daß Gott zur Stelle sein müßte und könnte als Gegenstand unseres Anschauens und Begreifens.

Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 2/II (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1980), 231-32.

This is translated as follows:

Just as we ourselves have no capacity for fellowship with God and therefore no capacity to view and conceive God, and, in relation to Him, to be true receivers and creators and therefore subjects of this knowledge, so there is in itself neither a necessity nor even a possibility that God must or can be present as the object of our viewing and conceiving.

Karl Barth, The Church Dogmatics, 2/II, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. by T. H. L. Parker, et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 206.

And another:

Indem Mann und Frau miteinander und in ihrem Gegenüber Menschen sind, ist dafür gesorgt, daß weder er noch sie sich an ihrer Geschlechtlichkeit einfach genügen lassen und je ihre besonderen, mit ihrem Geschlecht gesetzten Fähigkeiten, Bedürfnisse, Interessen, Tendenzen, Freuden und Nöte besinnungslos ausleben können.

Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 3/IV (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1980), 186.

Translated as:

As man and woman are human in their co-existence and mutual confrontation, neither the one nor the other can be content with his own sexuality or heedlessly work out his sexually conditioned capacities, needs, interests, tendencies, joys and sorrows.

Karl Barth, The Church Dogmatics, 3/IV, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. by A. T. Mackay, et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961), 167.

I can’t yet say that these two examples of translation settle the problem. But I find it interesting that my translation instincts were confirmed when I searched for what others had done. The reason I chose Barth is because the Digital Karl Barth Library has a great search function in which you can look for multiple words that appear together in the same sentence, without them being paragraphs apart. I chose to search in English using neither, nor, can, and or, and then compared these in German. I chose can as a common verb, and one that I had come across myself in Moltmann (the example used at the beginning of this post). I found no instances where an und used like it is in the examples above is translated as an and. It is translated as an and though, in many similar constructions that are not to be confused with the one under discussion here:

  • We and our colleagues can’t and shouldn’t apply
  • Neither we or our colleagues can apply, and/but we shouldn’t either
  • Because we can’t and we shouldn’t, neither we nor our colleagues will apply
  • BUT: Neither we nor our colleagues can or should apply

With the last example, surely there are instances where people will nonetheless use an and. After all, there it is not ungrammatical. What I am arguing for, however, is what is natural. My guess is that this convention arose through allowing the preceding neither/nor clause to do too much work. It’s role was extended to other clauses that it was not related to, because it had already made its impression on the speaker or writer’s mind. Of course, this not wrong. Indeed, it is probably “right” now as regards style because of widespread usage. Finally, note that my speculation on the origin is just guesswork and I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has looked into this in greater detail. Also, if anyone has any more translation examples, especially those that differ from the general rule I am advocating here, I would love to see them.

Declension of “Dieser”

I haven’t been able to find a good table on Google images for the declension of dieser so I thought I’d make one. Here is both a copiable text one and an image with colour coding. The declension is the same whether dieser is used as a pronoun or a determiner.

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative dieser diese dieses diese
Accusative diesen diese dieses diese
Genitive dieses dieser dieses dieser
Dative diesem dieser diesem diesen


In Defence of the Nominative Me


In many registers of spoken English, it has become acceptable usage to say “me and you did this,” etc, that is, using “me,” typically the accusative or dative form of “I,” in the nominative, though only when there is more than one subject. It is rarely said “me did this,” because these rules tend to make themselves, so that “me” can only occur in the nominative case when there’s more than one subject.

A not-so-fun consequence of changes in the rules of language is that many people tend to assume that the world is falling to pieces because people don’t talk like them any more, etc. The nominative me, I think, has had one of the roughest treatments in this regard. Alongside the general misunderstanding that language stays the same throughout eternity and should not be meddled with, is the more specific misunderstanding in this case that says that the nominative me is not only a novum (though I would mention “methinks,” which originated as a dative — “it seems to me” — and later acted something like a nominative attached to a verb), but that it is ruled out simply because it only makes sense with multiple subjects. That is, as I said above, it is much less common across the different Englishes to say “me did this.” Therefore, the critics say, neither is “me and you did this” acceptable.

While I don’t think the second objection needs to be addressed at all–I differ from the critics in that language rules are set by usage, not fiat–for the sake of dialogue, I would point to another accepted use of the accusative-dative for the nominative in English that is policed not nearly as much, usually only in formal writing, if that. That is in the context of a comparison, using words like “than” or “like.” For example, it now accepted widespread to say “he cooks toast better than me,” as opposed to “he cooks toast better than I” (though that still crops up, but might sound forced in certain registers). Even better, “nobody cooks toast as well as us,” I am guessing, is preferred almost 100% of the time to “nobody cooks toast as well as we,” which is actually “correct” if these critics were consistent, because people rarely say “us cook toast” in place of “we cook toast.” This last point might be further argued that it is better to say “nobody cooks toast as well as we do.” But, I hope that by this point you’ve seen the unnecessity of it all.

I could further point to “whom,” our dative-accusative for “who,” which is on its way out, and words that have already long gone, for example, dative and accusative forms of personal names and other nouns (we still have the genitive, usually indicated with the ‘s). There is no need to create an arbitrary rule (the nominative me could only be used as such if it could form a singular subject as well as one of multiple subject). And unless you are following a specific style guide that requires adherence to particular rules for the sake of clarity, etc (and which should be updated at least annually to account for changes in formal registers, and also which are to be contested), there’s no need to complain.

Follow-up on the Clod-God Split in NZE

This is a follow-up of my earlier post, The Possibility of Rhyming ‘Clod’ and ‘God’, in which I claimed there was a split between the words “clod” and “god” in NZ English, as many other Englishes pronounce them with the same vowel length. Since then I have had replies ranging from “That’s not how I say it,” so that I have learnt of NZE speakers who do not differentiate between vowel length in the two words, to “That’s how I say it too,” so that I have found at least one speaker of Australian English (Adelaide) who makes the same distinction. I’m sure that’s reasonably widespread and would be interested in seeing some hard data.

Moreover, I just met the Otago University linguist, Dr. Simon Overall, in the tearoom and asked him for his opinion. He first of all affirmed that he could hear the distinction in NZE, and second of all informed me of another distinction that he had noticed, that between add and Dad, where add takes the short and Dad the longer vowel in NZE. Other rhyming words I can think of also take the short vowel, such as clad and had, and yet others the longer, such as sadmad, and bad!

This means that the role that the following consonant plays is diminished, whereas in my earlier post I had assumed that words that shared the same consonant endings generally had the same vowel length. Other factors are at work. Dr. Overall suggested that the trend may have something to do with frequency of usage. More frequently used words are more likely to experience an elongated pronunciation. Looking at some of the words on RhymeZone, I’m wondering if in this case it has something to do with word class. Of the words I recognise, I tend to pronounce nouns and adjectives with a longer vowel than verbs. One exception may be ad, though I can’t seem to figure out if I pronounce it with a long or short vowel, or either, context dependent. Some words change in different forms too. I pronounce grad with a long vowel but graduate (noun) and graduate (verb) both with a short vowel in the first syllable, albeit with different final syllables. However, I pronounce mad with a long vowel, as well as its repetition in constructions and words like madman and Mad Hatter.

Gender-neutral Alternatives to “Man”

While gradually falling out of use, the general “man” is still sometimes used in various registers of English. So, “Man is a political animal.” My favourite example is its use in Jurassic Park, which also demonstrates its limits by poking fun at it at the same time:

Appreciation of the general “man” is especially the case in my discipline, theology, much of which seems to make a habit of allying itself with cultural conservatism. Most seem to prefer it for want of an alternative, some claim literary reasons for their preference, and others still decry any change as an unnecessary exercise in political correctness. Moreover, none of these explanations are limited to male authors. See, for example, Fleming Rutledge’s comments in her masterful work of scholarship, The Crucifixion. I will briefly address these objections in reverse order.

First, that avoiding the general “man” is unnecessary. All that is being said here, by those who advocate alternatives, is that English, like all languages, in various ways reflects the history and beliefs of the millions of people who have contributed to what it now is. It is not immutable, nor should it be, and did not fall out of the sky, nor should it have. If it reflects an (or various) ancient assumption(s) that equates the male with the centre of that which is human and the female with the periphery, so that the latter is an afterthought and does not share this centre, then the history of the word’s use should be held to account. It should be held to account for its participation in patriarchal societies and its complicity in their oppression of women and gender minorities. As such, alternatives should also be sought for the basic reason that our language should reflect the society we want to become. I myself am not going to be dogmatic about its use, though if I had say in the publication of formal writing I would recommend using alternatives for this reason.

Second, that the general “man” is literary. The substance of this objection is that the general “man” is valuable precisely because of its history of usage. It enhances the joy and appreciation of the reader in transporting them into a world where a language that is at once familiar and foreign is spoken. This is what I understand to be part of Rutledge’s explanation. Although she presents an academic work, she does not want to cut herself off from the riches of her linguistic heritage. Again, I am not being dogmatic. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this objection, though it has not convinced me to use the general “man” myself.

The party which I may be a little late to (Pixabay)

Third, that English lacks an adequate alternative. And hence the reason for this post! I had once thought, along with advocates of the general “man,” that English lacked an alternative that represented the general and the particular at the same time. This did not mean I agreed with the use of the general “man” in formal writing, but only that “humanity is a political animal” and “human beings are political animals” were preferable, albeit inadequate, alternatives. (They are inadequate because “humanity” has only the general and not the particular, and “human beings” is in the plural). Lo and behold, however, today when I was reading Moltmann, translations of whose works often employ the general “man” to translate the German “Mensch,” which, interestingly, is not the word for “man” in German–“Mann” holds that position–I realised something. I realised that the particular and general could come together with a subtle change: “the human being is a political animal.” The perks are that this construction is singular, thus representing the particular, though it can also be taken to mean the representative of a class, as in “the kiwi is a national icon,” and that its genderlessness is more representative of human beings. The one downside I see is that I’m not sure how common this usage is. But I don’t see that as a major issue. Finally, if you’ve already discovered this useful alternative, well done! I might be a little late to the party.

The Possibility of Rhyming “Clod” and “God”

Image from Pixabay

Moltmann is fond of quoting a couplet penned by Robert Browning in the nineteenth century. It reads:

For the loving worm within its clod
Were diviner than a loveless God

The first time I read this, however, I was confused. In what world do clod and God rhyme? Possibly in the world of nineteenth century England, and likely in living dialects today. For example, I noticed last night when my wife was watching “Call the Midwife,” in season six which is set in the sixties, that one of the characters pronounced God with the same vowel sound as that of clod. The OED lists the vowel sounds in each as identical: in British and American /klɒd/ and /klɑd/, and /ɡɒd/ and /ɡɑd/.

But in the NZ English I know and love, this is not the case. A related difference is recognised by the US Merriam Webster, which has \ˈkläd\ and then  \ˈgäd\, but also \ˈgȯd\ as a secondary pronunciation. According to their pronunciation guide, ä designates the bother and cot vowel, whereas ȯ the saw, gnaw, and caught vowel. But neither does this apply to NZ English, expect in cases where “gawd” is used, which if anything indicates a pronunciation not typical in NZ English. While I don’t have any formal linguistic training–so that my interpretation might not be spot on here–I understand the difference in clod and God in NZ English to be one of vowel length. The vowel is slightly longer in God in the same sense as park is not pronounced identical to puk. A better example:

Don’t put the spanner beside the bonnet;
Put it on it.

The vowel sound in bonnet and on is the same as that of clod in NZ English. Yet because I have added italics for emphasis in this couplet, a couplet that would otherwise likely rhyme, the vowel sound in bonnet differs from that of on. The latter is lengthened, similar to the way that clod differs in pronunciation from God in NZ English. There are other words like this too. As far as my ears are concerned, Todd and rod, body and shoddy, lot and bot, rock and hock, doff and Hasselhoff, dodge and lodge, for example, take the short vowel, whereas hog and bog, and scone (as a noun but not as a verb) take the long vowel. The special significance of clod and God is that they share the same final consonant but differ in their vowel length.

Some questions follow:

  1. Is this the NZ English that you know and love, or does Browning’s couplet rhyme for you? If you are not a speaker of NZ English and they yet don’t rhyme then I would especially love to hear from you.
  2. Under what historical circumstances did this change take place? My guess is that liturgical or everyday reverential pronunciation of God contributed to the lengthening of its vowel sound. But that’s just a guess. In reality I have no idea. It is notable that the plural gods for me does not either rhyme with clods. If the liturgical thesis is correct then the pronunciation of the singular God would have been transferred to the plural as well.

New Zealand English 4


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 Aotearoawaka, 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 fellowsmuffler over silencertruck 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.”

New Zealand English 3


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 didcome 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, wouldcanwill, 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 cleanermore clean, and most cleanest, for example, instead of cleaner or cleanest.

New Zealand English 2


This is the second post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

After addressing consonants and vowels, i.e., segmental features, features pertaining to a single segment in a word, the authors move on to suprasegmental features. These still concern how New Zealand English (NZE) sounds. They belong to phonetics and phonology, rather than the study of vocabulary or grammar. But these features “usually span more than one segment” (27).

First, the authors address NZE intonation. One distinctive feature of NZE intonation is the High Rising Terminal (HRT). Many speakers of NZE will raise their intonation where speakers of other Englishes would only do so when asking a question. Initially, researchers interpreted the use of HRTs in NZE as signs of uncertainty. However, recent research has shown that they are best interpreted in terms of politeness: “HRTs … do function as questions, but not questions asking for information. Rather they function as questions that are checking that the speaker really is giving the information that the listener wants, and that the listener understands what the speaker is saying” (28).

Another suprasegmental feature is stress. In English, stress often falls on certain syllables in different words and sentences. Most words will have the same syllable stressed each time and the meaning can change according to where the stress lies. We buy produce (noun) but we produce (verb) things. This stress differentiation between noun and verb is not consistent in English, though in NZE some other words seem to be merging. We have imports and we import iron. (Others, including other speakers of NZE, will say we import iron).

Finally, the English language is stress-timed. “Stressed syllables occur at approximately equal time intervals … This can be seen most clearly in poetry or nursery rhymes, where different numbers of syllables take up the same time”: The authors give the example of Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Even though there are two syllables between sat and wall, they take up the same amount of time as the single syllable between Hump and Dump. However, NZE is less stress-timed than British English, as can be seen for example in giving fuller pronunciation to syllables often unstressed in British English. This is perhaps due to the influence of Māori, which is a syllable-timed language, having roughly equal time intervals between syllables rather than between stressed syllables.

NZE also currently looks to be undergoing sound changes. The authors note a number of these but I will only address a few. The hw sound in white and which has for many NZers become simply a sound. For other NZers, the two th sounds, in words like thumb and thing on the one hand and then words like this and the on the other, are being pronounced as fs and vs, respectively. Many NZers now pronounce words like grown and thrown with two syllables, whereas in British English they rhyme with groan and throne.