Troy Yer Beast: An Introduction to the New Zealand Accent

On our first visit to New Zealand, we were crossing the Cook Strait on the ferry and a group of small Kiwi children were singing that “ABC” song. The end of the song sounded something like “dubba you, icks, why and zed.” (the letter ‘z’ is pronounced ‘zed’ in New Zealand), followed by “Now eee know my eee, b, c s.” Rebecca and I looked at each other. No you don’t, we thought.

Later shortly after moving here, I was taking a exercise class. “Troy yer beast,” the teacher intoned. “Now poule yer leegs beak,” she continued. Every time she said “poule” which was “pull” I would look up thinking she was saying my name, Paul.

Welcome to the New Zealand accent, or as it is more accurately called New Zealand English, being apparently an amalgamation of English English, Australian English, Irish English, Scottish English and Maori.

To be fair, some Kiwis even make fun of their own accent. One comedian a number of years ago poked fun at the New Zealand woman who won the Miss Universe contest in 1985. According to him, when she was asked on stage what she wished to do, she said something like, ‘I’d like to go to Efrica? To hilp the chuwdren learn to speak Unglush?’ Yikes!

First, I want to say I like the Kiwi accent. It’s pleasant and cheery enough. Second, it’s still hard for me to understand what certain people are saying sometimes. The Scottish dialect version of Kiwi gives me the most trouble. That said, here is my blundering attempt, for which I apologize in advance, at trying to figure out what makes it sound the way it does.

Some general rules. Don’t open your mouth too much when you talk. Be lazy. One writer described Kiwi-speak as a “carefully modulated murmer.” Keep those lips tight almost like a ventriloquist. Talk quick and clipped. Don’t bother pronouncing the whole word, the first few lettas of a word are enough. Add a slight upward intonation at the end of sentences so that it often sounds like you’re asking a question.

Next, drop those ‘r’s from the end of words, and if there is an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ before the ‘r’, change it to an ‘a’.

Summer is pronounced summa.

River is riva.

Car is ca.

Over is ova.

Short ‘a’s seem to become short ‘e’s.

The ket set on the met

The ket set on the met

You don’t pack your suitcase, you peck it.

Air is pronounced ear, and hair is here. In fact, here and there rhyme. Beer and bear also not only rhyme, they are pronounced the same. I guess since there are no bears in New Zealand, everybody knows which one you are talking about.

Accent is eck-cent or even ick-cent.

Have your attention is hev your attention.

A laptop is a leptop.

The cat sat on the mat is the ket set on the met.

Long ‘a’s become long ‘i’s at least sometimes.

Nice day today is pronounced something like ‘nice di to di’ whereas in Australia, it is more like “nice die to die.”

‘E’s are turned into ‘i’s

Men is pronounced min.

Ben is bin.

Let’s go is lit’s go.

Tin is one more than nine, and sivven comes after seeex, not to be confused with something you do with your partner in bed.

One writer equates their saying ‘yes’ pronounced “yisss” to the hissing of a snake. And similarly vegetables are pronounced “viiiiiigtibils”.

So you’re probably asking if ‘a’s are turned into ‘e’s, and ‘e’s are turned into ‘i’s, then what are ‘i’s turned into? Why that’s easy.

‘I’s are often turned into ‘u’s.

Milk is pronounced mulk.

Mulk

Mulk

Fish is fush. And the common meal of fish and chips is more like fush and chups.

A bridge is a brudge.

Can the New Zealand accent lead to problems. You bet it can. Apparently an Oakland-bound American passenger once ended up on a flight to Auckland (Oakland = Auckland) after misunderstanding several Air New Zealand flight attendants at LAX.

Here are some more New Zealand pronunciations that I gleaned from a website:

Pissed aside – chemical which kills insects
Mess kara – eye makeup
Mckennock – guy who fixes cars
Jungle bills – a Christmas carol
Inner me – enemy
Ear roebucks – form of exercise

Mckennock

Mckennock

Finally, combine your attempts at the New Zulander eck-cent with a smattering of common phrases.

Good on you, mate – you did well, way to go
Cheers, mate – take care, goodbye, thanks
She’ll be right – everything will work out
Heaps – lots of something
Dodgy – shady, not right
Cheeky- sneaky, impudent, playful
Stuffed – tired, exhausted
Pissed – drunk
A into g – “arse into gear”, as in “get your a into g”
Bloke – man
Brekkie – breakfast

Breckkie

Brekkie

Bugger – damn
Cuppa – cup of tea, coffee, etc. “Come over for a cuppa”
G’day – good day, how’s it going
Handle – pint of beer
Knackered – very tired
Rattle your dags – hurry up, get a move on
Yeah, yeah, yeah – never one yeah, always three

Okay, so there you have it. Have you you understand all of the above?

If you answered, “Ear sick horse” (yes, of course), you can go on to the next lesson.

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4 thoughts on “Troy Yer Beast: An Introduction to the New Zealand Accent

  1. Ah yisssss! “Zed” is, of course, correct. King’s English you know. As a Canadian, I struggled with that one for years after I moved to the U.S. There were a few other sounds that also gave my nationality away. Out and about, for example, apparently sound like “oot and aboot” to American ears. Scottish influence perhaps?
    One of my favorite posts to date!

  2. At least we don’t have any ‘nukular’ weapons, and no ‘missals’ to deliver them. We drive Jaguar cars, not ‘jag-wars’.

    Talking of cars, they have bonnets instead of hoods, boots instead of trunks, bumpers instead of fenders, windscreens instead of windshields, and some people still drive manuals and not sticks. One kiwi woman, when she thought the rental car guy was making fun of her when asking if she drove a stick, replied “no, but a broom comes in handy sometimes”.

    Apparently the high rising terminal (making a statement sound like a question) is not unique to New Zealand and Australia. According to Wikipedia it is a fairly recent but increasingly common feature in the USA. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_rising_terminal

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