DRESS-raising in New Zealand

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For a recent story on the arrest of Kim Dotcom, The World's Lisa Mullins turned to Georgina Ball from Radio New Zealand ("Cyber Tycoon Wanted for Internet Piracy Arrested in New Zealand", 1/26/2012). One of the things Ms. Ball says is this:

they're worried he'll flee to Germany which is where he's from
which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

English speakers who are not New Zealanders are likely to be struck by the extreme fronting and raising of Ms. Ball's /ɛ/ vowels, those in the DRESS lexical set. A prominent example in that last clip is the vowel in  the final syllable of "U.S." — her pronunciation of this vowel is almost as high and front as her pronunciation of the two vowels in treaty, as this spectrogram of "…treaty with the U.S." shows:

The second formant in /ɛs/, traced in red at the position labelled 2 in the plot, levels out at about 2740 Hz. The maximum values of F2 in the two syllables of /ˈtri.ɾi/, at the position labelled 1, are 2560 and 2740. (I note in passing that she has an American-like voiced flap for the medial consonant of treaty.)

Because the word extradition is not phrase-final in this passage, its vowels are less striking to the ear, but they provide an even more interesting illustration of the phenomenon:

For the vowel in the first syllable of extradition, which is also a member of the DRESS lexical set, F2 is at 2800 Hz, as shown at the position labelled 1 in the spectrogram above. In contrast, the vowel in the second syllable of the same word, at the position labelled 2, has an F2 of about 1870 Hz — much backer. (Treaty is again shown at position 3.)

This is partly consistent and partly inconsistent with what Wikipedia  (citing authoritative sources) says about recent changes in New Zealand short front vowels:

In New Zealand English the short-i of KIT is a central vowel not phonologically distinct from schwa /ə/, the vowel in unstressed "the". It thus contrasts sharply with the [i] vowel heard in Australia. […] Because of this difference in pronunciation, some New Zealanders claim Australians say "feesh and cheeps" for fish and chips while some Australians counter that New Zealanders say "fush and chups".

The short-e /ɛ/ of YES has moved to fill in the space left by /ɪ/, and it is phonetically in the region of [ɪ]. This was played for laughs in the American TV series Flight of the Conchords, where the character Bret's name was often pronounced as "Brit," leading to confusion.

Specifically, in Ms. Ball's speech we see the vowel of YES moving not merely forward and up to [ɪ], but well beyond [ɪ] to [i]. And we don't see much centralization of her KIT vowels. In her pronunciation of extradition we saw little change, while (for example) in her rendition of internet we see the initial KIT vowel taking up the phonetic place of the DRESS vowel of the final syllable, which again shoots past [ɪ] to [i], so that [ˈɪn.təˌnɛt] becomes roughly [ˈɛn.təˌnit]:

A closer focus on the word internet itself:

"When it is tried in America":

"So we understand this is going to be a big test case":

"… from this web site":

Her "flight risk", illustrating again the relatively small movement of the KIT vowel in risk:

Her "assets frozen":

And the whole interview:


  1. Robert Coren said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    I spent a few weeks in NZ about 5 years ago, and I got used to, for example, being directed to what I heard as "the beast ristaurant" in the area. (I had been primed for this by watching the writers'/director's track of the Lord of the Rings movies.)

  2. Ray Girvan said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    We had an assistant from NZ in the local Co-Op a while back, and it was certainly baffling at first: "That'll be sexty pince".

  3. Chandra said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 11:18 am

    The NZ dialect of English is the only one I can think of where you regularly find schwas in stressed syllables. I was struck by this working in an apple factory where our shift captain would announce breaks by calling out "FUHFtain MUHnuhts".

    [(myl) That's the pattern described in the Wikipedia excerpt — but Ms. Ball seems to maintain many of her KIT vowels pretty much where an American would put them, at most lowering and backing others to the neighborhood of [ɛ] ]

    As for the DRESS vowel, I spent one stretch of a long bus ride thinking we were approaching a town called "Piggyville". Which turned out, of course, to be "Peggyville".

  4. Chandra said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 11:20 am


  5. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 11:30 am

    @Chandra: I think South African English also has a very schwa-like KIT, albeit not in all contexts.

    Also, I thinkt the quality of KIT is less striking to an American ear, as it's noticeably more central there than in, say, south-east England.

  6. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 11:35 am

    Oh, BTW, there's also the lovey monophthongal SQUARE in e.g. where in the first extract. Neat.

  7. DCA said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 11:46 am

    Another example of NZ vowels in American ears (mine, though after a few months of living in Wellington): upon hearing we'd be going to Taupo, someone we knew told us to be sure to visit the prune farm. I just kept nodding while wondering what the point could be–until I realized it was prawn farm (shrimp raised in geothermal water).

  8. Dw said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    Ms Ball does have a schwa at 3:00 in the word "him", which is stressed.

    Surprised not to hear any intrusive R in "mega(r)upload". Is that less common in NZ than England?

  9. Nyq Only said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

    The former NZ PM versus an Australia comedy team trying to get her to say the word "six" –

  10. Xmun said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

    I've lived in NZ 50 years, but came from the UK originally, as a schoolteacher. I remember being mystified when a pupil told me: "Please, sir, I forgot my pin." "What do you want a pin for?" I asked. Then the penny dropped.

  11. Xmun said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    @Chandra: I don't know of any town in New Zealand called Peggyville, either as a proper name or as a nickname. I wonder if what you heard was indeed "Piggyville". I've never heard that name either, but it's conceivable as a nickname for Pokeno, on the main road south of Auckland, which is well known for its pork and bacon and ham, much of it sold to passing motorists.

  12. Pflaumbaum said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    Xmun, what's the situation in NZE with the voiced flap that MYL notes in passing? The two chairs woman in the other thread says 'noticed' with a /t/ – in AusE I'd expect a flap here.

  13. Stuart said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    I'm a native NZE speaker in my 40s, and I find this woman's accent to be almost a caricature of the Kiwi accent. If it's true that one never hears one's own accent, then her and mine must be quite different, because I very clearly hear hers. It would be interesting to read more data on the changes in the NZE accent over the last few decades, since I've noticed this strengthening of the distinctive features of the accent in many people of a similar age to this reporter. Indeed, to my ears, most reporters on TV now sound like her, with an accent reminiscent of a comedienne's parodying of the accent in the 80s

  14. Chandra said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

    @Xmun – I might have got the -ville part wrong, but it was definitely Peggysomething; I remember seeing it on a sign and laughing at my mishearing. (And if the bus driver had said "Piggy", I would have heard it as "Puggy".)

  15. Chandra said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

    Also, this was on the South Island.

  16. dw said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 5:12 pm


    The NZ dialect of English is the only one I can think of where you regularly find schwas in stressed syllables.

    Many varieties spoken in England can have phonetic [əː] for the NURSE vowel.

    Some North American accents can have phonetic [ə] for the STRUT vowel.

  17. Andrew Filer said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

    Her pronunciation of "America" reminds me of being given an address in Auckland on Mayoral Drive, which, at the time, sounded more like "Mural Drive" than anything else.

  18. Bloix said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

    I've never heard this accent before. But once many years ago, I was approached by a man in a drugstore who asked me where he could find the toot-peece. Blank stare from me. The TOOT-peece, the TOOT-PEECE, mon. Oh, the toothpaste! next aisle over!

  19. Stuart said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

    @Chandra – perhaps it was Peggydale http://g.co/maps/wjevh

  20. Chandra said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

    That makes sense, as I did travel from Dunedin to Invercargill at one point.

  21. Chris Waugh said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

    @Stuart: Remember when everybody on NZ TV and radio spoke with a fake BBC accent? Every time I watch NZ TV or listen to NZ radio (which isn't much) I'm struck by how strong the reporters'/DJs'/hosts' accents have become. Partly it's because of my lack of exposure to NZE in my every day life, but there certainly does seem to be a trend towards stronger, more local accents.

  22. Ed said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

    obligatory link to "Beached Az", an Australian cartoon whose primary source of humor is lampooning NZ English. and a whale.

  23. Krogerfoot said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

    @Xmun, newcomers to much of the US south have a similar reaction when a helpful clerk offers them a pin (something to rat with).

    Another Kiwi English anecdote: An older NZ coworker would often complain about a crabby client of his, saying e.g. "She went completely minstrel when she heard the news." I invariably pictured the client on one knee singing an Al Jolson number even after I realized what he was really saying. (In mixed company, he might have softened it to "completely mintal.")

    Lest it need saying, even here: My accent sounds pretty funny, too.

  24. Stuart said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

    @Chris Waugh re " there certainly does seem to be a trend towards stronger, more local accents" Yes, I agree, and given the flak that the accent cops from EVERYWHERE else, I'm pleased. As I am by the fact that the Beached Az strip is probably more popular on this side of the ditch than in Oz.

  25. Eric P Smith said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

    Does anyone else hear a diphthong [iə] in her DRESS and a diphthong [ɛi] in her FLEECE? I hear 'Lisa' [lɛisə] and 'he' [hɛi], but (inter)‘net' [niət] and 'US' [jʉwiəs]. If not, how would you characterise the difference between her DRESS and her FLEECE?

  26. AntC said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 1:18 am

    @Stuart: "I'm a native NZE speaker in my 40s, and I find this woman's accent to be almost a caricature of the Kiwi accent."

    I'm a native BrE speaker who's lived in NZ for 15 years. The accent sounds perfectly usual to me — for a certain demographic of 'Kiwi's.

    Back in Linguistics 1.01, we were told that it's Normal Old Rural Males that have the 'strongest' accent. In NZ this seems to be upside down: it's the edgy, young, urban women. [I'm sure Liberman is going to upbraid me for a term like 'strongest' accent.]

    In contrast, the elderly NZ'ers (60's upwards) sounded more British than the Britain I'd just left. I guess they'd spent their lives trying to lose a 'colonial' accent. Nowadays that's regarded as 'cultural cringe'. O tempora! O mores!

  27. Xmun said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 1:32 am

    @Pflaumbaum: Sorry, but I can't give you an informed comment about the voiced flap. I agree it's there in the medial consonant of "treaty" but not there in "noticed". Perhaps someone else can give you a knowledgeable explanation.

  28. Chris Waugh said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 1:55 am

    I also noticed a classic Australasian (common on both sides of the ditch) sentence final but not a question rising tone on the city in "…our main city", and a few other sentences that aren't really questions, too.

    And I hear a tiny schwa between the r and l in Lisa Mullins' "The World".

    @AntC: "In contrast, the elderly NZ'ers (60's upwards) sounded more British than the Britain I'd just left. I guess they'd spent their lives trying to lose a 'colonial' accent. Nowadays that's regarded as 'cultural cringe'. O tempora! O mores!"

    Yep. Same basic process as the changing of accents on TV and radio from fake BBC, because that had the prestige, to strong Noo Zild, like in this recording.

  29. Stuart said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 3:57 am

    @AntC " The accent sounds perfectly usual to me — for a certain demographic of 'Kiwi's" you'll notice that I acknowledged this in my post, expressing an interest in learning more about the changes that have seen this "caricature" become the norm, among Kiwis of certain age.

  30. AntC said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 4:10 am

    @Chandra "The NZ dialect of English is the only one I can think of where you regularly find schwas in stressed syllables."

    I believe stressed schwa is also a feature of East Yorkshire (Kingston-upon-'ull). (Perhaps someone on the list could confirm?)

    At the time it was reallocated to Humberside I lived in York. There was vehement opposition to being separated from 'God's own County', yielding many opportunities to observe stressed schwa (often in proximity to profanities about bureaucracy).

  31. the other Mark P said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 4:19 am

    Stuart said,

    I'm a native NZE speaker in my 40s, and I find this woman's accent to be almost a caricature of the Kiwi accent.

    Likewise a 40-something Kiwi. I would say her accent is at the stronger end. It's fair to say that 20 years ago she wouldn't have got a job on radio, but there were plenty who spoke like her. Lyn of Tawa being an actual caricature. AntC is correct that young women tend to have the strongest accents of this sort.

    Eric P Smith said,

    Does anyone else hear a diphthong

    A true Kiwi can diphthong anything. I, for instance, put a dipthong in "lake" and "place". I doubt I can even say "fleece" without one.

    I'm surprised no-one mentioned the terminal rise. That is what makes me cringe when I hear the stronger Kiwi accents.

  32. AntC said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 4:43 am

    @Stuart: this "caricature" become the norm

    I assume the caricature/comedienne you mean is Lynn of Tawa/Ginette McDonald http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT7mupw8QXY .

    (Other possible (male) caricatures could be Billy T, Mike King — who follow Maori speech patterns, or Fred Dagg (John Clarke) who would be channeling old rural male.)

    No, I don't think the clip of Georgina Ball sounds like Lynn. (What do others' ears tell them?) Lynn is clearly working class (although Ginette isn't), Georgina is young professional — with the accent (!) on young: she hasn't yet developed an authoritative reportage style/she's nervous talking to an overseas prestigious station.

    Compare this on domestic radio (a little less dizzy, to my ear): http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/nights/audio/2488429/tornado-coverage-with-georgina-ball
    Or this, which is clearly scripted: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2028898/drivers-to-slow-down-on-auckland's-cafe-mile

  33. Stuart said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 5:10 am

    @the other Mark P – thanks for confirming a suspicion I left unstated, that it's not simply the young who have this stronger accent, but more specifically young women. I hesitated to say so in case my perceptions were coloured by the fact that the people I hear most often with such strong accents are TV reporters, most of whom are women. It seemed like too small a sample to base a conclusion on, so it was nice to have confirmation.

  34. Jason said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    I did a double take recently when I heard a young women at the supermarket say to her toddler that "We're not getting any tiny titties." She was of course a New Zealander, and she was referring to the Arnott's snack food "Tiny Teddies." I'm imaging Arnotts could run an advertising campaign in Australia, perhaps after the watershed, starring New Zealanders delivering the slogan "Here, munch on some 'Tiny Titties!'"

  35. bemused felix said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    @Jarek Weckwerth
    All the Southern-Hemisphere English varieties (NZ English, Australian and South African English) share common features, which I believe is ascribed to relatively contemporaneous divergence from BrE.

    BTW: Not that I'm all that familiar with the work, but Jennifer Hay and team from the U. Canterbury have an old programme: the Origins of New Zealand English project, http://www.lacl.canterbury.ac.nz/onze/, which has material relevant to this thread.

  36. Pflaumbaum said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

    Chris Waugh said –

    And I hear a tiny schwa between the r and l in Lisa Mullins' "The World".

    Lisa Mullins is American though, no? NZE is generally non-rhotic so there would be no /r/ in 'world'.

  37. Chris Waugh said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

    @Pflaumbaum: Well, yes, she is American and it was that aspect of her particular American accent I was commenting on. I certainly didn't mean to imply she was speaking Kiwi.

  38. Meg said,

    January 31, 2012 @ 3:34 am

    I am a native NZE speaker in my 30's brought up by parents that speak strong BrE and I sound similar to Ms Ball. I'd suggest this is not an accent at the extreme end of the NZ accent scale. In fact this would seem quite the norm among young professionals in NZ today.

    @ The other Mark P "It's fair to say that 20 years ago she wouldn't have got a job on radio, but there were plenty who spoke like her."

    @Stuart "most reporters on TV now sound like her"

    Isn't it fantastic that countries such as NZ are leaving the shackles of their colonial past behind them and accepting and embracing the use of their local accents.

    I'd be curious to know if other NZE speakers feel a trend of hearing accents like Ms Ball's on air is a bad thing or instead a welcome move to countries accepting their own local dialects instead of feeling they are inferior to the Queen's English.

  39. John Lawler said,

    January 31, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

    Reminds me of the line from Jim McCawley's Dates in the Month of May that Are of Interest to Linguists:

    May 5, 1403. The Great English Vowel Shift begins. Giles of Tottenham calls for ale at his favorite pub and is perplexed when the barmaid tells him that the fishmonger is next door.

  40. Just another Peter said,

    February 21, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

    My father likes to refer to NZ as "The Land of the Long Flat Vowel"

    (For those not in the know, the Maori name for the country translates as "Land of the Long White Cloud")

  41. Chris said,

    April 17, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    The New Zealand parliament has just voted for Marriage Equality, allowing homosexual people to finally sit alongside heterosexual people in the marriage bus.

    And how does a gay Pom in England respond to this ground-breaking news from New Zealand? With typical sneering linguistic arrogance, of course! He says:

    "Will done Newzild, congretuloytions!"

    British linguistic arrogance, particularly when Britain is home to an extraordinary variety of accents, many of which are almost unintelligible to outside ears, makes me sick.

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