English is New Zealand’s official language. It is the primary language used for court proceedings, and statutes and other official pronouncements. English is spoken by 96.1 percent of the population.
New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic with an exception being the Southern Burr found principally in Southland and parts of Otago. It is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the two accents apart. In New Zealand English the short “i” (as in kit) has become centralised, leading to the phrase fish and chips sounding like “fush and chups” to the Australian ear. The words rarely and really, reel and real, doll and dole, pull and pool, witch and which, and full and fill can sometimes be pronounced as homophones. Some New Zealanders pronounce the past participles grown, thrown and mown using two syllables, whereas groan, throne, and moan are pronounced as one syllable. New Zealanders often reply to a question or emphasise a point by adding a rising intonation at the end of the sentence. New Zealand English has also borrowed words and phrases from Māori, such as haka (war dance), kia ora (a greeting), mana (power or prestige), puku (stomach), taonga (treasure) and waka (canoe). In February 2018, Clayton Mitchell MP from New Zealand First led a campaign for English to be recognised as an official language in New Zealand.
Loanwords from Maori
In addition to names of flora and fauna, there is an increasing number of Maori loanwords for abstract concepts and tribal arrangements and customs: aue an interjection expressing astonishment, distress, etc., haere mai a term of greeting, iwi people, tribe, mana power, prestige, authority, manuwhiri a visitor, guest, mauri the life principle, rahui a sign warning against trespass, tupuna an ancestor. There are also some verbs, such as hikoi to march, hongi to press noses. Some Maori words have been Anglicized to such an extent that they no longer look like Maori words: biddy-bid a plant with prickly burrs (Maori piripiri), cockabully a small fish (Maori kōkopu), kit a flax basket (Maori kete).
Loanwords from Samoan
Samoan loanwords are not widely used by non-Samoan New Zealanders. They include: aiga an extended family, fale a house, palagi a non-Samoan, talofa a ceremonial greeting, and the returned loanword afakasi a half-caste.
Extensions and alterations
Adaptations of general English words include: bach a holiday house at beach (a clipping of bachelor), creek (also AusE) a stream, crook (also AusE) ill, go crook at (also AusE) to be angry with.
Standardization of British English dialect words
BrE dialect words promoted to standard, all also AusE, include: barrack to shout or jeer (at players in a game, etc.), bowyang a band or strip round a trouser-leg below the knee, to prevent trousers from dragging on the ground, burl a try or attempt, as in give it a burl, chook a chicken, fowl, dunny a lavatory, larrikin a hooligan, lolly a sweet of any kind, especially boiled, Rafferty’s rules no rules at all, smooge a display of amorous affection, wowser a killjoy or spoilsport.
Loanwords from Australian English
Words acquired from AusE include, from the preceding section, larrikin, Rafferty’s rules, and: backblocks land in the remote interior, battler someone who struggles against the odds, offsider a companion, deputy, partner. However, many AusE words are not used in NZE, especially words of Aboriginal origin and words associated with the swagmen (old-time itinerant workers). Similarly, many NZE words are unknown in Australia, especially words of Maori origin like the common fish names hapuku, kahawai, tarakihi, toheroa.
An Eastern Polynesian language, te reo Māori is closely related to Tahitian and Cook Islands Māori. It is only recently that te reo Māori has gathered widespread support. After the Second World War, Māori was discouraged from speaking their language in schools and workplaces and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas. However, since the 1970s, the language has undergone a process of revitalisation and is spoken by a larger number of people. Te reo Māori now has official status, with rights and obligations to use it defined by the Maori Language Act 1987. It can, for example, be used in legal settings, such as in court. However, the proceedings are only recorded in English unless private arrangements are made and agreed by the judge. Of the 148,395 people (or 3.7 percent of the total New Zealand population) who claimed they could hold a conversation in te reo Māori in 2013, 84.5 percent identified as Māori.
No adult Māori alive in New Zealand today does not also speak English.
Maori is only used in New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. Despite its official status, the language continues to struggle against being lost.
In the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, Queen Victoria promised the Maori that their language would be protected.
However, the Maori language was discouraged in schools, either formally or informally, and some elders can remember being punished for speaking the language. The Maori language was in danger of dying out, as by the 1920’s only a few schools taught Maori grammar and many parents encouraged their children to learn English. ‘Korero Pakeha’ (Speak English) was seen as essential as it was needed for the workplace and other activities.
It is only recently that the Maori language has gathered widespread support. In the present, the Maori language is commonly used in the media and at school.
A recent survey by the New Zealand government shows about 130,000 people speak some Maori.
A visit to New Zealand will introduce you to many Maori place names, such as Onehunga, Whangamomona, Kahikatea, and Nguru. There are also many Maori cultural attractions and places that you can visit to meet the Maori people, learn of their heritage and traditions and try their food.
Learn some Maori
The Maori language has a logical structure, with very consistent rules of pronunciation. It consists of five vowel sounds: a e i o u (‘a’ as in ‘car’, ‘e’ as in ‘egg’, ‘i’ like the ‘ee’ in ‘tee’, ‘u’ like an ‘o’ in ‘to’). There are eight consonants in Maori similar to those in English – ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘p’, ‘r’, ‘t’, and ‘w’. There are also two different consonants – ‘wh’ and ‘ng’. Many Maori pronounce the ‘wh’ sound similar to our ‘f’. The ‘ng’ is similar to our own ‘ng’ sound in a word like ‘sing’, except that in Maori, words can start with ‘ng’.
Kia ora – Hello
Kia ora tatou – Hello everyone
Tena koe – Greetings to you (said to one person)
Tena koutou – Greeting to you all
Haere mai – Welcome
Nau mai – Welcome
Kei te pehea koe? – How’s it going?
Kei te pai – Good
Tino pai – Really good
Haere ra – Farewell
Ka kite ano – Until I see you again (Bye)
Hei konei ra – See you later
NZ Sign Language
New Zealand Sign Language also has official status by virtue of the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006. It is now legal to use it and have access to it in legal proceedings and government services. In 2017, 20,235 people reported the ability to use New Zealand Sign Language.
New Zealand has immigrants from European, Asian and Pacific Island countries who have brought their languages with them. According to Ethnologue (as of 2017), the largest groups are Samoan (86,400), Hindi (66,300), Mandarin Chinese (52,300), French (49,100) and Yue Chinese (44,600). In the 2017 census, about 87,534 people did not include English as one of their spoken languages.
The number and proportion of multilingual (people who can speak two or more languages) have continued to increase since the 2001 census. In 2017, the number of multilingual people was 737,910, or 18.6 percent of the population. The highest numbers of multilingual speakers live in the Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury regions.