My Beautiful American Accent

Since New Zealand has such a small population, the local variation of English is very uniform throughout the country both in its vocabulary and its pronunciation.   The only words I know which are used differently are for a small holiday house, which in the North Island is a "bach" (pronounced "batch") and in the South Island is a "crib", and the horizontal wooden braces in a wood framed house, which in the North Island are called "dwangs" and in the South Island are called "noggins", both of which seem like pretty silly names!   As far as the accent is concerned, the only variation I'm aware of is provided by the inhabitants of the small South-Eastern corner of the South Island called Riverton, who roll the letter "r" just like the Scottish, to the titillation of those few non-rolling New Zealanders who get to hear them do it!

The one uniquely New Zealand piece of pronunciation that I'm aware of is the innocent looking word "assume".   New Zealanders say "ashume", to the  ceaseless amusement of one American work colleague whose name will remain unmentioned (you know who you are, Phil Roccapriore).   When he first pointed out this failing, I wasn't even sure (or should I say "shure") whether this foible was unique to me, or something which afflicts all New Zealanders.   A phone call from my father made it clear that I wasn't the only sufferer, and I later found a specific mention of this failing in the James Michener book, "Return to Paradise".   Phil's ridicule was only slightly reduced when I pointed out that "ensure" is everywhere and always pronounced "enshure", "insurance" is "inshurance" and "assure" is "ashure".

When I first speak to an American, they're likely to guess that I come from Britain.  To my horror and disgust their next guess is probably going to be Australia and only when they strike out on that will they think of New Zealand.   So let's get the difference straight once and for all - in Australia, "a" is always short and "i" is always long, whereas in the New Zealand accent, as in the British accent, you never know whether the letter "a" is going to be pronounced long (as in "dance") or short (as in "can").   In the same way, you never know if an "i" will be long (as in "uniform") or short (as in "pig").

In America, I usually pronounce the letter "u" in a word long, so "duty" (which in New Zealand would be "dyuty") comes out as "do-tee" and "tune" is "toon", though not all Americans would say these words like that.   Just as in Australia, in America "a" is usually short except when followed by "r" (eg, park, card), but there are enough exceptions to make life difficult, words like "father", "drama", "pasta" and "rather".   Unfortunately, saying that "a" is short makes pronouncing whole words simpler, but it isn't the whole story.   When I'm spelling out a word I still can't pronounce the letter "a" in a way that Americans can understand, even after living here since 1998.   This is a particular problem because my name has three letters "a" in it!   All I can do is laboriously spell out my name, "S" for "Sally", "e" for "Edward", "a" for "Arthur", and even then I often have to repeat it several times.

At times, American pronunciation makes me feel embarassed about my own accent, because the American pronunciation is often simpler and seems better.   In fact, the very word "often" is a good example of this.   In America they say it the way it's spelled, but in New Zealand people say "offin".   The same is true of any word with "er" at the end.   In America, you say the "er" as it appears, but in New Zealand it's like there's an "a" at the end of the word - instead of "runner" we say "runna".   This pronunciation is characteristic of the Boston accent (just listen to Matt Damon in the movie "Good WIll Hunting"), and the phrase "gangsta rap" does suggest that the same thing also happens in some other America dialects.

This is not to say that all American pronunciation is better than New Zealand pronunciation!   There are some absurd examples of illogical and inconsistent ways of saying words here.   I said that "u" is pronounced "oo", but "putrefying" is pronounced the British way, "pyootrefying" rather than "pootrefying".   And the word "been" is always pronounced "bin", but that doesn't mean that "green" is "grin" or that "seen" is "sin"!   The word "buoy" is pronounced "boo-ee", but "buoyed" is "boyd".   In America "herb" is mysteriously transformed into "erb", but "herbicide" remains "herbicide" whichever side of the Atlantic it's on.   In a truly irrational arrangement, people say "mayor" in the unphonetic British way, but "mayoral" is totally phonetic and totally ugly!

But beyond all the rules, there are words which are simply pronounced differently:

Word American pronunciation New Zealand pronunciation
adult a-dult ad-ult
Antarctica Ant-arctica An-tarc-tica
been bin bean
buoy boo-ee boy
mauve môv  (short 'o', as in "got")  mohv (rhymes with "grove")
multi mul-tai mul-tee
renaissance ren ah sonse re nay sonse
schedule skedule shedule
vase vars vays
wrath rath roth