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New Zealand English

New Zealand English is the dialect of the English language spoken by most of its 4.75 million inhabitants. There are three official languages in New Zealand: English, New Zealand Sign Language and te reo Maori. English is the first language of the majority of the population.


The colony of New South Wales was founded in 1788 and included most of New Zealand except for the southern half of the South Island. From then on New Zealand was visited by British, French and American whaling, sealing and trading ships, whose crews traded with the indigenous Maori. The first settlers were mainly from Australia. The European population of New Zealand exploded from around one thousand in 1831 to one million in 1911. The New Zealand accent appeared in towns with mixed populations of immigrants from Australia, England, Ireland and Scotland. From the latter half of the twentieth century onwards the language has seen influences from all over the world due to an increase in non-British immigration.

Maori influences

Many local everyday words have been borrowed from the Maori language, including the names of places, plants and animals. The everyday use of Maori words is seen mostly among teenagers, young adults and the Maori population. Certain words such as kia ora (hello) or kai (food) are known and used by almost all New Zealanders. Maori as a spoken language is crucial wherever there is community consultation by the authorities, and legislation requires that official government proceedings and documents be translated into Maori.

Unique words and idioms

New Zealand English has many words and idioms that are unique. The Heinemann New Zealand Dictionary is widely regarded as the definitive dictionary of these. Well-known examples include big-huge (large or extensive), jandals (flip-flops), puckerood (broken, busted or wrecked) and shot (thank you, to express joy, well done!). Some New Zealanders use the third person feminine 'she' in the place of 'it' as the subject of the sentence, especially when the subject is the first word. A very common example is 'She'll be right' meaning 'It'll be ok', or 'It's close enough to what's needed'. The word spud for potato, now used all over the English-speaking world, originated in New Zealand.


New Zealand spelling is closer to British than American spelling. For example, it retains the 'u' in words such as colour, labour and favour. Also, 're' if preferred over 'er' in words such as theatre and centre. The same goes for specific words such as jail rather than gaol and tyres rather than tires.

Please feel free to add your own examples of New Zealand English to this post!