Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Variation in the Pronunciation of English by New Zealand School Children

posted on 2022-07-27, 22:33 authored by Kennedy, Marianna

This thesis presents a nationwide survey of selected phonemic and phonetic variables used by New Zealand school children. New Zealand English (NZE) is often described as homogeneous compared to other varieties. However, the discovery of dialect regions for playground vocabulary in New Zealand (Bauer & Bauer 2003) and reports of regional dialects in Australian English justify exploring variation in pronunciation across New Zealand.

The data set for this research is a set of anonymous group interviews from 33 schools around the country. The relatively small amount of data from each location is a primary factor in determining the study’s methodology. Tokens from each school are tagged with socio-economic class and ethnicity ratings, based on the characteristics of the school as a whole. Both social and regional factors are considered as potential explanations for the patterns of variation that are revealed. All data sets have variation of some kind, as this was a criterion for including them as part of the research.

The nature of the data set limits the number and type of variables suitable for investigation. The completed research consists of auditory studies of four features and acoustic analyses of two. These are, respectively, non-pre-vocalic /r/, linking /r/, TH-fronting, voicing of the final segment in with, FOOT fronting, and FOOT and THOUGHT neutralisation before /l/. The study also includes six small surveys of lexical pronunciations, though these do not contain enough data to contribute to findings about regional and social variation among the young speakers. Factors affecting the variables’ distributions in the data set are complex, and often appear to interact as explanations for the findings. Two variables, non-pre-vocalic /r/ in Otago and Southland and voicing in the final segment of with, are best described as regionally variable, while ethnicity is a primary factor in the distributions of three variables: TH-fronting, linking /r/ and non-pre-vocalic /r/ in the North Island. Socio-economic class appears to influence the distributions of linking /r/ and TH-fronting.

The final discussion explores potential sources for future regional variation in NZE. Social factors such as socio-economic class and Māori and Pasifika populations are unevenly distributed in New Zealand, and are predictable catalysts for potential regional variation in NZE. The statistical analyses presented in this thesis indicate that both these factors contribute to regional differences in the data set. The discussion also considers borrowing, geographic isolation and variables’ stigma and prestige as factors in their distributions.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Bauer, Laurie