Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

One thing I always notice when I'm hearing Kiwis speaking English is the fact that almost every vowel turns into /ɪ/. Here's a video which illustrates the point (listen to them when they speak vowels).

Example words that video whose vowels I hear changed:

Has (sounds like 'his'), neck (nick), men (min), death (dith), centre (cintre), yanked (yinked), says (siz), said (sid), etc.

How did this vowel change come about? It doesn't even seem to exist in Australian English, and it seems rather unhelpful as I find this pronunciation makes many words harder to understand.

share|improve this question
3  
Questions of "why" in the field of language change are almost always unanswerable. You can show that certain changes have happened more commonly than others, and you can sometimes create ex post facto explanations in terms of functional load, but we can almost never tell why a particular change has or hasn't happened. –  Colin Fine Sep 19 '11 at 14:17
2  
I don't think it's the case that these vowels have actually merged, it's just that their targets have changed from the English varieties you're familiar with. –  JSBձոգչ Sep 19 '11 at 14:17
3  
Related (possible dupe?) english.stackexchange.com/questions/6016/… –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 19 '11 at 14:26
1  
culture, culture, man... bet you will feel another huge difference when it comes to Scottish accent :) –  woodykiddy Sep 19 '11 at 14:44
2  
Wikipedia says that in New Zealand English, sat -> set, set -> sit, sit -> sət. So these vowels are still all distinct, but they've shifted places, and sit has moved halfway to soot. I don't know whether anything's happened to soot, but since /ʊ/ and /uː/ can be merged before l's (i.e., pull and pool), I expect soot has moved somewhat, as well. –  Peter Shor Sep 19 '11 at 17:07

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

They're not all like [ɪ]. They're just different from other dialects. The "vowel" section of the Wikipedia article about New Zealand English discusses how New Zealand vowels are different from other dialects.

Note, however, that /ɪ/ itself is pronunced [ʌ], that is, "sin" sounds almost like how I would say "sun".

As for why, nobody quite knows where sound changes originate. In many languages, including various times in the history of English, when one vowel changes, many others change as well, to redistribute them throughout the vowel space. Such groups of changes are known as chain shifts, the most famous being the Great Vowel Shift. This is clearly what has happened with short vowels New Zealand English. The description in the Wikipedia article says "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]", implying this is a pull-chain—a shift of one vowel opens up room in the vowel space that other vowels move into.

I don't know if there are any studies that show the history of the New Zealand vowel shift, so I can't be sure the implication from Wikipedia is correct, as it is uncited, but it is certainly a plausible explanation.

share|improve this answer

Why? the answer is: Maori influence. The busted vowel sounds come from Maori pronunciation of English. Also South Africa shares the same busted "can" vowel, so that "can" sounds like "ken." Both NZers and South Africans pronounce "Africa" as "Efrica." Although a NZer can't hear it.

share|improve this answer
4  
This is very interesting (re: Maori influence). Do you have any references? –  JAM Nov 18 '13 at 2:20
    
Is that an opinion or personal perception? Any sources you can cite will be very helpful. –  Kris Nov 18 '13 at 11:37

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.