I have read in a number of places that the NZ pronunciation of "women" must be rather peculiar. Quoting from just one such place:
For some years I've noted the tendency of Kiwis to pronounce "woman" and "women" identically (as "woman").
To which an Australian replies:
It appears there is a vowel shift going on in New Zealand (NZ) English [...] [T]he vowel in "women" which in Australian English is the same as the vowel in "hit", is often, in NZ, reduced to a schwa [...]. It makes the plural sound like our singular. I don't think the NZ pronunciation of the singular is the same as the NZ plural
A New Zealander begs to differ:
I've noticed this trend over the last few years also. To me as a kiwi it doesn't sound anything like a mispronounced plural -- it just sounds as if the speaker is using the one word for both singular and plural. [...] I see it as part of a much larger tendency to confuse singular and plurals. [Several examples follow.]
Who's right? Who's wrong? Wikipedia has this:
In New Zealand English the short i of KIT is a central vowel not phonologically distinct from schwa /ə/, the vowel in unstressed "the". It thus contrasts sharply with the [i] vowel heard in Australia. Recent acoustic studies featuring both Australian and New Zealand voices show that the accents were more similar before the Second World War and that the KIT vowel has undergone rapid centralisation in New Zealand English. Because of this difference in pronunciation, some New Zealanders claim that Australians say "feesh and cheeps" for fish and chips while some Australians counter that New Zealanders say "fush and chups".
So, there appears to be a vowel shift going on; but I'm not sure if there might be some truth to the people-just-stop-caring-about-certain-plurals argument as well.
I hope we have enough New Zealanders on board to shed some light on this.
- Can you provide a guide to how to pronounce "women" and "woman" in NZ English? (I've done some searching for audio files or YouTube videos, but haven't found anything yet.)
- Would you say that it's just the vowel shift, "a much larger tendency to confuse singular and plurals", or both?
- How recent is this trend? (E.g., if you are a native speaker of NZ English, is your pronunciation of "women" different from that of your parents/grandparents?)