British, South African, and New Zealand accents

Marie   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 00:55 GMT
Hi I knew this guy from South Africa and he sounded just like the English.He said that the England sound very different than him.I don't see how that could be.The English, South Africans, New Zealanders all sound the same to me.How can you tell them apart?
Rugger   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 02:24 GMT
Marie, it's understandable that you would mistake the South African accent as sounding similar to an English accent (note, however, that there are many different regional accents in England). Many people mix the South African accent with the Australian accent and sometimes the New Zealand accent, and all three are often confused for an English accent by some Americans. However, they are all very distinctly different because each accent has had different influences in its development throughout history. In particular, the South African accent has been influenced by the English, Dutch and native African languages (plus other European languages like Portugese, French). The New Zealand accent is similar to the Aussie accent except that their vowels are drawn out differently to the Aussies. I think that the only way to notice how glaringly different the South African, Australian, New Zealand and English accents are, is to actually listen to people with these accents talk one after the other. I'm an Australian and since there are many South Africans and New Zealanders residing in Australia, I've had many oppertunities to hear these accents and have become accustomed to the uniqueness of each accent. South African and New Zealand accents are also heard frequently on Australian TV becuase Australia, New Zealand and South Africa play rugby and cricket against each other. Basically, one must first familiarise oneself with the different accents to be able to easily distinguish them.
Ryan   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 06:04 GMT
So what clues do you use to tell a Kiwi accent from an Aussie one, Rugger? I've heard of the "fish and chips" test before. I also have heard about the Kiwis' unique pronunciation of the number "six."

I don't think most Americans can tell a general Canadian English accent apart from an American one unless either a) it's a really broad accent like the prairie accent or b) they start saying the word "about" a lot or use the stereotypical "eh" at the end of their sentences. Most Americans aren't exposed to Canadian speakers a lot, and if they are it is to Americanized ones like Mike Myers or Tom Green who no longer use distinctive Canadian pronunciation. I'm sure that Canadians are much better at recognizing our American accents due to all the dumb TV programs we send to them.

Rugger   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 06:44 GMT
New Zealanders just have a funny way of pronouncing their vowels. As you mentioned, "fish and chips" is said as "fush and chups", "six" sounds like "sex", "this" sounds like "thas", and so on. No other clues are really necessary, just that New Zealanders are like Aussies with an added quirk in the sound of vowels is certain words. The Tasmanian accent much more close to the New Zealand accent than any other Aussie accent.
Logan   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 11:19 GMT
How to recognize a New Zealander


New Zealand has been settled by English-speaking people since about 1840, thus even more recent than the Australian settlement. As most of its immigrants came from Australia, it is not striking that it shares almost the exact speech habits with the latter:
"Native speakers of NZ can distinguish an Australian pronunciation quite readily, though the converse is not always true: Australians tend to classify a NZ accent as coming from a distant and unfamiliar part of Australia, such as Tasmania. Native speakers of English from other parts of the world, on the other hand, can usually not distinguish an NZ from an Australian pronunciation." (Hawkins, n.d.)

Hence, the differences are very slight. They are "... mainly a matter of slight changes in vowel quality." (Crystal, 1988: 240). Different sounds can be found in the lacking of the æ-sound in dance, words like ultimate produced as [], and ea as in New Zealand pronounced short: [] (Bähr, 1974: 284). In some areas, Scots influx is to be felt: in parts of the Southern Island, e.g., one can sometimes hear the r rolled (Crystal, 1988: 241). As expected, also the voiceless wh ([]) is common in NZ.

In vocabulary, Maori influx is greater than the Aboriginal one in Australia, but still quite small. In NZ, however, the Maoris have most of the time been an accepted minority who are left a lot of space for caring for their culture and language.

In any case, the Kiwis (as NZers call themselves) have their own slang, too. Official words as benzine instead of petrol, gas, though, are relatively small in number. As in Aussie and Yankee languages slang is more common usage than in England. Some examples (Daley/Lutterjohann, 1990):

Btw I have never heard anyone talk about benzine as petrol/gas in NZ. As far as I know benzine is a toxic chemical, and is an additive to unleaded fuel.
Logan   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 11:35 GMT
We also have a couple of different accents:

New Zealanders like to think of their country as classless - a country where everyone has the same accent. They will admit that the Southland accent is a bit different, owing to the large numbers of Scots who settled there. Southlanders tend to roll the "r" sound in their speech. Of course, many Maori also speak English with a distinct accent - and the difference between their more staccato way of speaking and other New Zealanders is quickly heard. There are other differences, but before we look at these, I'd like to answer the question: 'Why do New Zealanders and Australians sound so similar when they are separated by a sea that takes three hours to fly over?'
Rugger   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 12:13 GMT
Thanks Logan for your detailed post on the Kiwi accent and for the two web sites. It covered most of what I wanted to say but couldn't put into words about the very unique New Zealand accent. I particularly found the second web site to be very informative.
Tremmert   Monday, August 18, 2003, 18:12 GMT
I think the stereotype is that Americans can't tell the difference between South African and British and the British can't tell the difference between South African and Australian. I'm South African and I think I can tell them apart pretty well :)

As Rugger said many South Africans have moved to Australia so Australians can probably tell them apart easily as well. My description of the South African accent is 'the normal way to speak' but that probably doesn't help you that much ;)
Logan   Monday, August 18, 2003, 22:37 GMT
There's quite a few South Africans living in NZ these days. Their accent is pretty similar and usually after they've lived here a couple of years they just sound like any other NZer.
Lou   Tuesday, August 19, 2003, 09:09 GMT
Hi All,
Very interesting discussion. As to the South African accent, it depends on whether your home language is English, Afrikaans or Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Indian . etc. I find it fascinating trying to understand other English speakers, no matter where they come from, and it is sometimes pretty difficult, as I found out in and around Canterbury last summer. I have quite a problem understanding Americans sometimes and to understand a dear Chinese friend speaking English, I really have to get my ears going full-blast.
I`m from Cape Town but teaching in Switzerland at the moment, and it is amazing how, over the years, in order to accommodate students, my way of speaking has changed. It's become much slower and clearer. Of course, as soon as I land in Jo'burg, it goes back to the original! Thank goodness, otherwise I wouldn't know who was inside my skin.
Students often complain that people in mainly English-speaking countries speak so fast and don't seem to realize that not everybody can follow. For me the main thing in communication is to be sensitive to the language needs of the person you are talking to and to tailor language and speed accordingly.
Best wishes.
Clark   Friday, August 22, 2003, 23:11 GMT
Do you really think that English-speakers speak fast? I was under the impression that English was spoken about medium speed, whereas the Romance languages (mainly Spanish, French and Portuguese) were spoken very fast. I think that French is spoken the fastest of them all.
A.S.C.M.   Saturday, August 23, 2003, 01:28 GMT
I think that Russian is spoken the fastest, trailled closely by French and Spanish. Chinese is spoken at around the same speed as English, but you have to catch the idea quicker because words and phrases are generally shorter.

In my opinion, the main problem why foreigners think that English-speakers speak fast is because in English, there are stressed and unstressed syllables and the unstressed syllables tend to be harder to hear because they are spoken so softly and much quicker than the stressed syllables.
Clark   Saturday, August 23, 2003, 04:24 GMT
Could you give an example?
mjd   Saturday, August 23, 2003, 04:32 GMT
I think Spanish is the fastest.
Clark   Saturday, August 23, 2003, 05:00 GMT
Mjd, I don't know. I have taken French for 4 years now, and I still cannot understand the French in normal conversation even enough to get a confident grasp of what they are saying. I mean, I can probably pick up the general meaning, but nothin more than that.

With Spanish on the other hand, I can understand it with ease, and I have only taken a year and a half (Spanish 1 in high school, and Spanish one for a college semester). But then you must realise that Spanish is the language that I was first exposed to in a real-life situation, since I live in an area heavily-populated by Mexicans. What I am getting at, is that I can understand Spanish with ease sompared to French.

It is funny sometimes, Spanish-speakers will speak Spanish infront of me, and find it truly amazing, or freitening, that I understand most of what they say.