“I Speak Kiwi; Does That Make Me Bilingual?”

I’ve spent enough time in New Zealand to be able to decipher most of the country’s unique linguistics based on context. When my parents were here I occasionally translated things into American for them. I know now that jelly vodka means Jell-O shots and have nothing to do with the spread you put on peanut butter. I know what you mean when you say jandals or togs or chilly bin or sunnies. (Wow, I must really be missing summer; those were just the first four examples to come to mind).

However, there are some words that sound identical to me when spoken by a New Zealander. Sometimes I can understand by context, but often I can’t. For example:

  • Hair, Here and Hear
  • Air and Ear
  • Really and Rarely
  • Christian and Question
  • Pull and Pool
  • Allen and Ellen
  • Bear and Beer

Then there’s what I like to call the Great Kiwi Vowel Inversion, where “peg” sounds like “pig” (and vice versa), “beg” sounds like “big”, “when” like “win”, and “win” like “wean”.

This makes for fun with names, as well.

  • Ben sounds like Bin
  • Megan sounds like Meegan
  • Jessica sounds like Jissica
  • Wendy sounds like Windy

I especially used to struggle with the Megan/Meegan one, because in the States they are two distinct names. Thus, in New Zealand, I never knew if I was calling a Megan by the wrong name and offending her. But so far they all seem to be spelled Megan and pronounced Meegan, and if I’m butchering someone’s name I haven’t been corrected.

Another fun fact: when a word ends in an R, Kiwis remove it. When a word ends in a vowel, and it is followed by another word, they add an R. My favorite example of this:

Hosanna

Hosanna

Hosanner in the highest

Try keeping a straight face through that one.

In short, the Kiwi accent somewhat resembles a love child between the Bostonian and British accents. Except for South Islanders, who pronounce their Rs (sometimes rolling them), sounding slightly more American in the process.

Just another reason there is never a dull moment here (eh?).

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About Andrea Nicole

NZ enthusiast in the PNW. Internationally published writer, educator, grammar nerd, genealogist, and all-around storyteller. Recovering homebody. @Whitworth and @WGU alumna. #edchat
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