Friday, 5 November 2021

The New Zealand accent mix

I have written before about using Dragon Naturally Speaking (here). This piece of kit helps me to talk in my marking comments, saving me a lot of time. However, the software was developed by a US firm, and whatever AI the software is based on definitely does not understand - nor seems able to learn to understand - Aotearoa place names, Māori words, or Pasifika terms. It is also a bit hit and miss with the Kiwi accent. Sometimes it 'hears' me; other times it does not.

To work around the vagaries of the Dragon software, I have set up hundreds of auto-corrects in Word, which then transform what Dragon 'hears' into what I am 'saying'. I persevere because I can 'talk it in' much faster than I can type.

But all that aside: why do Kiwis sound like we sound? I was reading an article on Stuff earlier this year (Lynch, 2021) which explored the mix of settlement groups, and how that has influenced our accent.  Lynch notes that:

"according to census data from 1871, about half the early settlers were English, about a quarter were Irish, about a quarter were Scots and 5 per cent were Australian". Then, "Around 1890, changes in the educational system meant the number of children attending school skyrocketed. These schools appear to have been the perfect stewing pot for an amalgamation of accents. Kids began to speak like each other, not their parents. They appear to have created New Zealand English in an extraordinarily short time frame. The new accent appears to have appeared first in towns with more diverse populations" (Lynch, 2021).

While Lynch appears dismissive of Te Reo Māori having a major influence on the New Zealand accent, I feel that Māori must have had a key role in us 'fitting in' to our new environment, so would estimate that it had an impact of at least a third on how our vowels shifted, what sounds we used, and how we traded. My completely unevidenced punt on Maori influence shifts those ratios to 36% 'English',  24% Māori, 18% each for Scots and Irish, and 4% for Australian.

It would be really interesting to find a study on this. 


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