As with any language, English has developed a wide range of phonetic variations depending on
the social/cultural contexts where it was transplanted, intermingling with indigenous languages and
a diversity of its dialects brought in from the homeland. New Zealand English (NZE) is among the
youngest varieties of the Inner Circle English and its features have been intensively discussed from
a non-prescriptive viewpoint only for hai f a century. This paper is concerned with three well-known
features of NZE phonology: the raising of the TRAP and DRESS vowels, the centralisation of the KIT
vowel, and the merger of the NEAR and SQUARE diphthongs. They are commonly referred to as
being distinctive of English in New Zealand (NZ), often being sources of anecdotes on New
Zealanders' miscommunication with visitors from other English-speaking countries.
Nevertheless, a thorough and detailed review of existing literature in English dialectology
reveals that phenomena similar to each of these features have been reported for the accents of the
regions which are geographically remote from NZ and/or lacking the record of massive migration
among them. The upward shift of the TRAP vowel is also characteristic of the Northern Cities
Vowel Shift (NCVS) in the Great Lakes region, while that of the DRESS vowel is noted in the
Southern United States as well. The centralised and lowered variation of KIT is detected as an
allophone in the NCVS and South African English, among other varieties. The NEAR/SQUARE
merger has been observed in the widely-scattered regions surrounding the Atlantic Ocean,
including Newfoundland, Tristan da Cunha and the Caribbean. At the same time, the extent and
direction of the merger in NZE has been a topic of much discussion for decades.
Based on the above and other findings so far provided, it can be concluded that these three
features are unique to NZE only in the sense of their coexistence in a single variety of English.
Sapir (1921) referred to the variability in the rate of 'drift' according to the circumstances: 'The
general drift of a language has its depths. At the sur face the current is relatively fast. In certain
features dialects drift apart rapidly' (p. 172). Considering this view, the raising of the front vowels
can be regarded as drift at a depth in that it has been occurring across a large number of English
dialects worldwide. 0n the surface layer, however, the drift may cause shifts in a variety of ways,
while interacting with other currents of change in specific phonetic environments. That process
could explain both the NEAR/SQUARE merger operating apparently in both ways and the difference
in the shift of DRESS between NZE and NCVS.
In July 2014, New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, and Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe,
launched Game on English when Abe visited Auckland. “The Game on English Programme
matches English language provides with sports academies to deliver centrally-organised, bespoke
courses for young athletes” (Education New Zealand, 2017). The Game on English tours were held
in Otago in 2014, and in Waikato in 2015-2016 for boys, and in Auckland in 2014-2016 for girls.
To collect basic information with regard to each tour, a paper survey was undertaken after each tour
Question items dealt with 1. Rugby and English level, 2. Training time, 3. Balance between Rugby
and English, 4.Satisfaction with Rugby and English. The results revealed some implications for
future tour planning and academic research.