R U hip to the latest NZ dialect?

SPEAKING EASY: South Aucklander Evile Loli thinks his accent is influenced by American TV.
SPEAKING EASY: South Aucklander Evile Loli thinks his accent is influenced by American TV.

There's no doubt in Sione Tuipulotu's mind, he speaks the way he does because he watches too many American movies.

''Those artists have a big impact on us teenagers,'' he said.

Evile Loli, 17, of Samoan heritage, also believes the influence of American culture impacted on the way he talks.

''Just watching heaps of American movies, we try to get that type of accent. We think it's cool.''

But they might both be wrong.

Auckland University linguistics professor Dr Miriam Meyerhoff said South Auckland students were beginning to speak with a distinctive new pronunciation that mirrored the rolling R of the deep south.

The difference, Meyerhoff said, was that Southlanders used the strong R in the middle of words such as ''nurse'' or ''work'', while Aucklanders use it in the middle of words such as ''are'' and ''were'', but also at the ends of words such as ''fewer''.

But don't go blaming TV. The United States features a known African-American English dialect, common on television, but Meyerhoff said the new dialect here was being influenced more by young Pacific Islanders, particularly those of Niuean descent.

Listen to 16-year-old Codie-Lee Rau, whose family is Niuean, and the evidence is clear. The R sound bears a strange similarity to the Southland voice.

Meyerhoff said the two accents were quite different. ''While the American accent does have an R sound, the new use here is far from how they use it. Other kids are just as exposed to American accents, but they aren't using the R sound the way we are.''

She said it was surprising to find the new sound within a community that was part of a large city. ''You can be in Manukau and hear one version of a Kiwi accent, and it is entirely different from the one you hear in the central city.''

While there had not been any academic research into the new R sound, it was a field that warranted study. ''It's such a big area for development.''

It was common for new sounds to emerge in consonants, she said, such as people replacing the letter t with d, resulting in the word ''bedder'', but it also happened in words like milk or ''mulk''  a much-talked-about pet hate of older New Zealanders.

Meyerhoff said language was always changing, not only in the way we sound as we slip further from British pronunciations, but also in the words and phrases used. Fred Dagg, farming references, sayings  like ''nek minnut'' and ''aunties'', all added to the language.

''Kids want to find ways of being different from their parents. That's not new, every generation does it. That's really how language changes.''

She said regional dialects were common worldwide, and researchers knew broader Kiwi accents were generally found in rural areas, while more refined ones featured in cities.

''It's out of fashion in linguistics to study class, now it's more about identity. But it can be said there are broader Kiwi accents than others, and that is usually a euphemism for working class.''

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