This American's got us Kiwis sussed

02:41, Jan 24 2014
Sweet as
THAT'S GOOD: Once you've sussed our vowels, the next challenge is our idioms.

Heaps of Kiwis stocking up at the dairy to fill the chilly bin before heading to the bach in jandals and togs have proven a bit of a mare for foreigners to understand.

But it's all sweet thanks to one young adventuress.

American Liz Carlson has put together a blog post titled "Me Talk Kiwi One Day" to assist understanding New Zealanders' dubious vowel pronunciation.

She has also provided a vocabulary list for some of our more obscure turns of phrase.

It all started the first day Carlson did a load of washing in Wellington, or "laundry" as she calls it, and asked her flatmates where to hang it out.

Told to head outside to the clothesline, Liz had her first encounter with New Zealanders pronouncing "e" as "i", and expected to come across pigs on the ground while hanging up her clothes.

"Blinking, surely I heard them wrong. "Pigs? What do you mean 'pigs'? Why are there pigs outside?" I asked.

"Looking at me like I was insane, "PIGS! You know PIGS that you hang your clothes with. PIGS!" the flatmates said in unison, pinching their fingers together in motion.

"Oh my god, you mean PEGS."

The peg incident was the beginning of a slippery downhill slope for Carlson trying to, and failing, to understand the New Zealand vernacular, she said.

"In general, I'd like to think I'm pretty apt at understanding other accents and languages.

"I've studied many languages and worked teaching and tutoring English.

"But sometimes, like with the case of the mysterious pigs in Kelburn, Wellington, all understanding completely eludes me."

After months of mental notes, Carlson compiled a list of her 25 favourite and most heard New Zealand words and phrases.

Food items that caused confusion were the national dessert, the pavlova, along with chocolate fish, kumara, capsicums, and feijoas.

Carlson said she "nearly died" when she heard "wop-wops" being used for the first time.

New Zealand gave a whole new meaning to the expression, she said, having come across towns in the South Island with a population of five.

As for Waikikamukau – it's not a swift kick delivered to a bovine, but a placeholder name for any remote rural town, a joking reference to the amount of placenames in New Zealand that begin with "Wai".

With a decent number of colloquial phrases explained, it is left to individuals to decipher what Carlson calls the "Great New Zealand Vowel Shift" on a case-by-case basis.

She is just lucky her first encounter with the "e" to "i" vowel shift was with the pegs, and not an invitation to join her flatmates on the deck.