Tuesday, 31 October 2006

That Kiwi tongue

The other day, our kids were talking on the phone with their grandparents in Malaysia. After about five minutes on the phone with the young ones, I took over, and my parents said they had no idea what the two of them were saying. Mind you, they were speaking English and not Maori.

After about a year in New Zealand, the kids have picked up so much of the Kiwi accent and the odd Kiwi phrases which only a Kiwi could understand, let alone appreciate. Even as parents, we have to stop them mid way in a sentence and ask them what they meant or ask them to repeat that is a form understandable by whose ears have not been tuned to Kiwi. For this reason, Anil and Ashwini both tease us saying we are not Kiwis and will never be one!

Some of the ways certain words are pronounced make it very Kiwi. An example is the word seven. In English we pronounce it as "sev"-"en". But the Kiwis pronounce it as "see"-"ven". Then there is the word ten. In English it is pronounced as it is written, ten. In Kiwi, it sounds more like "tin".

Then there are the phrases. When someone says "thank you", in English we tend to respond with "you are welcome" or "not at all", but in Kiwi, you respond with "that's alright". In English you tend to wish someone "have a good day" or "have a good evening" but in Kiwi, you say "have a good one". I ask, one what?

When I was young, I was used to saying "my one" and "your one". And my parents often corrected me by saying the proper way to say it was "mine" and "yours". But in New Zealand, every one says, "my one" and "your one" and my kids say it's perfectly correct to use those words. We use to learn in school to say "expensive" when you mean something costs a lot of money. But here people say "dearer". I have yet to hear a Kiwi use the word "expensive".

Maori or locally known as Te Reo is widely spoken in New Zealand and is one of three New Zealand official languages. The others being English and the New Zealand Sign Language. However Maori is not a written language and hence there are no script. It uses Roman characters to write. As a result of this, the pronunciation of some of these words is rather "odd" to a native English speaker. In English the letters "ph" sounds like "f" but in Maori the letters "Wh" has the same effect. So Whangerei is pronounced as "Fangerei", Then there are other names of places like Whakatane and Whakapapa which I rather not translate here or this blog would turn out to be some X rated site.

Then there are some names with a "wh" but does not have the "f" sound. For someone new to New Zealand, that would be real tricky. So a suburb in Wellington called Whitby is not pronounced as "fitby", because we were told it originated from an English word! Is that confusing or what? If one assumed that everything else is pronounceable, then think again. Petone is another Wellington suburb pronounced as "pet"-"toe"-"nee" and not "pet"-"one". An Auckland suburb Onehunga is pronounced as "O"-"nee"-"hung"-"ah" and not "One"-"hung"-"ah".

There are some words in English that are considered impolite or outright rude when used in any context but here it is perfectly acceptable. You see advertisements and commercials using the words "bloody". And phrases like "bastards" are quite commonly used. I was quite confused when I heard this phrase, "... he was a bloody good bastard." Was that a compliment or the opposite? Apparently it was the former.

This is a serious “lost in translation” thingy!

Note: thingy is another common Kiwi word to denote “some thing”.


Simon said...

Do they also use "what" at the end of a sentence, the way we use them in Malaysia? Example, "I thought I've returned the book to you,what".

Anonymous said...

Yep, my Kiwi hubby says "pincil" instead of "pencil" .. most of the time the "e" sounds like an "i" in a sentence :D When I pointed it out to him, he doesn't realize it as he's NZ born.

mamak said...

We have Manglish and Singlish, so what you have? Kiwinglish? He he he...

Anonymous said...

Whitby is English, not Maori.

flower said...

I have the same problem with my two kiddies. Everytime they say something, I have to stop them in mid sentences, especially my son. His Aussie accent is getting a little bit too thick. He even have that nasal tone. My daugther, she is getting there too. Even my Aussie husband has lost his strong accent after 6 years in Malaysia, also complaint that his kiddies are more aussie than himself.

Fulltime Mom said...

This post sure brings back memories of my student life in Auckland. Thanks for the memories!

Gerald England said...

We were in NZ for a month in 2001 and no-one told us until near the end of our stay about the Wh sounding life Ph, even people giving us direction never corrected our mispronounciations. What was difficult to get our tongues around were places that began with Ng (several near Rotorua). Of course Whitby is named after the Yorkshire town from which Captain Cook sailed and hence is an exception to the rule.

We loved the whole country -- my account is at http://www.geraldengland.co.uk/nz/

I hope you don't abandon your Kapiti blog altogether; you don't have to do it every day.

Anonymous said...

hi, i am a malaysian who lived and studied in NZ for 7 years. actually the names of places you mention like 'Petone' are maori names, which are always pronounced as they are spelt phonetically - just like Malay is pronounced, not at all like English. So when faced by Maori names think 'malay' pronounciation.