The University of Sussex

The role of women in the formation and development of New Zealand English

Nicola Woods

This research assesses the relative roles played by men and women in the development of New Zealand English (NZE). Real-time evidence on the development of NZE over the past 50 years is provided by comparison of speakers recorded in 1948 and their present-day descendants recorded recently. Elements of two vowel shifts are studied, and particular attention is paid to the vowel variables which occur in the lexical sets MOUTH, TRAP and DRESS. Results indicate that women lead in changes which are new and dynamic, but lag behind men in the use of variables representing older changes. While these results mirror patterns of gender-related variation observed in other contexts (Bauer 1986; Labov 1991), explanations in terms of prestige which are often assumed to account for this pattern of variation are found to be inadequate in the New Zealand case. Rather, a hypothesis in terms of dialect contact, and specifically women's preferred discourse strategies in contact situations, is used to explain the process and progress of linguistic change in NZE.

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