Are New Zealanders “rhotic”?
The dynamics of rhoticity in New Zealand’s small towns
Rhoticity is highly variable across English varieties. Traditionally, descriptions of English have distinguished between “rhotic” and “non-rhotic” varieties. However, Harris’s (2013) recent description of three core rhotic systems (R1, R2 and R3) demonstrates that this dichotomy is overly simplistic. The literature describes New Zealand English (NZE) as “non-rhotic”, with partial rhoticity in the lower South Island. This paper reports on data collected in two semi-rural towns in the North Island where young New Zealanders employ a “mixed” distribution of rhoticity. Alongside /r/ use which is traditionally associated with “non-rhotic” varieties (Harris’s R2 and R3), speakers also exhibit /r/ use which is associated with “rhotic” varieties (Harris’s R1). The findings suggest that dynamic rhoticity in NZE, which also persists historically in Englishes world-wide, can be represented more effectively by dispensing with the notions “rhotic” and “non-rhotic”, and by treating rhoticity as a continuum of /r/ use.
Keywords: New Zealand English, rhoticity, phonological variation
Published online: 01 December 2017
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