Pronunciation of "death, dead"

FRITZ JUENGLING juengling_fritz at SALKEIZ.K12.OR.US
Mon Apr 28 20:48:37 UTC 2003

The short front vowels in Aus, NZ, and South African English are 'shifted,' but not always to the same thing.  For example, Kiwis have a centralised /I/, sounding something like 'uh' to a North American or Aussie.  Aussies, according to Kiwis, say 'ee' for /I/.  So, the phrase 'fish and chips' is the shibboleth: feesh and cheeps in OZ and fush and chups in NZ.  This also has given rise the the joke in OZ about the score of some sporting event: New Zealand sucks, Australia seven.
In NZE there is also TRAP raising and no post-vocalic /r/ (yes, I know there is PV /r/  in some environments and dialects).  The following anecdote illustrates the confusion that can arise when  North Americans are hearing a Kiwi (from Gordon and Deverson _New Zealand English_ 1985 p.82:
When the education specialist Ivan Illich was visiting New Zealand in 1979, he rang his friend's telephone number.  The friend's daughter picked up the receiver and upon the request to speak to her fahter, told Mr. Illich  "He's dead."  Mr. Illich was surprised, but relieved,  when his fried came to the phone.

Of course, the girl was saying 'here's dad.'

I did my dissertation on the formation and origins of southern hemisphere varieties of English.  It was always fun to come across such anecdotes.
Fritz Juengling

>>> preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU 04/28/03 04:33AM >>>

In NZ English all /E/ vowels (the vowel of "bet") raise to /I/ (the
vowel of "hit"), not just the ones before nasals, like in Standard
American English. It was cool to hear "Dennis" pronounced correctly
while I was there, but puzzling to hear someone ask if I was "riddy"
(i.e., "ready").

The /I/ is relatively tenser than ours and could leave you thinking
you heard an /iy/.


>Awhile back I accidentally happened to catch a segment of an animal
>program on TV while channel-surfing, and was surprised to hear the
>narrator, who sounded possibly like a New Zealander, pronounce both
>"death" and "dead" with /iy/, the vowel of "see". I hadn't heard this
>before, and wonder if anyone might be familiar with the program (which
>seemed to be a "regular" on the channel) or would know otherwise where
>this pronunciation is current. (It's not surprising in itself, given the
>fate of other "ea" words, and the alternation in "deaf", but I had not
>heard it before.)
>         Thanks,
>         Rudy

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
      Asian & African Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
e-mail: preston at
phone: (517) 353-9290

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