Languages of New Zealand

English is the predominant language and a de facto official language of New Zealand. Almost the entire population speak it either as native speakers or proficiently as a second language.[1] The New Zealand English dialect is most similar to Australian English in pronunciation, with some key differences. The Māori language of the indigenous Māori people was made the first de jure official language in 1987. New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) has been an official language since 2006. Many other languages are used by New Zealand's minority ethnic communities.

Languages of New Zealand
OfficialMāori (3.7%)
New Zealand Sign Language
MainNew Zealand English (96.1%)
ImmigrantSamoan (2.2%)
Hindi (1.7%)
Mandarin Chinese (1.3%)
French (1.2%)
SignedNew Zealand Sign Language
Keyboard layout
Source2013 New Zealand census[1]

Official languages

New Zealand has three official languages: English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.[1][2]


English is spoken by 96.1 percent of the population.[1] It has long been the predominant language and the de facto official language.[3] It is the primary language used in parliament, government, the courts, and the education system.[4] Its official status has been presumed and is not codified in statute.[5] In 2018, New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell introduced a bill to parliament to statutorily recognise English as an official language.[6][7]

New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic with the exception of the "southern burr" found principally in Southland and parts of Otago.[8] It is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the two accents apart.[9] In New Zealand English the short i (as in kit) has become centralised, leading to the shibboleth fish and chips sounding like "fush and chups" to the Australian ear.[10] The words rarely and really, reel and real, doll and dole, pull and pool, witch and which, and full and fill can sometimes be pronounced as homophones.[11][12][8] Some New Zealanders pronounce the past participles grown, thrown and mown using two syllables, whereas groan, throne and moan are pronounced as one syllable.[13] New Zealanders often reply to a question or emphasise a point by adding a rising intonation at the end of the sentence.[14] New Zealand English has also borrowed words and phrases from Māori, such as haka (war dance), kia ora (a greeting), mana (power or prestige), puku (stomach), taonga (treasure) and waka (canoe).[15][16]


National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand (49)
A bilingual sign outside the National Library of New Zealand uses the contemporary Māori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa.

The Māori language of the indigenous Māori people has been an official language by statute since 1987, with rights and obligations to use it defined by the Maori Language Act 1987.[17] It can, for example, be used in legal settings, such as in court, but proceedings are recorded in English only, unless private arrangements are made and agreed by the judge.

An Eastern Polynesian language, Māori is closely related to Tahitian and Cook Islands Māori.[18] After the Second World War, Māori were discouraged from speaking their language in schools and workplaces and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas.[19] Since the 1970s, the language has undergone a process of revitalisation and is spoken by a larger number of people.[20][21] Of the 148,395 people (or 3.7 percent of the total New Zealand population) who claimed they could hold a conversation in Māori in 2013, 84.5 percent identified as Māori.[1][22] No adult Māori alive in New Zealand today does not also speak English.[23]

New Zealand Sign Language

2013 NZ census people who can use New Zealand Sign Language
People who can use New Zealand Sign Language, 2001, 2006 and 2013 censuses

New Zealand Sign Language, the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand, has been an official language by statute since 2006, by virtue of the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006.[24][25] It is legal to use it and have access to it in legal proceedings and government services. In 2013, 20,235 people reported the ability to use New Zealand Sign Language.[1]

Immigrant languages

New Zealand has immigrants from European, Asian and Pacific Island countries who have brought their languages with them. According to Ethnologue (as of 2017), the largest groups are Samoan (86,400), Hindi (66,300), Mandarin Chinese (52,300), French (49,100) and Yue Chinese (44,600).[26] In the 2013 census, about 87,534 people did not include English as one of their spoken languages.[1]

The number and proportion of multilingual (people who can speak two or more languages) has continued to increase since the 2001 census. In 2013, the number of multilingual people was 737,910, or 18.6 percent of the population. The highest numbers of multilingual speakers lived in the Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury regions.[1]


In the 2013 census, the following languages were reportedly spoken by more than 0.1 percent of the population.[27] People could report more than one language, therefore percentages do not add up to 100. Statistics necessarily exclude unusable responses and those who spoke no language (e.g. too young to talk).

Language Number Percentage Change
English (New Zealand English) 3,819,969 96.14 0.24
Māori 148,395 3.73 −0.37
Samoan 86,403 2.17 −0.06
Hindi 66,309 1.67 0.51
Mandarin Chinese 52,263 1.32 0.24
French 49,125 1.24 −0.16
Yue Chinese (Cantonese) 44,625 1.12 −0.03
Chinese (not further defined) 42,753 1.08 0.09
German 36,642 0.92 −0.06
Tongan 31,839 0.80 0.03
Tagalog 29,016 0.73 0.40
Afrikaans 27,387 0.69 0.14
Spanish 26,979 0.68 0.12
Korean 26,373 0.66 −0.04
Dutch 24,006 0.60 −0.10
New Zealand Sign Language 20,235 0.51 −0.12
Japanese 20,148 0.51 −0.04
Punjabi 19,752 0.50 0.22
Gujarati 17,502 0.44 0.03
Arabic 10,746 0.27 0.01
Russian 9,426 0.24 0.03
Italian 8,214 0.21 −0.01
Cook Islands Māori 8,124 0.20 −0.05
Thai 7,599 0.19 0.03
Tamil 6,840 0.17 0.02
Malaysian 6,789 0.17 −0.01
Khmer 6,729 0.17 0.01
Fijian 6,273 0.16 0.03
Vietnamese 5,376 0.14 0.03
Serbo-Croatian 5,349 0.13 −0.03
Sinhala 5,220 0.13 0.03
Min Chinese 5,166 0.13 −0.02
Persian 5,061 0.13 0.02
Urdu 5,046 0.13 0.02
Bahasa Indonesia 4,881 0.12 0.00
Niuean 4,548 0.11 −0.03
Malayalam 4,365 0.11 0.05
None (e.g. young children) 67,509 1.70 −0.27

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity – Languages spoken". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  2. ^ Bardsley, Dianne (7 October 2018). "English language in New Zealand - Characteristics of New Zealand English". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 28 November 2017. English, te reo Māori (the Māori language) and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand.
  3. ^ New Zealand Government (21 December 2007). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Fifth Periodic Report of the Government of New Zealand (PDF) (Report). p. 89. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015. In addition to the Māori language, New Zealand Sign Language is also an official language of New Zealand. The New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 permits the use of NZSL in legal proceedings, facilitates competency standards for its interpretation and guides government departments in its promotion and use. English, the medium for teaching and learning in most schools, is a de facto official language by virtue of its widespread use. For these reasons, these three languages have special mention in the New Zealand Curriculum.
  4. ^ "New Zealand's official languages". Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  5. ^ Walters, Laura (16 February 2018). "Analysis: Why English does not need to be made an official language". Stuff. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  6. ^ "NZ First submits Bill for English to be recognised as official language". Newshub. 15 February 2018. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  7. ^ "NZ First Bill: English set to become official". Scoop. 15 February 2018. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  8. ^ a b Kortmann et al. 2004, p. 605.
  9. ^ Hay, Maclagan & Gordon 2008, p. 14.
  10. ^ Crystal 2003.
  11. ^ Kortmann et al. 2004, p. 582, 589, 592, 610.
  12. ^ Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th ed. London: Arnold., p 24.
  13. ^ Kortmann et al. 2004, p. 611.
  14. ^ Crystal 2003, p. 355.
  15. ^ Bardsley, Dianne (September 2013). "English language in New Zealand – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  16. ^ "Māori Words used in New Zealand English - Māori". Māori Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  17. ^ "Waitangi Tribunal claim – Māori Language Week". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. July 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
  18. ^ "Austronesian languages". Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  19. ^ Phillips, Jock (March 2009). "The New Zealanders – Bicultural New Zealand". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Māori Language Week – Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  21. ^ Squires, Nick (May 2005). "British influence ebbs as New Zealand takes to talking Maori". The Telegraph. Great Britain.
  22. ^ "Māori language speakers". Statistics New Zealand. 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  23. ^ Keegan, Peter (5 June 2018). "FAQ about the Māori Language". Māori Language Information. Retrieved 4 July 2018. All (adult) Māori speakers can also speak English.
  24. ^ "New Zealand Sign Language Bill 2006". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  25. ^ Governor-General gives assent to Sign Language Bill, Press Release: Governor General, 10 April 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2006.
  26. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.) (2017). "Languages of New Zealand". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, (20th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 2 September 2017.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  27. ^ "2013 Census totals by topic". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.


  • Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521530330.
  • Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Gordon, Elizabeth (2008). Dialects of English: New Zealand English. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748625291.
  • Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar; Burridge, Kate; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (2004). A handbook of varieties of English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-017532-5.

External links

Allan Bell (sociolinguist)

Allan Bell (born 26 July 1947) is a New Zealand academic and sociolinguistic researcher. He has written extensively on New Zealand English, language style, and media language. He is a founding co-editor of the international quarterly Journal of Sociolinguistics and is known for his theory of audience design. Currently, he is working as the Director of the Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication and is a Professor of Language & Communication at Auckland University of Technology.

Cook Islands Māori

Cook Islands Māori is an Eastern Polynesian language. It is the official language of the Cook Islands, as well as being an indigenous language of the Realm of New Zealand. Cook Islands Māori is closely related to New Zealand Māori, but is a distinct language in its own right. Cook Islands Māori is simply called Māori when there is no need to disambiguate it from New Zealand Māori, but it is also known as Māori Kūki 'Āirani (or Maori Kuki Airani), or, controversially, Rarotongan. Many Cook Islanders also call it Te reo Ipukarea, literally "the language of the Ancestral Homeland".

English language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse (a North Germanic language), and to a greater extent by Latin and French.English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a group of West Germanic (Ingvaeonic) dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century, are collectively called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England; this was a period in which the language was influenced by French. Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London, the printing of the King James Bible and the start of the Great Vowel Shift.Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, and later the United States, Modern English has been spreading around the world since the 17th century. Through all types of printed and electronic media, and spurred by the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions and professional contexts such as science, navigation and law.English is the largest language by number of speakers, and the third most-spoken native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish. It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states. There are more people who have learned it as a second language than there are native speakers. It is estimated that there are over 2 billion speakers of English. English is the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, and it is widely spoken in some areas of the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia. It is a co-official language of the United Nations, the European Union and many other world and regional international organisations. It is the most widely spoken Germanic language, accounting for at least 70% of speakers of this Indo-European branch. English has a vast vocabulary, though counting how many words any language has is impossible. English speakers are called "Anglophones".

Modern English grammar is the result of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking pattern, with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word order, to a mostly analytic pattern with little inflection, a fairly fixed SVO word order and a complex syntax. Modern English relies more on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect and mood, as well as passive constructions, interrogatives and some negation. Despite noticeable variation among the accents and dialects of English used in different countries and regions—in terms of phonetics and phonology, and sometimes also vocabulary, grammar and spelling—English-speakers from around the world are able to communicate with one another with relative ease.

Geography of New Zealand

New Zealand (Aotearoa) is an archipelago of around 600 islands located in the south-western Pacific Ocean, near the centre of the water hemisphere. The two main islands by size are the North Island (or Te Ika-a-Māui) and the South Island (or Te Waipounamu), separated by the Cook Strait; the third-largest island, Stewart Island (or Rakiura), is located 30 kilometres (19 mi) off the tip of the South Island across Foveaux Strait. The three largest islands stretch 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) across latitudes 34° to 47° south. The great majority of New Zealand's population live in the two main islands, with three-quarters inhabiting the North Island. Significantly smaller islands include Waiheke Island, Chatham Island, Great Barrier Island and more, although many are uninhabited.

New Zealand's terrain ranges from the fiord-like sounds of the southwest to the sandy beaches of the far north. The South Island is dominated by the Southern Alps while a volcanic plateau covers much of the central North Island. Temperatures rarely fall below 0 °C or rise above 30 °C and conditions vary from wet and cold on the South Island's west coast to dry and continental a short distance away across the mountains and near subtropical in the northern reaches of the North Island.

New Zealand's varied landscape has appeared in television shows, such as Xena: Warrior Princess. An increasing number of feature films have also been filmed there, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The country is situated about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) south-east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, its closest neighbours to the north being New Caledonia, Tonga and Fiji. It is the southernmost nation in Oceania. The relative proximity of New Zealand north of Antarctica has made the South Island a gateway for scientific expeditions to the continent.

New Zealand is often mistakenly omitted from world maps due to the country's geographic isolation and its positioning on the bottom-right in many projections.

Moriori language

Moriori is an extinct Polynesian language most closely related to New Zealand Māori. It is the native language of the Moriori, the indigenous people of the Chatham Islands (Rēkohu in Moriori) - an archipelago of New Zealand, east of New Zealand's South Island.

Māori language

Māori (; Māori pronunciation: [ˈmaːɔɾi] listen), also known as te reo ("the language"), is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. Closely related to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian, it gained recognition as one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987. The number of speakers of the language has declined sharply since 1945, but a Māori language revitalisation effort slowed the decline, and the language has experienced a revival, particularly since about 2015.A national census undertaken in 2013 reported that about 149,000 people, or 3.7 per cent of the New Zealand population, could hold a conversation in Māori about everyday things. As of 2015, 55 per cent of Māori adults reported some knowledge of the language; but of these speakers, only 64 per cent use Māori at home and only around 50,000 people can speak the language "very well" or "well".The Māori language lacked an indigenous writing system. Missionaries arriving from about 1814, who learned to speak Māori, and introduced the Latin alphabet. In 1817 Tītore, and his junior relative, Tui (also known as Tuhi or Tupaea) sailed to England. They visited Professor Samuel Lee at Cambridge University and assisted him in the preparation of a grammar and vocabulary of Māori. Kendall travelled to London in 1820 with Hongi Hika and Waikato (a lower ranking Ngāpuhi chief) during which time further work was done with Professor Lee, who gave phonetic spellings to a written form of the language, which resulted in publication of the First Grammar and Vocabulary of the New Zealand Language (1820).. The missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) did not have a high regard for this book. By 1830 the CMS missionaries had revised the orthography for writing the Māori language; for example, ‘Kiddeekiddee’ became, what is the modern spelling, ‘Kerikeri’. Māori distinguishes between long and short vowels; modern written texts usually mark the long vowels with a macron. Some older texts represent long vowels with double letters (e.g. "Maaori"); for modern exceptions see "Long vowels" below.

New Zealand English

New Zealand English (NZE) is the variant of the English language spoken and written by most English-speaking New Zealanders. Its language code in ISO and Internet standards is en-NZ. English is one of New Zealand's three official languages (along with New Zealand Sign Language and the Māori language) and is the first language of the majority of the population.

The English language was established in New Zealand by colonists during the 19th century. It is one of "the newest native-speaker variet[ies] of the English language in existence, a variety which has developed and become distinctive only in the last 150 years". The most distinctive influences on New Zealand English have come from Australian English, English in southern England, Irish English, Scottish English, the prestige Received Pronunciation (RP), and Māori.

New Zealand English is most similar to Australian English in pronunciation, with some key differences.

New Zealand Sign Language

New Zealand Sign Language or NZSL (Māori: Te Reo Rotarota) is the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand. It became an official language of New Zealand in April 2006, alongside English and Māori. However, the rights and obligations to use the language are restricted to court proceedings.New Zealand Sign Language has its roots in British Sign Language (BSL), and may be technically considered a dialect of British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language (BANZSL). There are 62.5% similarities found in British Sign Language and NZSL, compared with 33% of NZSL signs found in American Sign Language.Like other natural sign languages, it was devised by and for deaf people, with no linguistic connection to a spoken or written language.

It uses the same two-handed manual alphabet as BSL (British Sign Language) and Auslan (Australian Sign Language).

It uses more lip-patterns in conjunction with hand and facial movement to cue signs than BSL, reflecting New Zealand's history of oralist education of deaf people. Its vocabulary includes Māori concepts such as marae and tangi, and signs for New Zealand placenames. (E.g. Rotorua - mudpools, Wellington - windy breeze, Auckland - Sky Tower, Christchurch - 2 Cs, represents ChCh.)

Niuean language

Niuean (; ko e vagahau Niuē) is a Polynesian language, belonging to the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian languages. It is most closely related to Tongan and slightly more distantly to other Polynesian languages such as Māori, Sāmoan, and Hawaiʻian. Together, Tongan and Niuean form the Tongic subgroup of the Polynesian languages. Niuean also has a number of influences from Samoan and Eastern Polynesian languages.

Outline of New Zealand

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to New Zealand:

New Zealand is an island nation located in the western South Pacific Ocean comprising two large islands, the North Island and the South Island, and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. The indigenous Māori originally called the North Island Aotearoa, commonly translated into English as "The Land of the Long White Cloud"; "Aotearoa" is now used as the Maori language name for the entire country.New Zealand is situated about 2,000 km (1,200 mi) southeast of Australia across the Tasman Sea, its closest neighbours to the north being New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.

The population is mostly of European descent, with the indigenous Māori being the largest minority. Asians and non-Māori Pacific Islanders are also significant minorities, especially in the cities. Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the head of state and, in her absence, is represented by a non-partisan governor-general. Political power is held by the democratically elected New Zealand Parliament under the leadership of the Prime Minister, who is the head of government. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing but in free association; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).

Penrhyn language

The Penrhyn language is a Cook Islands Maori dialectal variant belonging to the Polynesian language family spoken by about 200 people on Penrhyn Island and other islands in Northern Cook Islands. It is considered to be an endangered language as many of its users are shifting to Rarotongan and English.

Rakahanga-Manihiki language

Rakahanga-Manihiki is a Cook Islands Maori dialectal variant belonging to the Polynesian language family, spoken by about 2500 people on Rakahanga and Manihiki Islands (part of the Cook Islands) and another 2500 in other countries, mostly New Zealand and Australia. Wurm and Hattori consider Rakahanga-Manihiki as a distinct language with "limited intelligibility with Rarotongan" (i.e. the Cook Islands Maori dialectal variant of Rarotonga). According to the New Zealand Maori anthropologist Te Rangi Hīroa who spent a few days on Rakahanga in the years 1920, "the language is a pleasing dialect and has closer affinities with [New Zealand] Maori than with the dialects of Tongareva, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands"

World TV

World TV is a New Zealand television, radio and print media company specialising in media for Asian migrants and Asian language communities. It operates eleven specialist television channels and publishes a national-circulation magazine for subscribers of its five Sky TV digital television packages. It also broadcasts two free-to-air television channels on the Freeview platform and three 24-hour radio networks through terrestrial radio and Sky TV.Programmes on the television channels, branded KTV, JTV and CTV, include local news and current affairs programmes, subtitled 3 News bulletins and content from Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese broadcasters and producers. The radio stations, AM936, Chinese Radio FM 99.4 and Chinese Radio FM 104.2, broadcast a combination of Hong Kong and Chinese programmes, and local music, parenting and talkback shows.In December 2005, the company claimed to have 11,500 subscribers across the country for its seven channels of Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong programmes. In 2009, the company claimed 20,000 people received its World TV subscriber magazine. World TV's largest shareholder is Taiwanese resident Fun-nu Tsai with a 19 percent stake; chief executive Henry Ho owns 15 percent of the company and 11 other investors also have shares. The company's income is now evenly shared between advertising and subscription fees.

Languages of the Realm of New Zealand
Major language
Indigenous languages
Immigrant languages
Sign languages
New Zealand articles
Sovereign states
Associated states
of New Zealand
and other territories

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