Pasifika English and community identity in New Zealand

Allan Bell (1), Andy Gibson (2)

AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand


In this paper we examine the relationship between Pasifika English speakers’ linguistic performance and their self-reported ethnic orientations and identifications. We draw on a corpus of 30 interviews with young Pasifika New Zealanders which include questionnaire responses on ethnic community involvement and orientation as well as actual linguistic production in English.

New Zealand has some 250,000 people whose families immigrated from the South Pacific islands, making up 7 percent of the New Zealand population. The majority of these people come from four main islands or groups: Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga and Niue. The first generation immigrants are second language speakers of English, with their first languages being the Polynesian language of their country of origin. New Zealand born members of the community are often dominant in English rather than their community language. This leads to a complex situation of language contact which seems to be resulting in the emergence of a Pasifika New Zealand English ethnolect in the younger members of these communities.

Interviews were conducted in English with a sample of young Pasifika people from four language backgrounds – Samoan, Cook Islands Maori, Tongan and Niuean. We present findings on four consonant features which distinguish their variety of speech from that of mainstream New Zealand English:

* stopping of (DH) - these, their

* fronting of (TH) - something, thanks

* non-use of linking /r/ - share of, stare at

* use of non-prevocalic /r/ after the NURSE vowel – girl, shirt

Our previous study of Pasifika characters in the animated television comedy bro’Town indicates that these features operate as variables in Pasifika NZ English. Some are also found in Maori English, leading us to the interpretation that substrate effects from Polynesian languages are likely to be operating (the fricative pronunciations of /dh/ and /th/ do not occur in Polynesian languages). The non-use of linking /r/ may be related to the metrical structure of the variety, which appears to be more syllable-timed than mainstream NZE.

We relate quantitative and qualitative analysis of these linguistic features to the qualitative information we elicited on these speakers in order to understand the social context and motivations of their linguistic positionings. We examine especially the relation between speakers’ degree of active integration with their ethnic community and their language choices and production.

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 4
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 04