Wednesday 13 July 2011


Steve Bell seems to be confusing an Australian accent with a New Zealand one.

Here, in yesterday’s Guardian cartoon, the Australian Rupert Murdoch is ordering his tame policeman to arrest the Queen. His accent is caricatured by jocular respelling.

While both Australians and New Zealanders — but particularly the latter — can give the rest of us the impression that they are pronouncing DRESS words with the KIT vowel (Rebekah → Ribikah) and TRAP words with the DRESS vowel (shag → sheg), it is only New Zealanders whose KIT vowel is so centralized as to lead us to perceive it as the STRUT vowel. Australians, on the other hand, make it closer and fronter than in many other accents, nearer to [i].

That is the easy way to tell Aussies and Kiwis apart. Get them to say fish and chips. The ones who seem to say “fush and chups” are the Kiwis.

But in Steve Bell’s cartoon Murdoch is represented as pronouncing the Windsor bitch as “the Wundsor Buttch”. Since Murdoch is an Aussie, it would have been better shown as “the Weendsor Beetch” (though of course that too is an exaggeration).

The last respelling, throne as “thrine”, is an interesting attempt to reflect the characteristic Australian GOAT vowel variant in the region of [æ̈ʏ]. (This is the variant that Paul Kerswill observed in Milton Keynes a few years ago, leading to a flurry of media claims about the supposed influence of Australian soaps on British popular accents.)


  1. Yeah that's what leapt out at me too when I first saw it - he's got a Kiwi accent instead of Australian. But I imagine Steve Bell is aware of this inaccuracy and has included it to give the whole strip that over-the-top viciousness that we love so much.

  2. Thirty years ago, when I was newly graduated from college (or from university, to use British phrasing), I took a job answering the telephone and doing clerical work in the office of my father's import business, many of the clients of which were in Australia and New Zealand. A phone call came in once from someone asking to speak to my father. Recognizing the caller's accent as from either Australia or New Zealand but unable to discern which, I put the caller on hold and called across the office, "Dad, there's an antipodean on the phone for you." I think that was the only occasion I have ever had to use that word in live speech. Unfortunately, I misplaced the stress on the third instead of the fourth syllable, but I think my utterance would have been just as incomprehensible to my father if I had used the correct pronunciation.

  3. A few weeks ago you posted a you-tube moving picture with an Australian minister saying like (to my ears)'hoisting' for 'hosting'. This Aussie diphthong baffles me, it's an [æ̈ʏ], you're saying?

  4. "Thrine" is really interesting from my perspective as a dialect coach as this is a diphthong I find to be incredibly difficult for both Australian actors to achieve in their target accent and for non-Australians to achieve IN Australian. That phonemic transcription ([æ̈ʏ]) is really useful for me!

    I have a student from Cumbria who had enormous trouble the Aussie GOAT - we tried numerous different ways of conceptualising it but he found it very hard to reduce the lip rounding of his native dialect. One way we tried was to conceptualise it as the FACE dipthong, which is also interesting here as usually this type of "thrine" re-spelling would have been employed to indicate the FACE vowel - as in the Cockney "no one taught him take instead of tike."


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