New Zealand Lexicography

Lexicography in New Zealand since the early 19th century has reflected important relationships between English and Māori, New Zealand English, and Australian English, and has recorded the emergence of distinctive New Zealand-isms. New Zealand lexicographers have also contributed to the ongoing Oxford English Dictionary (OED) project since early in the 20th century.

An early contribution to New Zealand lexicography was Lee and Kendall's Grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand (1820), which established an orthography for Māori, and included a 100-page lexicon of Māori. A major enduring lexicographical project undertaken shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by William Williams of the Church Missionary Society was his authoritative Dictionary of the New Zealand language (1844), the first of seven editions, the most recent in 1971. Williams' dictionary was notable for being Māori to English only, and for excluding transliterations and other borrowings from English. Important subsequent works have included Biggs (1981), an English to Māori dictionary based on Williams' sixth edition; Ngata (1993), a comprehensive learners' English to Māori dictionary reflecting Māori idiom from the East Coast of the North Island; and Ryan (1995), a substantial Māori to English and English to Māori glossary of over 20,000 words from each language. An English to Māori and Māori to English dictionary of over 5,000 Māori neologisms was developed by the Māori Language Commission (1996).

New Zealand English lexicography first emerged in the work of Edward Morris, of the University of Melbourne, in response to James Murray's call for contributions to the OED project. Morris's book, Austral English (1898), recorded many words used distinctively in Australian and New Zealand English. Words of Māori, Aboriginal and European settler origin were set out in a series of historically ordered citations in the OED format, and show the extent to which the distinctive vocabulary of the varieties of English in New Zealand and Australia had begun to emerge by the end of the 19th century. Slang and colloquial New Zealand English was the focus of Sidney Baker's New Zealand slang: a dictionary of colloquialisms (1941), which followed shortly after New Zealand-born Eric Partridge's Dictionary of slang and unconventional English first appeared in 1937.

A number of New Zealanders, several of whom had been students of Professor I.A. Gordon in Wellington, established important scholarly careers in lexicography. Gordon himself served for many years as a New Zealand consulting editor for Collins dictionaries. R.W.Burchfield was appointed editor of the four volume supplement to the OED from 1957 to 1986. H.W.Orsman was responsible for compiling the Dictionary of New Zealand English (1997), on historical principles, containing some 6,000 headwords in the format of the OED. Orsman also edited the Heinemann New Zealand Dictionary (1979), contributed a substantial selection of New Zealand items to the Macquarie Dictionary and (with Elizabeth Orsman) compiled a New Zealand Dictionary (1994). He also contributed New Zealand material for the OED Supplement, and for the Australian National Dictionary (Ramson, 1988). Turner (1966) had earlier provided an important overview of some of the distinctive characteristics of New Zealand and Australian English vocabulary in different domains of use, and Johnston, another New Zealander, edited the first edition of the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary (1976). Deverson (2001) has surveyed growing number of dictionaries that reflect the emergence of a distinctive New Zealand English lexicon. In 1997, Kennedy et al published A Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language, which was followed by a concise edition in 2002.

Most recently Bardsley (2003) has completed a major study of the influence of the rural sector on the New Zealand English lexicon. Looser (2001) has explored the lexicon of New Zealand prisons. Deverson (1991), Kennedy (2001), and Macalister (2003) have described the influence of Māori on New Zealand English, about six word tokens in every 1,000 in New Zealand English now being of Māori origin. Names of flora and fauna and place names constitute many of these, but there are increasing borrowings from many different social and cultural domains. Deverson has edited a series of New Zealand dictionaries for Oxford University Press, and with Kennedy has jointly edited the encyclopedic New Zealand Oxford Dictionary (2005). Also published in 2005 were first editions of thesauruses incorporating New Zealand English by Bardsley and A Dictionary of Māori Words in New Zealand English by Macalister. At the Centre, Deverson and Bardsley continue to edit New Zealand dictionaries for schools and for the general trade.

New Zealand lexicographers and linguists working in the Pacific have also been prominent in the description of many Polynesian and Melanesian languages, and in historical comparative studies in particular.


  • Baker, S. J. (1941). New Zealand slang: a dictionary of colloquialisms. Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs.
  • Bardsley, D. F. (2003). The rural New Zealand English lexicon 1842-2002. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Victoria University of Wellington.
  • Biggs, B. (1981). The complete English-Māori dictionary. Auckland: Auckland University Press.
  • Burchfield, R.W. (1972-86) Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. 4 volumes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Deverson, T. (1991). 'New Zealand English lexis: the Māori dimension' English Today 26, 18-25.
  • Deverson, T. (2001). ‘New Zealand, New Zealand English, and the dictionaries' In Moore, B. (ed.) Who's centric now? The present state of post-colonial Englishes. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 23-43.
  • Deverson, T. & Kennedy, G. D. (2005). The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Johnston, G. (1976). The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Kennedy, G., D. McKee, R.L. McKee, R. Arnold, P. Dugdale, S. Fahey, and D.
    Moskovitz (eds.). 2002. A Concise Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language.
    Wellington: Bridget Williams Books
  • Kennedy, G. D. (2001). ‘Lexical borrowing from Māori in New Zealand English' In
    Moore, B. (ed.) Who's centric now? The present state of post-colonial Englishes. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 59-81.
  • Kennedy G, Arnold A, Dugdale P, Fahey S, Moskovitz D. 1997.A Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language. Auckland, NZ: Auckland Univ. Press/Bridget Williams Books
  • Lee, S. & Kendall, T. (1820) Grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand. London: Church Missionary Society.
  • Looser, D.M.F. (2001). Boobslang: A lexicographical study of the argot of New Zealand prison inmates in the period 1996-2000. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Canterbury.
  • Macalister, J.S. (2003) The presence of Māori words in New Zealand English. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Victoria University of Wellington.
  • Māori Language Commission (1996). Te Matatiki: Contemporary Māori words. Auckland: Oxford University Press.
  • Morris, E.E. (1898). Austral English: A dictionary of Australasian words. London: Macmillan and Co.
  • Ngata, H.M. (1993). English-Māori dictionary. Wellington: Learning Media.
  • Orsman, E. & Orsman, H.W. (1994). The New Zealand dictionary. Auckland: New House Publishers.
  • Orsman, H.W. (1979). Heinemann New Zealand dictionary. Auckland: Heinemann Reed.
  • Orsman, H.W. (1997). The dictionary of New Zealand English. Auckland: Oxford University Press.
  • Partridge, E. (1937). A dictionary of slang and unconventional English. London: Routledge.
  • Ramson, W.S. (ed.) (1988). The Australian national dictionary. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Ryan, P.M. (1995). The Reed dictionary of modern Māori. Auckland: Reed Books.
  • Turner, G.W. (1966). The English language in Australia and New Zealand. London: Longman.
  • Williams, W. (1844). Dictionary of the New Zealand language. London: Church Missionary Society.