Inhabitants of a particular place find a need to distinguish themselves from neighbouring people by the way they speak. So, in the southwest Pacific Ocean, Australian and New Zealand accents of English are becoming more and more distinct from each other - although they remain so similar that the rest of the world cannot tell them apart.

New Zealand has long been keen to differentiate itself from its much larger neighbour, in language and other matters. Two salient markers of this difference are the vowels in words like DRESS and KIT. Intriguingly, one of these vowel differences has become an icon of distinction between the two Englishes, while the other flies underneath the radar of sociolinguistic awareness. Why?

It turns out that there are parallels to the Australia/New Zealand case, certainly in English and probably in all major languages. These differences are often represented in stock words which people use to exemplify them, for example:

fush n chups    ‘fish and chips’  New Zealand
dahntahn ‘downtown’  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
hoi toide  ‘high tide’ Ocracoke, North Carolina, USA

What are the linguistic characteristics of these kinds of forms, and the social conditions in which they have arisen? More, how do speakers use them, how do they perform them for outsiders? And what role do media of all kinds play in that process?

I examine online sources to see how these stereotypes function, and what they can tell us about how people distinguish themselves from others through their language choices. I look especially at cross-accent performances in the media – as when Australians ‘do’ the New Zealand accent, and vice versa. I conclude that neighbouring dialects need each other in order to demonstrate that they - and their speakers - are indeed different.