Great word mysteries explored


Bach or crib? Movies or pictures? Wagging or bunking?

Believe it or not, Canterbury University linguistics lecturer Dr Kevin Watsoin has analysed a university survey of 1000 people on commonly used Kiwi words and how different age groups use different words.

Dr Watson says he wanted to research how words varied around New Zealand and across the English speaking world, to understand more about words that are distinctly Kiwi, and to see how words have changed over the years.

The new survey was completed online by people aged from 16 to over 70.  Dr Watson’s research team, including first-year linguistics students, analysed the data to look for evidence of language change.

They found most surveyed referred to holiday homes as baches - no great surprise there.

``We have looked at the word ‘bach’ – it’s timely as many people begin holidays and head to the beach shortly. The word ‘bach’ has been around as long as many people can remember. Most of the participants in the survey, from teens to their 70s, used this Kiwi word for a holiday home.

``There was variation in spelling, though. B-A-C-H was the most common spelling, but some people preferred B-A-T-C-H. Some respondents wrote that they got very annoyed about the different spellings, because they believed the way they spelled the word was the correct way and everyone else was wrong!

“‘Crib’ was another holiday home contender, but this was much more common if you were from certain parts of New Zealand, such as Invercargill or Dunedin. Some people say there isn’t much dialect variation across New Zealand, but there certainly does seem to be regional variation for some words.

``For the place you go to watch a film, some people 40 and over said they go to the ‘pictures’. But younger people said they went to the ‘movies’, and this accounted for 80 percent of the responses for people aged 30 or younger.

``This might look like an Americanism, which some people might get irritated by, but some respondents also reported that they made a distinction between a movie as a thing to watch and the cinema as the place people went to watch it, so it may be that cinema will be around for a while yet.”

The three most common words used for sneaking a day off school were hookey, wagging and bunking. Hookey was used more often by older people and was hardly reported at all by the youngest age groups. Wagging was tops for those under 40, but the word bunking looks to have taken over for people in the 19-30 and 16-18 groups.

The survey was a follow up to a study carried out in 1999, when paper questionnaires were sent to Year 11 and 12 students in schools across New Zealand. Students shared the university online survey through their Facebook friends and it prompted about 1000 responses.

Dr Watson says the data is not only linguistically interesting, but analysing it provided the students with valuable experience of managing a relatively large dataset, which was a useful skill in today’s data-driven job market.
 

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