Ubiquitous on the radio recently has been “Royals,” a minimalist anti-consumerist (I think) anthem by 16-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde (real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor). She been busy on the American interview circuit, revealing her non-singing, New Zealand-accented voice:
Something that struck me about Lorde/Yelich-O’Connor’s speech was her relatively “conservative” vowel in words like “right” and “kind,” which sometimes approaches the “American” aɪ. This feature strikes one as slightly different from “canonical” Australian English. Indeed, Macquarie University has an online set of vowel charts comparing Australian, American, New Zealand and British (RP) accents; for Australian English, they suggest the diphthong in “kite” starts with a nearly back vowel, while for New Zealand English, they represent this diphthong as starting at a point between central and front. (I’m not sure which data were used to construct the New Zealand English chart, but it matches my general impressions.)
I’m not certain this is an entirely youthful or Kiwi phenomenon, by the way; I’ve heard this more “genteel” diphthong in older New Zealanders as well as some Australians. The KITE vowel seems to exhibit a kind of spectrum in “Oceanic” English generally, ranging from markedly Cockney-esque variants (e.g. ɒe) to more the more RP/GenAm-like diphthong just mentioned. I will say, however, that I’ve heard the latter more commonly among younger Kiwis like Lorde. And more specifically, aɪ strikes me as slightly more common in NZ than Australia. But I haven’t managed to find much scholarly research on this phoneme, so I can only offer broad impressions.
I want to be careful, as well, in suggesting anything along the lines that NZ English is becoming more “Americanized” or “Anglicized” or some other dubious “-ized” (especially based on this one feature alone). You’ll note that Lorde (who is still a high school student in her home country) speaks with strongly raised TRAP and DRESS vowels, and has a strongly retracted KIT vowel. As I’ve mentioned before, there seem to be some ways in which New Zealand English is evolving rapidly among younger people, but that doesn’t mean the accent becoming “milder.”