Research Projects

All Blacks vs.

Choice stuff


The Research
Categories of the New Zealand Speakers

This page reports on a little piece of research relating to the phrases All Blacks and Wallabies.


A striking feature of New Zealand society is the intense interest in rugby union, in particular, the national rugby union team called the All Blacks. The All Blacks occupy a special place in the life of many New Zealanders and they are a favourite topic of conversation.

Australia also has a rugby union team, called the Wallabies. The Wallabies have their followers in Australia, but the team does not have the same special significance in Australian society that the All Blacks has in New Zealand.

The comments above are merely impressions I have formed, having lived in both Australia and New Zealand for long periods of time.

The research

I was interested to see whether the impression of a difference in their status of the rugby union teams could be supported by differences in the frequencies of the phrases in spoken and written discourse in the two countries.

I made use of the following corpora to obtain frequencies of the phrases:

The Wellington Corpus of Written New Zealand English (NZ Written)

One million words of written New Zealand English collected from writings published in the years 1986 to 1990.

The Wellington Corpus of Spoken New Zealand English (NZ Spoken)
One million words of spoken New Zealand English collected in the years 1988 to 1994. The corpus consists of 2,000 word extracts (where possible) and comprises different proportions of formal, semi-formal and informal speech.

The Australian Corpus of English (Oz Written)
One million words of written Australian English collected from writings published in 1986. This corpus is directly comparable in the way it was compiled to NZ Written.

I searched each corpus for the phrase All Blacks and variations on it: the All Blacks, the All Black, All Black's, the All Black's, All Blacks', the All Blacks'.

I searched each corpus for the word Wallabies and variations on it: the Wallabies, Wallaby's, the Wallaby's, Wallabies', the Wallabies'.

I also inspected each occurrence of the phrase to ensure it referred to a rugby team.



Oz Written and NZ Written are parallel corpora, drawing their texts from similar categories, so we start with these two corpora.. As one might expect, All Blacks is more frequent than Wallabies in New Zealand and, conversely, Wallabies is more frequent than All Blacks in Australia. Each country likes to talk about its own team more than the opposing team. But the patterns are dramatically different in both countries.The phrase All Blacks is more than 12 times as frequent in New Zealand written texts as Wallabies (77 occurrences to just 6). In terms of language use, All Blacks is a far more common phrase in New Zealand than Wallabies is in Australia.

The NZ Spoken corpus shows a similar trend as NZ Written, though the frequencies are even higher. One must add a word of caution about the NZ Spoken results. 29 of the 95 occurrences of All Blacks are attributable to one13 minute recording of an actual All Blacks game which was included in the corpus alongside samples from other sports commentaries.

Categories of the New Zealand speakers

The New Zealand speakers who used All Blacks in the NZ Spoken corpus were not just sports commentators. In the graph below you can see the categories to which the speakers belonged. This information can be obtained from the documentation accompanying the corpus.

In this graph, I have omitted the 29 occurrences of All Blacks due to the commentary on the All Blacks game. So, the graph is a breakdown of the categories of speakers responsible for the remaining 66 occurrences. "Broadcast News 47%" in this graph means that 47% of the instances of the phrase All Blacks in NZ Spoken corpus occurred in transcriptions of Broadcast News. It does not mean that 47% of Broadcast News in New Zealand is about the All Blacks.


The corpus linguistic facts support, in a quantitative way, the impression one forms in New Zealand that the All Blacks are a significant feature of New Zealand society, more so than the Wallabies are in Australia. If you live in New Zealand, you should expect to talk about the All Blacks!

The information on this page was provided on 1 December 2000.
The author of this page is:

John Newman
Dept. of Linguistics
Faculty of Arts
University of Alberta
Edmonton AB
T6G 2E7
email: john.newman@ualberta.ca