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Australian English language

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Australian English (AuE) is the form of the English language used in Australia.[1]


Australian English began to diverge from British English soon after the foundation of the colony of New South Wales (NSW) in 1788. The settlement was intended mainly as a penal colony. The British convicts sent to Australia were mostly from large English cities, such as Cockneys from London. Among the original immigrants there were also many free settlers, military personnel and administrators and their families. In 1827, Peter Cunningham, in his book Two Years in New South Wales, reported that native-born white Australians spoke with a distinctive accent and vocabulary, albeit with a strong Cockney influence. (The transportation of convicts to Australian colonies ended in 1868, but immigration of free settlers from Britain continued unabated.)

The first Australian gold rushes in the 1850s resulted in a much larger wave of immigration that also had a significant influence on Australian English. At the time, Great Britain and Ireland were experiencing major economic hardship and about two per cent of their combined populations emigrated to NSW and the Colony of Victoria during the 1850s.[2] At the same time, large numbers of people who spoke English as a second language were also arriving.

The "Americanisation" of Australian English — signified by the borrowing of words, spellings, terms, and usages from North American English — began during the goldrushes, and was accelerated by a massive influx of United States military personnel during World War II. Since the 1950s, there has been an increasing availability and importation of mass media content written in US English, such as books and magazines, television programs, computer software and the world wide web; this has also had an effect. As a result Australians use many British and American words interchangeably, such as "pants"/"trousers" and "lift"/"elevator".

Due to their shared history and geographical proximity, Australian English is most similar to New Zealand English. However, the difference between the two spoken versions is obvious to people from either country, if not to a casual observer from a third country. The vocabulary used also exhibits some striking differences.

Irish influences[edit]

Template:Original research There is some influence from Hiberno-English, but perhaps not as much as might be expected given that many Australians are of Irish descent. One such influence is the pronunciation of the name of the letter "H" as "haitch" Template:IPA, which can sometimes be heard amongst speakers of "Broad Australian English", rather than the unaspirated "aitch" Template:IPA more likely to be heard in South Australia and common in New Zealand, most of Britain and North America. This is true with the Scouse accent in Liverpool where many Irish people settled at the same time as emigrating to Australia, an the United States. This is thought to be the influence of Irish Catholic priests and nuns[unverified].

Other Irish influences include the non-standard plural of "you" as "youse" Template:IPA, sometimes used informally in Australia, and the expression "good on you" or "good onya". Of these the former is common in parts of North America and the latter is encountered in New Zealand English and British English. Another Irish influence is use of the word 'me' replacing 'my', such as in the phrase Where's me hat? This usage is generally restricted to informal situations.


Australian English IPA vowel chart.png
Australian English IPA diphthong chart.png

Australian English is a non-rhotic dialect. The Australian accent is most similar to that of New Zealand and also bears some resemblance to accents from the South-East of England, particularly those of Cockney and Received Pronunciation. As with most dialects of English, it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology.[3]

Australian English vowels are divided into two categories: long, which includes long monophthongs and diphthongs, and short, all of which are monophthongs. The short vowels mostly correspond to the lax vowels used in analyses of Received Pronunciation with the long vowels corresponding to its tense vowels as well as its centralising diphthongs. Unlike most varieties of English, it has a phonemic length distinction: a number of vowels differ only by the length.

Australian English consonants are similar to those of other non-rhotic varieties of English. In comparison to other varieties, it has a flapped variant of Template:IPA and Template:IPA in similar environments as in American English. Many speakers have also coalesced Template:IPA and Template:IPA into Template:IPA and Template:IPA, with pronunciations such as Template:IPA being standard.


Template:Wiktionarypar Australian English incorporates many terms that Australians consider to be unique to their country. One of the best-known of these is outback which means a remote, sparsely-populated area. The similar bush can mean either native forests or country areas in general. However, both terms are historically widely used in many English-speaking countries. Many such words, phrases or usages originated with the British convicts transported to Australia. Many words used frequently by country Australians are, or were, also used in all or part of England, with variations in meaning. For example: a creek in Australia, as in North America, is any stream or small river, whereas in England it is a small watercourse flowing into the sea; paddock is the Australian word for a field, while in England it is a small enclosure for livestock and; wooded areas in Australia are known as bush or scrub, as in North America, while in England, they are commonly used only in proper names (such as Shepherd's Bush and Wormwood Scrubs). Australian English and several British English dialects (for example, Cockney, Scouse or Geordie) also both use the word mate to mean a close friend of the same gender and increasingly with a platonic friend of the opposite sex (rather than the conventional meaning of "a spouse"), although this usage has also become common in some other varieties of English.

The origins of other terms are not as clear, or are disputed. Dinkum (or "fair dinkum") means "true", or when used in speech: "is that true?", "this is the truth!", and other meanings, depending on context and inflection. It is often claimed that dinkum dates back to the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s, and that it is derived from the Cantonese (or Hokkien) ding kam, meaning "top gold". However, scholars give greater credence to the notion that it originated with a now-extinct dialect word from the East Midlands in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant "hard work" or "fair work", which was also the original meaning in Australian English.[4] The derivation dinky-di means a 'true' or devoted Australian. The words dinkum or dinky-di and phrases like true blue are widely purported to be typical Australian sayings, however these sayings are more commonly used in jest or parody rather than as an authentic way of speaking.

Similarly, g'day, a stereotypical Australian greeting, is no longer synonymous with "good day" in other varieties of English (it can be used at night time) and is never used as an expression for "farewell", as "good day" is in other countries.

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example dingo, kangaroo). Beyond that, few terms have been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms, or slang. Some examples are cooee and Hard yakka. The former is a high-pitched call (pronounced Template:IPA) which travels long distances and is used to attract attention. Cooee has also become a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Hard yakka means hard work and is derived from yakka, from the Yagara/Jagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region. Also from the Brisbane region comes the word bung meaning broken. A failed piece of equipment might be described as having bunged up or referred to as "on the bung" or "gone bung". Bung is also used to describe an individual who is pretending to be hurt; such individual is said to be "bunging it on". If somone was hurt he could say "I've got a bung knee".

Though often thought of as an Aboriginal word, didgeridoo (a well known wooden ceremonial musical instrument) is probably an onomatopoeic word of Western invention. It has also been suggested that it may have an Irish derivation.[5]


Australian spelling is almost always the same as British spelling, with only a few exceptions (for example, program is more common than programme).[6][7][8] Publishers, schools, universities and governments typically use the Macquarie Dictionary as a standard spelling reference. Both -ise and -ize are accepted, as in British English, but -ise is the preferred form in Australian English by a ratio of about 3:1 according to the Macquarie's Australian Corpus of English.

There is a widely held belief in Australia that "American spellings" are a modern intrusion, but the debate over spelling is much older and has little to do with the influence of North American English. For example, a pamphlet entitled The So-Called "American Spelling.", published in Sydney some time before 1900, argued that "there is no valid etymological reason for the preservation of the u in such words as honor, labor, etc." The pamphlet noted, correctly, that "the tendency of people in Australasia is to excise the u, and one of the Sydney morning papers habitually does this, while the other generally follows the older form".

Many Australian newspapers once excised the u, for words like colour but do not anymore, and the Australian Labor Party retains the -or ending it officially adopted in 1912. Because of a backlash to the perceived "Americanisation" of Australian English, there is now a trend to reinsert the "u" in words such as harbour. The town of Victor Harbor has the Victor Harbour Railway Station and the municipality's official website speculates that excising the u from the town's name was originally a "spelling error".[9] This continues to cause confusion in how the town is named in official and unofficial documents.[10]

Although the spelling jail prevails, gaol is still used in official contexts.

In academia, as long as the spelling is consistent, the usage of various English variants is generally accepted.[unverified]

Varieties of Australian English[edit]

Most linguists consider there to be three main varieties of Australian English. These are Broad, General and Cultivated Australian English. These three main varieties are actually part of a continuum and are based on variations in accent. They often, but not always, reflect the social class and/or educational background of the speaker.

Broad Australian English is the archetypal and most recognisable variety. It is familiar to English speakers around the world because of its use in identifying Australian characters in non-Australian films and television programs. Examples include television/film personalities Steve Irwin and Paul Hogan.

General Australian English is the stereotypical variety of Australian English. It is the variety of English used by the majority of Australians and it dominates the accents found in contemporary Australian-made films and television programs. Examples include actors Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe (who, while he was born and partly-raised in New Zealand, does not speak New Zealand English).

Cultivated Australian English has many similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. Cultivated Australian English is now spoken by less than 10% of the population. Examples include actors Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush.

It is sometimes claimed that there are regional variations in pronunciation and accent. If present at all, however, they are very small compared to those of British and American English — so much so that linguists are divided on the question. Overall, pronunciation is determined less by region than by social, cultural and educational influences, as well as by a general difference between urban and rural voices that can be heard throughout Australia.

There is a minor difference in the pronunciation of words such as dance, chance, advance, branch, etc. In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, the older pronunciation of these words, choosing Template:IPAAusE, is preferred, whereas in South Australia, the Template:IPAAusE, found in received pronunciation, is preferred. In singing the national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, the Template:IPA is often the preferred pronunciation of "advance" where it might otherwise be pronounced Template:IPA in the eastern states. In NSW, "castle" and derivatives are pronounced with the Template:IPA whereas in Victoria, the word is commonly pronounced with the Template:IPA. So Newcastle in New South Wales is pronounced with Template:IPA while Castlemaine in Victoria is pronounced with the Template:IPA. Other words such as command may be pronounced with an 'æ' or an 'a' (depending on the region) while graphic and lather are nearly always pronounced with the 'æ' sound.

There is also some variation in Australian English vocabulary between different regions. Of particular interest in this respect are sporting terms and terms for food, clothing and beer glasses.

Use of words by Australians[edit]

Many Australians believe themselves to be direct in manner and/or admire frank and open communication. Such sentiments can lead to misunderstandings and offence being caused to people from other cultures.

For instance, spoken Australian English is generally more tolerant of offensive and/or abusive language than other variants. Many politicians are exponents of this style in Parliament. Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating called opponents "mangy maggot" and "stupid foul-mouthed grub". Mark Latham, a former Labor Leader of The Opposition referred to Prime Minister John Howard as an "arse licker" and described a visit to see US President George W. Bush as "a conga line of suckholes" heading to Washington.[11] Liberal Health Minister Tony Abbott called an opponent a "snivelling grub".

Australian English makes frequent use of diminutives. They can be formed in a number of ways and can be used to indicate familiarity. Some examples include arvo (afternoon), servo (service station), bottle-o (bottle-shop), barbie (barbecue), cozzie (swimming costume), footy (Rugby League or Australian rules football) and mozzie (mosquito). Similar diminutives are commonly used for personal nicknames (Johnno, Fitzy). Occasionally a -za diminutive is used, usually for personal names where the first of multiple syllables ends in an "r", so Barry becomes Bazza and Sharon Shazza.

Many phrases once common to Australian English have become the subject of common stereotypes, over-use and Hollywood's caricaturised over-exaggerations, even though they have largely disappeared from everyday use. Words being used less often include cobber, strewth, you beaut and crikey, and archetypal phrases like flat out like a lizard drinking are rarely heard without a sense of irony.

The phrase put a shrimp on the barbie is a misquotation of a phrase that became famous after being used by Paul Hogan in tourism advertisements that aired in America. Most Australians use the term prawn rather than shrimp, and do not commonly barbecue them. Many people trying to impersonate or mock an Australian will use this line, though Australians themselves would never have used this line.

Australia's unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda written by bush poet Banjo Paterson, contains many obsolete Australian words and phrases that appeal to a rural ideal and are understood by Australians even though they are not in common usage outside this song. One example is the title, which means travelling (particularly with a type of bed roll called a swag).

Samples of Australian English[edit]

One of the first writers to attempt renditions of Australian accents and vernacular was the novelist Joseph Furphy (a.k.a. Tom Collins), who wrote a popular account of rural New South Wales and Victoria during the 1880s, Such is Life (1903). C. J. Dennis wrote poems about working class life in Melbourne, such as The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915), which was extremely popular and was made into a popular silent film (The Sentimental Bloke; 1919). John O'Grady's novel They're a Weird Mob has many examples of pseudo-phonetically written Australian speech in Sydney during the 1950s, such as "owyergoinmateorright?" ("How are you going, mate? All right?") Thomas Keneally's novels set in Australia, particularly The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, frequently utilise vernacular such as "yair" for "yes" and "noth-think" for "nothing". Another book of note is "Let's Talk Strine" by Afferbeck Lauder, where "Strine" is "Australian" and "Afferbeck Lauder" is "alphabetical order" (the book is in alphabetical order). Also of interest is a book called "How to be Normal in Australia".

Some Australian actors use their natural speaking voices in international films and television programs. However, Australian actors in non-Australian productions generally use non-Australian accents, or they adjust their natural accent, so that it is broader and closer to the archetypal modern Australian accent. One example of an internationally-popular film that had several characters with Australian accents is Finding Nemo, a 2003 feature-length cartoon. Characters in the film with Australian accents include: Nigel the Pelican (played by Geoffrey Rush), the three sharks, the sewage-eating crab and the dentist.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation provides many free streams of its radio programs through the world wide web.

See also[edit]


  1. Mitchell, Alexander G., 1995, The Story of Australian English, Sydney: Dictionary Research Centre.
  2. Geoffrey Blainey, 1993, The Rush That Never Ended (4th ed) Melbourne university press.
  3. Harrington, J., F. Cox, and Z. Evans, (1997). "An acoustic phonetic study of broad, general, and cultivated Australian English vowels," Australian Journal of Linguistics, 17, 155–84.
  6. Peters, Pam. (1986) "Spelling principles", In: Peters, Pam, ed., Style in Australia: Current Practices in Spelling, Punctuation, Hyphenation, Capitalisation, etc.,
  7. The So Called "American Spelling." Its Consistency Examined. pre-1900 pamphlet, Sydney, E. J. Forbes. Quoted by Annie Potts in this article
  8. Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers of Australian Government Publications, Third Edition, Revised by John Pitson, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1978, page 10, "In general, follow the spellings given in the latest edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary.
    It appears that the spelling of Victor Harbor without the 'u' started in the early days of the Colony. It was around the turn of the century that the u crept into the spelling of Harbor with new businesses spelling it including the u (which is the way most people would have been taught to spell harbour. The Victor Harbour Railway Station is still signposted today with the spelling including the u. Victor Harbor was declared a legal Port on the 28th June 1838 and was officially known to the Harbour's Board as Port Victor until 1921. In 1921 due to the similarity of the name to Port Victoria on the Yorke Peninsula and the confusion it caused, it was decided by the Harbour's Board to change the name back by proclamation to its original name of Victor Harbor. The local newspaper the 'Victor Harbor Times' has always been published without the u since it started in 1912. It was gazetted in 1914 that the township was named as the 'Municipal Town of Victor Harbor'. It can be surmised from the above spelling of all South Australian Harbour's without the u that it originated probably from a spelling error made by an early Surveyor General of South Australia.
    There were suggestions at the time that Victor Harbor would make an ideal harbour for the whole South Australian colony. Colonel Light was so convinced that Adelaide was the ideal spot that he looked at Victor Harbor and dismissed it.

External links[edit]

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