Australian English

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Australian English (AuE, AusE, en-AU[1]) is the form of the English language spoken in Australia.


[edit] Socio-historical linguistic context

Australian English began diverging from British English shortly after the foundation of the Australian penal colony of New South Wales (NSW) in 1788. British convicts sent there, including Cockneys from London, came mostly from large English cities. They were joined by free settlers, military personnel and administrators, often with their families. However, a large part of the convict body were Irish (at least 25% directly from Ireland, plus others indirectly via Britain) and other non-English speaking Welsh and Scots, or at least, not from the South/South East of Britain. English was not spoken,[citation needed] or was poorly spoken, by a large part of the convict population, and the dominant English input was that of Cockney South-East England.

In 1827 Peter Cunningham, in his book Two Years in New South Wales, reported that native-born white Australians of the time – known as "currency lads and lasses"[2] – spoke with a distinctive accent and vocabulary, with a strong Cockney influence. The transportation of convicts to Australia ended in 1868, but immigration of free settlers from Britain, Ireland and elsewhere continued.

The first of the Australian goldrushes, in the 1850s, began a much larger wave of immigration, which would significantly influence the language. During the 1850s, when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was under economic hardship, about two per cent of its population emigrated to the Colony of NSW and the Colony of Victoria.[3]

Among the changes wrought by the gold rushes was "Americanisation" of the language – the introduction of words, spellings, terms, and usages from North American English. The words imported included some later considered to be typically Australian, such as dirt and digger.[4] Bonzer, which was once a common Australian slang word meaning "great", "superb" or "beautiful", is thought to have been a corruption of the American mining term bonanza,[5] which means a rich vein of gold or silver and is itself a loanword from Spanish. The influx of American military personnel in World War II brought further American influence; though most words were short-lived;[4] and only okay, you guys, and gee have persisted.[4]

Since the 1950s American influence has mostly arrived via pop culture, the mass media – books, magazines, television programs, and computer software – and the world wide web. Some words, such as freeway and truck, have even naturalised so completely that few Australians recognise their origin.[4]

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 use vernacular such as "yair" for "yes" and "noth-think" for "nothing". Other books of note are "Let Stalk Strine" by Afferbeck Lauder – where "Strine" is "Australian" and "Afferbeck Lauder" is "alphabetical order" (the book is in alphabetical order) – and "How to be Normal in Australia".

British words such as mobile or mobile phone as used. American and British English variants exist side-by-side, as TV and telly (an abbreviation of television). In many cases – telly versus TV and SMS versus text, freeway and motorway, for instance – regional, social and ethnic variation within Australia typically defines word usage.[6]

Australian English is most similar to New Zealand English due to shared history and geographical proximity. Both use the expression different to (also encountered in British English, but not American) as well as different from.

There is also some influence from Irish English, but perhaps not as much as might be expected given that many Australians are of Irish descent. Influences include the Irish word 'Ta' for thank you and also the pronunciation of the name of the letter "H" as "haitch" /hæɪtʃ/, which can sometimes be heard amongst speakers of "Broad Australian English", rather than the unaspirated "aitch" /æɪtʃ/ more common among English speakers worldwide. This is also true of the Scouse accent in Liverpool where many Irish people settled at the same time as emigrating to Australia, and the United States.

Words of Irish origin are used, some of which are also common elsewhere in the Irish diaspora, such as bum backside (Irish bun), tucker food, provisions (Irish tacar), as well as one or two native English words whose meaning have changed under Irish influence, such as paddock field, cf. Irish páirc, which has exactly the same meaning as the Australian paddock.

Australia adopted decimal currency in 1966 and the metric system in the 1970s. Australians have measured temperatures in degrees celsius since 1972, road signs were metricated in 1974 and goods of all kinds have been measured in litres and kilograms ever since that time. While the older measures may be understood by those born before 1960, younger Australians have lived most or all of their lives in a metric environment and may not be familiar with pounds, ounces, stones, degrees fahrenheit, yards and miles or pounds, shillings and pence. However some imperial measurements persist in popular usage (inches and feet being most common, along with pounds and ounces for newborn babies).

[edit] Variation and change of Australian English

Three main varieties of Australian English are spoken according to linguists: Broad, General and Cultivated.[7] They are part of a continuum, reflecting variations in accent. They often, but not always, reflect the social class or educational background of the speaker.[8]

Broad Australian English is recognisable and familiar to English speakers around the world because it is used to identify Australian characters in non-Australian films and television programs. Examples are television/film personalities Steve Irwin and Paul Hogan. Slang terms Ocker, for a speaker, and Strine, for the dialect, are used in Australia.

The majority of Australians speak with the General Australian accent. This predominates among modern Australian films and television programs and is used by the Wiggles, Dannii Minogue, Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett.

Cultivated Australian English has many similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. Cultivated Australian English is spoken by some within Australian society, for example Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush.

There are no strong variations in accent and pronunciation across different states and territories, though some differences are sometimes claimed. Differences in pronunciation and vocabulary are small in comparison to those of the British and American English, and Australian pronunciation is determined less by region than by social, cultural and educational influences. In Tasmania, words such as "dance" and "grant" are usually heard with the older pronunciation of these words, using /æ/, whereas in South Australia, /aː/ is more common. Other regions of Australia show different patterns of pronunciation of words with this vowel sound.[9]

[edit] Phonology

Australian vowels
Australian diphthongs

Australian English is a non-rhotic dialect. It is most similar to New Zealand English and South African English, and bears some resemblance to dialects from the Southeast of England, particularly those of Cockney and Received Pronunciation[citation needed]. Like most dialects of English it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology.[10]

The vowels of Australian English can be divided into two categories: long and short vowels. The short vowels, consisting only of monophthongs, mostly correspond to the lax vowels used in analyses of Received Pronunciation. The long vowels, consisting of both monophthongs and diphthongs, mostly correspond to its tense vowels and centring diphthongs. Unlike most varieties of English, it has a phonemic length distinction: that is, certain vowels differ only by 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 /t/ and /d/ in similar environments, as in American English. Many speakers have also coalesced /dj/, /sj/ and /tj/ into /dʒ/, /ʃ/ and /tʃ/, producing standard pronunciations such as /tʃʉːn/ for tune.

[edit] Vocabulary

Look up Appendix:Australian English vocabulary in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Australian English has many words that some consider unique to the language. One of the best known is outback, meaning a remote, sparsely populated area. Another is The Bush, meaning either a native forest or a country area in general. 'Bush' is a word of Dutch origin: 'Bosch'. However, both terms have been widely used in many English-speaking countries.[citation needed] Early settlers from England brought other similar words, phrases and usages 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, creek in Australia, as in North America, means a stream or small river, whereas in the United Kingdom it means a small watercourse flowing into the sea; paddock in Australia means field, whereas in the UK it means a small enclosure for livestock; bush or scrub in Australia, as in North America, means a wooded area, whereas 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, Glaswegian and Geordie) use the word mate.

The origins of other words are not as clear or are disputed. Dinkum (or "fair dinkum") can mean "true", "is that true?" or "this is the truth!” among other things, 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". But scholars give greater credence to the conjecture that it originated from the extinct East Midlands dialect in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant "hard work" or "fair work", which was also the original meaning in Australian English.[11] The derivative dinky-di means 'true' or devoted: a 'dinky-di Aussie' is a 'true Australian'. However, this expression is limited to describing objects or actions that are characteristically Australian. The words dinkum or dinky-di and phrases like true blue are widely purported to be typical Australian sayings, even though they are more commonly used in jest or parody than as authentic slang.

Similarly, g'day, a stereotypical Australian greeting, is no longer synonymous with "good day" in other varieties of English and is never used as an expression for "farewell", as "good day" is in other countries.

A few words of Australian origin are now used in other parts of the Anglosphere as well; among these are first past the post, to finalise, brownout, and the colloquialisms uni "university" and <part> short of a <whole> meaning stupid or crazy, (e.g. "A few beers short of a six pack").[12]

[edit] Influence of Australian Aboriginal languages

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been adopted by Australian English – mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example dingo). Beyond that, little has been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms and slang. Some examples are cooee and Hard yakka. The former is used as a high-pitched call, for attracting attention, (pronounced /kʉː.iː/) which travels long distances. Cooee is also 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 there is the word bung, meaning broken or pretending to be hurt. A failed piece of equipment may be described as having bunged up or as "on the bung" or "gone bung". A person pretending to be hurt is said to be "bunging it on". A hurt person could say, "I've got a bung knee".

Although didgeridoo, referring to a well-known wooden musical instrument, is often thought of as an Aboriginal word, it is now believed to be an onomatopoeic word invented by English speakers. It has also been suggested that it may have an Irish derivation because the word dúdaire means "pipe player" in Irish Gaelic, and dúdaire dubh [du:dɪrʲɪ du:] means 'black pipe player'.[13]

[edit] Spelling

Australian spelling is usually the same as British spelling, with only a few exceptions. The Macquarie Dictionary is generally used by publishers, schools, universities and governments as the standard spelling reference. Well-known differences to British spelling include 'program' which is more common than programme.[14][15][16]

However, although 'jail' is prevalent, 'gaol' is generally still used in official contexts, is not uncommon, and sets Australian and New Zealand English apart from both their American and English counterparts.

There was a widely-held belief in Australia that controversies over spelling resulted from the "Americanisation" of Australian English; the influence of American English in the late 20th century, but the debate over spelling is much older. For example, a pamphlet entitled The So-Called "American Spelling", published in Sydney some time before 1901, argued that "there is no valid etymological reason for the preservation of the u in such words as honor, labor, etc.",[15] alluding to older British spellings which also used the -or ending. The pamphlet also claimed 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". Newspapers are not always a reliable guide to community preference and usage,[17] as they are often more concerned about saving space[18]. By way of example, circa 2007 Melbourne newspaper The Age finally changed its longstanding policy of omitting the "u", in response to continuing complaints from its readers[19] One of the two major political parties is the Australian Labor Party, spelled without a u.

[edit] Colloquialisms

Diminutives are used by some. They are formed in various ways and are often used to indicate familiarity. Some common examples: arvo (afternoon), barbie (barbecue), footy (Australian rules football, rugby union football or rugby league football) and servo (service station).

Litotes, such as "you're not wrong", are used by some.

Many idiomatic phrases and words once common in Australian English are now stereotypes and caricatured exaggerations, and have disappeared from everyday use. Among the words less used are: cobber, strewth, you beaut and crikey.

Prawn is used for the larger variety of shellfish, whereas shrimp is used for the smaller.[citation needed]

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 the song. One example is the title, which means travelling (particularly with a swag).

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Mitchell, Alexander G., 1995, The Story of Australian English, Sydney: Dictionary Research Centre.
  1. ^ en-AU is the language code for Australian English , as defined by ISO standards (see ISO 639-1 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2) and Internet standards (see IETF language tag).
  2. ^ Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore. London: Harvill (1986).
  3. ^ Geoffrey Blainey, 1993, The Rush That Never Ended (4th ed.) Melbourne University Press
  4. ^ a b c d Bell, R. Americanization and Australia. UNSW Press (1998).
  5. ^ Robert J. Menner, "The Australian Language" American Speech, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1946), pp. 120
  6. ^ Oliver, Mackay and Rochecouste. 'The Acquisition of Colloquial Terms by Western Australian Primary School Children from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds' in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 24:5 (2003), 413-430.
  7. ^ Robert Mannell, "Impressionistic Studies of Australian English Phonetics" at
  8. ^
  9. ^ Crystal, D. (1995). Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Frederick Ludowyk, 1998, "Aussie Words: The Dinkum Oil On Dinkum; Where Does It Come From?" (0zWords, Australian National Dictionary Centre). Access date: November 5, 2007.
  12. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary. [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]
  13. ^ Dymphna Lonergan, 2002, "Aussie Words: Didgeridoo; An Irish Sound In Australia" (0zWords, Australian National Dictionary Centre). Access date: November 5, 2007.
  14. ^ Peters, Pam. (1986) "Spelling principles", In: Peters, Pam, ed., Style in Australia: Current Practices in Spelling, Punctuation, Hyphenation, Capitalisation, etc.,
  15. ^ a b The So Called "American Spelling." Its Consistency Examined. pre-1901 pamphlet, Sydney, E. J. Forbes. Quoted by Annie Potts in this article
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "A bevan by any other name could be a bogan"; Don Woolford; The Age; 27 March 2002:

    Given a choice between "colour" and "color", 95 per cent chose the former, surprising given that many newspapers drop the "u".

  18. ^ The Serial Comma.
  19. ^ Reported in the pages of The Age at the time. Precise date T.B.C. Compare also with Webster in Australia by James McElvenny: "[...] the Age newspaper used the reformed spellings up to the end of the 1990s."

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