Australian English: A Variety of British English?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

23 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Variety: Definition and Features

3 Linguistic Features of Australian English
3.1 Phonology
3.2 Morphology
3.2.1 Compounds
3.2.2 Suffixation
3.2.3 Place-names in “the”
3.3 Lexicon
3.4 Syntax

4 Sociolinguistics of Australian English
4.1 Historical linguistic reconstruction of Australian English
4.2 Australian Identity and its influences on Australian English

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Australian English is often referred to as being very close to British English, although it also contains features which can only be found in Australian English. So the question arises as to which extend it differs from British English and if Australian English is a variety of it? Consequently, there has to be an explanation for this which this paper will attempt to ascertain.

To answer this question it is necessary to define the term variety in general and to examine its features. Furthermore, this paper will present a theoretical explanation as to how and why varieties develop.

In the following, it will be examined if Australian English is really so close to British English and if it can be claimed to be a variety of it. Therefore, it will be examined if the features defined to be characteristic of a variety in the theoretical sense, can be found in Australian English. The linguistic features of Australian English with special focus on differences on the phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactical level to British English will be presented.

On the other hand, there will be a sociolinguistic explanation of these developments with a special focus on the relationship between Australians and the British and the historical development. There will also be an examination of the development of the Australian identity and the attitudes towards Australian English because the language of the people living in the country influences their identity and vice-versa.

Following this analysis Australian English and its relationship to British English on a linguistic and sociolinguistic level, this paper will attempt in taking all the aspects explored into account, to state whether Australian English can be claimed to be a variety of British English or not.

2 Variety: Definition and Features

The terminology within the literature is highly controversial. Some authors prefer the term dialect; others prefer the term variety or variation. In this paper the term variety is used, because it is less stigmatized. As the terminology is so controversial, it is very difficult to find an appropriate definition for the term variety, and impossible to find a universal one. Bauer (2002) defines “variety” as

an academic term used for any kind of language production, whether we are viewing it as being determined by region, by gender, by social class, by age or by our own inimitable individual characteristics. (Bauer 2001: 4)

For the investigation of Australian English as a variety of British English it is necessary to focus on the determination by region which is defined to have specific characteristics in phonology, grammar (morphology and syntax) and in the lexicon (McArthur 2002: 1081).

A standard variety exists from which other varieties are distinguished. British English originating in south-east England is what is regarded as the Standard English which is promoted in schools and is expected to be used by broadcasters and officials. The status of being the standard arises not from linguistic perfection, but from the social, economical and political context in which it is used. This variety is codified in dictionaries, style books and grammars and hence, people think this variety should be used in formal settings. This leads to the fact that the standard variety is associated with education, higher social and income groups and the greatest prestige (Burridge & Mulder 1998: 5f).

There are social and linguistic factors which influence the development of varieties. Linguistic explanations for variation can include rule extension, analogy, transparency principle, pronunciation phenomena and variation in words and words meanings (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 35-55). The linguistic structure of a language causes the development of variation within a language; hence differences follow principles of language structure. Rule extensions can affect all levels of speech and cause differences if they are adopted by some speaker groups and neglected by others (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 38f). Variation is also caused by the tendency of languages to become as systematic as possible. This is called analogy. The regularisations of an irregular past or plural are analogical language changes (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 40ff). The transparency

principle describes the need of language varieties to make meaning as obvious as possible. An example of this pattern is multiple negation (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 43f). Differences in pronunciation are caused because certain sounds are more difficult to pronounce, and require a more complex movement of the tongue; hence, they are assimilated or weakened. To retain the distinctiveness of words, chain shifts occur, and whole vowel systems merge. (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 46-52) The reason why words and word meanings differ in different varieties originates basically in their arbitrary relationship. In addition to this, the meanings of words are sometimes vague and have different submeanings in different varieties, and hence, they can undergo a shift in meaning (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 52-54).

There are also social and historical conditions which cause language change. Language varieties occur when there is a social and geographical separation between groups of speakers. Factors like settlement patterns, migration routes, geographic factors, language contact, economic ecology, social stratification, communication network, group references and personal identity influence language varieties (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 25-35). Generally, settlement takes place in different phases. First people settle in the most attractive environment and they bring the language of their origins with them and establish a new identity. This is often accompanied by the development of a new variety (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 25f). Also migration routes and geographical factors, like rivers or islands determine the way language varieties develop, but this is of no importance when examining Australian English, because settlement mostly took place by sea. Contact with other languages can influence the lexicon, morphology and the grammar of language varieties. Lexical borrowings also reflect cultural borrowings for example of specific food (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 28f). Also different occupations which are mostly distributed in the same geographical settings, like fishing or mining, influence language change with for example specific jargon. Language is also a social marker, and the social status of speakers is shown by the variety they speak. Social class variants occur across space but also across time, which means that some classes distance themselves consciously from other classes through language change (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 30f). The way a person

speaks can also be modified by a certain group they belong to. To express their membership, which can also carry connotations of pride, the members of a group use characteristic language features. Teenagers may, for example, adopt certain lexical items to distinguish themselves from adult speakers (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998: 31). Identity is based on many social factors, but language is one of the most important ones and can also cause a desire for language shift (Edwards 1985: 3-5). A variety carries certain character attributes and those reflect on the speaker. Also the identity of a nation is influenced by the language they speak and the other way around (Edwards 1985: 11).

3 Linguistic Features of Australian English

A variety is distinguished from another on the different levels of speech as defined above. In the following, the linguistic features of Australian English will be presented, which show to which extent it differs from British English. This investigation will show if Australian English is distinctive enough to be considered a variety on its own. Before examining the different levels of speech it is essential to explain briefly the speech continuum running (Figure 1) through Australia.

Figure 1: Speech Continuum of Australian English

illustration not visible in this excerpt

This continuum is based on social variation. There is Broad Australian on the one side, associated with male working class, and Cultivated Australian, associated with the upper class, on the other side of the continuum. In between there is General Australian which is spoken by the majority of speakers. Nevertheless, there is not one General Australian; the speakers of General Australian can be closer to Cultivated or Broad Australian (Burridge & Mulder 1998: 12). How this speech continuum may have developed will be explained in the sociolinguistic part of this paper (point 4).

3.1 Phonology

The speech continuum running through Australian English is most distinctive within the phonology. The Cultivated variation is very close to British English, but Broad Australian pronunciation shows clear differences. General Australian pronunciation is situated somewhere between the two varieties. The pronunciation of Australian English distinguishes it most obviously from British English as the difference can be heard immediately.

The vowels of Australian English are the features which most clearly show its distinctiveness from British English. The pronunciation of monophthongs in Australian English in comparison to the British English monophthongs shows that the Australian monophthongs are more raised. Furthermore, the vowels of Australian English are also more fronted. This becomes obvious in Figure 2 and 3 where the two vowel quadrilaterals are opposed.


Excerpt out of 23 pages


Australian English: A Variety of British English?
University of Cologne
Varieties of English
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ISBN (eBook)
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630 KB
Australian, English, Variety, British, English, Varieties, English
Quote paper
Saskia Lührig (Author), 2005, Australian English: A Variety of British English?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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