Australian English – A variaty of British Englisch or a language on it's own?

Seminar Paper, 2010

8 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Julia Liese

Oral and Writing Skills II

3 July 2010

Australian English – A Language or a Variety?

When Lieutenant James Cook[1] and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks were exploring the east coast of Australia in May 1770, they suddenly saw strange animals “which must feed upon Grass [sic!], and which, we judge, could not be less than a Deer [sic!], […] having very small Legs [sic!], and the print of the Feet [sic!] like that of a Goat [sic!] “ (Cook chapter 8). Wondering what this could be, they asked a native what the creature was called. The Aborigine, a member of the tribe Guugu Yimidhirr, replied: “Kangaroo!”, which meant “I don’t understand you! “ (Lloyd). Cook erroneously thought that this was the name of the animal and wrote on 4th August 1770 in his journal: „[…] the Animals [sic!] which I have before mentioned, [are] called by the Natives [sic!] Kangooroo [sic!], or Kanguru [sic!]“ (Cook chapter 8).[2]

This being the first record, the word “kangaroo” was soon adopted into Standard British English and is said to be the first Australian English word. But what exactly is Australian English? Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is at the same time formally Queen of Australia, and Australian English is often referred to as being close to British English. Therefore, Australian English should be considered to be variety of British English, as linguists such as Laurie Bauer[3] and Dr. Gerhard Leitner from the Free University in Berlin suggest[4]. However, there are several linguists like Felicity and Palethorpe Cox[5], Roswitha Dabke[6], and Laura Tollfree[7], who examined the multitude of differences between Australian and British English which lead to the conclusion that Australian English should be regarded as a language of its own – the opinion that I share.

To prove that Australian English is not just a variety of British English, I am going to compare the two languages on four major linguistic levels, namely morphology, phonology, lexicon and spelling, and highlight the differences. There are, of course, also differences in other linguistic fields such as syntax. However, I am only going to present the four mentioned above, as they contain the most significant distinctions and serve my argumantation’s purpose best. To widen the spectrum of my investigations and not limiting them to linguistic factors, I will also look at a historic event and its impact on the language.

To begin my argumentation, I will present arguments from the linguistic field of morphology, analysing the internal structure of words and their meaning. There are three linguistic phenomena in which Australian morphology differs significantly from British morphology. One of them is the formation of place-names with “the”, which is used by Australians to express familiarity with the place and its nickname. Therefore “the Star” refers to the “Evening Star Hotel” and “the Isa” is used for “Mount Isa”. Sometimes this hypocoristic pattern is expanded by clipping words and using only their end, as in “the Cutta” for “Tarcutta”. (Simpson 2001)

Another phenomenon with hypocoristic connotation concerns reduplicative compounds[8] combined with the suffix /- I /. Reduplicative compounds, such as “tick-tick” for “clock”, are used in British English as well, but only the Australians can add the suffix /- I / without changing the meaning of the word. For instance “leg” has the same meaning as “leggy-leggy”, it is, however, mostly used when talking to little children. (Dabke 1976)

The third morphological difference between British and Australian English concerns a similar suffix, namely /- i /. It can be added to nouns in the position of the subject (active), such as “absentee” or to nouns in the position of the object (passive), as for example in “addressee”. This is, of course, also common in British English, but this particular suffixation is far more productive in Australian English, for Australians can form words like “interviewee” and even use them in non-casual conversations – something that is probably unthinkable for native British speakers. (Dabke 1976)

Therefore, it can be concluded that there are three major morphological differences between British and Australian English, which already show the distinctiveness of the two languages.


[1] later Captain James Cook

[2] This myth was debunked by linguist John B. Haviland in the 1970s. cf. Haviland, John B.. A last look at Cook's Guugu-Yimidhirr wordlist. In: Oceania 44 (3). Universaty of Sydney 2006. p.216–232.

[3] cf. Bauer, Laurie. Introduction to International Varieties of English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002.

[4] cf. Leitner, Gerhard. Australia’s Many Voices. Australian English – The National Language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004.

[5] cf. Cox, Felicity & Palethorpe. Vowel Change: Synchronic and Diachronic Evidence. In: Blair, David (ed). English in Australia. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2001. p.17-44.

[6] cf. Dabke, Roswitha. Morphology of Australian English. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1976.

[7] cf. Tollfree, Laura. Variation and Change in Australian Consonants: Reduction of /t/. In: Blair, David (ed). English in Australia. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2001. p.45-68.

[8] consist of two identical stems

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Australian English – A variaty of British Englisch or a language on it's own?
Free University of Berlin
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Aborigine, australia, english, austrailian englisch, Standard British English, variety, morphology, phonology, lexicon, spelling
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Julia Liese (Author), 2010, Australian English – A variaty of British Englisch or a language on it's own?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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