English in Australia

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

19 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. History of Australia

3. Linguistic features of Australian English
3.1 The uniformity of Australian English…
3.2 Phonology
3.2.1 Vowels
3.2.2 Consonants
3.2.3 Intonation
3.3 Lexicon
3.4 Morphology
3.5 Syntax

4. Variations of Australian English – The major dialects.

5. Conclusion

6. References

7. Appendix: “Men at Work – Down Under”

1. Introduction

The song “Down Under” by “Men at Work” (cf. http://www.lyrix.at/de/text_show/631e70bcfcf67f87ca827f683aaf56e0-Man+At+Work_-_Down+Under) tells the story of a person who, wherever in the world s/he travels is immediately recognized as Australian. One might assume that s/he is recognized due to his/her outward appearance, but as most Australians have European immigrants as ancestors, who have come to Australia by choice or of necessity, that possibility has to be dismissed. There must be something else that marks an Australian as such and this is the language. Diverse linguistic and cultural influences have made Australian English (AusE) a national variety which is different from all the other English dialects. Susan Butler, the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, quotes:

[…] we know each other by the sound of language we speak, by the special words we use, by the sense of shared experience and common history that filters through it. (Butler 2001, 151)

This paper describes the English variety that is spoken in Australia. However, it is not a complete analysis of this variety, since this would go far beyond the scope of this paper. It is rather a summary of the most important features of present time AusE.

In the first chapter I give an outline of Australian history that has been relevant for the formation of AusE. The ensuing chapter describes the linguistic features of this national variety. The differences of the phonological system of AusE compared with other English varieties are described in that chapter. For that purpose I compare the results of the studies of several authors concerning the pronunciation of vowels, consonants and the intonation pattern. Furthermore, what has been found out about the specifics of AusE morphology, syntax and lexicon is summed up. This chapter also deals with the question why AusE is so remarkably uniform throughout the whole country and if there are any regional variations.

The final chapter concludes the varieties of AusE. There are three major dialects of AusE called Broad, General and Cultivated Australian which are rather sociolects than regional dialects. The focus of my paper lies on these although there are many varieties of AusE spoken by indigenous Australians besides of those three sociolects. In general aboriginal varieties are spoken by the bigger part of the indigenous population while only the smaller group speaks Torres Strait English (cf. Shnukal 2001, 183). Since these varieties are only spoken by a very small number of Australians, I do not elaborate on them. However, that does not mean that the English varieties of Australia’s indigenous population are of less importance or not worth investigation.

2. History of Australia

As the topic of this paper is the language and not the history of Australia, this chapter will only give a short overview of the cornerstones of Australian history. Furthermore, this chapter discusses historical facts that have been relevant for the development of present day’s English in Australia.

From a British point of view the history of Australia has been a very short one, especially compared to the history of Europe. It started with the foundation of a penal colony at Port Jackson on January 26, 1788. There were two main reasons for Britain to establish such a colony. One was the loss of North America as a penal colony due to the American War of Independence (1776 – 83) and the other was the expansion of British trade and naval power. Since voluntary migration was not sufficient to settle a remote area like Australia, convicts were transported there. Therefore, New South Wales (NSW), Tasmania and the Norfolk Islands became penal settlements of the first hour (cf. Fritz 2007, 15). Convicts that arrived in the period between 1788 and 1825 came from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland with the convicts from London and South-East England being the largest and the Irish being the second largest group (cf. Fritz 2007, 18 f.).

Between 1826 and 1850 free immigration to Australia expanded due to a system of assisted immigration introduced by the British government. By the end of this period the number of free immigrants exceeded the number of convicts who were brought to Australia during this period. The distribution of the newcomers in Australia concerning their origin is about the same as in the previous period. Besides immigration and convict transports, henceforward, births play a role in Australian growth of population, too (cf. Fritz 2007, 30-36).

The years from 1850 to 1875 are strongly influenced by the gold discoveries in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and later in West Australia (WA). This led to an explosion of the number of immigrants but also to migration within Australia. Tasmania and South Australia were virtually drained of men for some time. WA, where gold was not found before 1890, was desperately looking for new settlers and thus, took on a lot of new convicts until in 1868 the last ship with convicts arrived in Australia. The immigrants who arrived in this period were for one part experienced prospectors from Chile and California but the overwhelming majority came from the United Kingdom. Consequently, the proportion of the origin of the population changed little (cf. Fritz 2007, 40-44).

In 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was formed through the federation of six states under a single constitution. Between 1875 and 1900 the immigration decreased so that in 1901 the native born Australians made up more than three-fourths of the population (cf. Fritz 2007, 52 ff.).

During and after World War II another wave of immigrants reached Australia. The first among these were the “refugees” (Baker 1966, 205) and the second were the “displaced persons” (Baker 1966, 205) who came to Australia between 1938 and 1940. After World War II people from Europe and many other countries came to Australia – 1,000,000 by 1955 and 2,000,000 by 1964. This has been the biggest wave of immigration Australia has experienced so far (cf. Baker 1966, 205 & 407-409).

Consequences of the Australian history on today’s Australian English are discussed in the following chapter.

3. Linguistic features of Australian English

Australian English is “the dominant variety used by speakers who are native born or who arrive in Australia at a very early age.” (Collins 1989, 10) On the one hand this chapter deals with the questions why AusE is so remarkably uniform in the whole country and if there are regional variations. On the other hand it describes the linguistic characteristics of AusE and in which the national variety of Australia differs from Received Pronunciation (RP) and other dialects of English. These linguistic specifics can be observed in the fields of phonology, morphology, syntax and lexis.

3.1 The uniformity of Australian English

In the 1971 edition of the book “The pronunciation of English in Australia” Mitchell and Delbridge (1971, 11) assert that “Australian speech is remarkable for its comparative uniformity”. Furthermore, they say that their “observation leads to the conclusion that there are no local dialects in Australia” (1971, 11), but they acknowledge that back then there were already authors who argued the converse. In the course of time the group of authors who found out in several studies that there are indeed regional varieties in AusE grew bigger and bigger.

Bernard for example said that “there is” (1989, 255) regional variation in AusE and he also said that it is very possible that regional variation is increasing as the influence of the non-British migrants begins to be felt (cf. 1989, 255). He also talks about the difference in lexis level. In his example he tells the reader that there is even a variation in the vocabulary of the surfers of Sydney’s southern and the surfers of Sydney’s northern beaches (cf. 1989, 258).

In the same book there is an article on phonology differences between Australia’s capital cities. There is for example a variation between /ɑ:/ and /æ/. “Castle is most often /æ/ in Brisbane, varies between /æ/ and /ɑ:/ in Hobart and Melbourne, and tends to /ɑ:/ in Sydney (Bradley 1989, 263 f.). Other variations with other vowels between these four cities can be found, too (cf. Bradley 1989, 264-270).

Bernard and Lloyd compared Rockhampton vowels and Sydney vowels and found out, for instance, that in initial and final position Rockhampton vowels are less open than the corresponding Sidney vowels (cf. 1989, 299).

These examples are just a small insight in some studies on regional variation of AusE with the purpose to clarify that there are a lot of regional variations thereof. Yet, most of the authors of these studies are aware that the regional varieties are marginal compared to other countries where English is spoken. Bernard admits that the regional varieties of AusE are not as big as the differences in pronunciation between Glasgow and Brooklyn or London and Norwich (cf. 1989, 255). Bernard and Lloyd say in their article “The intermediate vowel in Sydney and Rockhampton English” that they don’t want to deny “the claim that AusE is unusually uniform throughout its wide domain” (1989, 299).


Excerpt out of 19 pages


English in Australia
LMU Munich  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Hauptseminar Sprachwissenschaft: Varieties of English
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
535 KB
Kommentar des Dozenten: "Sehr informativ, gut gegliedert, gut lesbar."
English in Australia, Australian English, AusE, Varieties of English, Australian dialects, Australisches Englisch, Englisch in Australien
Quote paper
Jan Marschner (Author), 2010, English in Australia, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/204431


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