Australian and New Zealand impact on the English language

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

18 Pages, Grade: 2.7 (B-)


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Australian English
2.1 Historical Development of Australian English
2.2 A Linguistic Analysis of Australian English

3. New Zealand English
3.1 Development
3.2 Linguistic Analysis

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

English is the most important language of the world today. Last century’s quantum leaps in information technologies, like the Internet, enabled us for the first time in history to communicate with people from all over the world. The world-wide transfer of information in a global community requires a lingua franca, a language that is understood and can be used by everybody. Artificial languages, like Esperanto, have not attracted many learners - a language without a past can have no future.

Instead, English and its numberless variants seem to be able to solve communication problems in the future. No other language is so widespread, so commonly understood around the globe. Obviously, the outstanding position of the USA in the fields of politics, economics, science, and - most important - popular culture like pop music and cinema has contributed to this fact.

The British Empire has laid the fundament for this development by founding colonies all over the world, exporting their language even to the opposite side of the globe - Australia and New Zealand. Like everything else alive, languages in use are subject to change and development, especially in colonies, as new words are needed for new discoveries and ideas, or just to simplify communication with natives. Sometimes new ways of pronunciation come into fashion and spread until everyone has adjusted to them. In the course of the centuries, even completely new languages can come into existence this way.

In this paper I will examine linguistic particularities of Australian English (AusE) and New Zealand English (NZE) to find out if they are languages of their own, creoles or just variants of English. In order to make their development better understandable, I will combine historical facts about colonists, natives and language developments with linguistic analyses of today’s Australian and New Zealand English.

2. Australia

2.1 Historical Development of Australian English

Towards the end of the 18th century, the spreading British Empire started to found new colonies in the southern hemisphere to increase its economic and political power. The discovery of a “terra incognita“, a huge new continent in the far south-east by British, Dutch and Portuguese sailors, surely was interesting news to the British Crown. After Captain James Cook visited Australia in 1770 it took only twenty years until the first British penal colony was founded near the place where today the city of Sydney is located.[1]

2.1.1 Prisoners

The prisons of London were overcrowded, since the former colonies in north America had gained their independence and refused to take any more convicts from the British Islands. Thus, after the so-called “First Fleet“ with prisoners arrived in 1788[2], about 130.000 of them were transferred to Australia within the first 50 years. Most of them were from cities and suburbs of southeast and middle Britain, especially London, where rural population, driven by industralisation, increasingly settled to escape from poverty. Nearly all of them were from the lower classes of society and are assumed to have spoken a common sociolect based on Cockney, the dialect of English spoken in London.

One fourth of the convicts transported to Australia were from Ireland,[3] taken prisoners after the Irish rebellion. The Irish were able to understand and speak English at least as a second language, though their pronunciation was different. However, both groups were able to communicate with each other, and due to close contact in British prisons or later during their 8-months-transfer to Australia, some leveling of their dialects must have taken place.[4] This process was fostered as the convicts had to live closely together and communicate in their penal colonies, and a commonly understood dialect developed which went on to be the basis for today’s Broad and General Australian English.

Although most new founded penal colonies were too far separated to allow language contact, nearly no regional differences in Australian English developed, as the new shiploads of convicts were relatively homogenous in their language; most of them came from southern England. The prisoners - especially the Irish - were divided and sent to different places, thus no closed communities with a language or dialect of their own could develop.[5]

2.1.2 Free Settlers

After 1793, not only convicts but also free settlers were brought to Australia. Among them were some American loyalists who had been fighting on British side during the war for independence and had to flee after the war was lost, inserting American English terms into Australian English. As immigration was restricted in the beginning, free settlers outnumbered the prisoners no earlier than 1840, but after the discovery of gold in New South Wales and Victoria, their numbers increased rapidly.[6] In 1850, an estimated 400.000 immigrants lived in Australia, in 1900 they were about 4 million.[7]

Due to the increasing immigration of English-speaking settlers from Great Britain, Australian English stayed close to its British variant. Additionally, migration within Australia and the fact that most of the new immigrants arrived and stayed - at least for a certain period - in Sydney, leveled the different dialects and helped to develop a commonly understood Australian English. Even Chinese immigrants, brought to Australia as cheap workers for the gold mines since the 1870’s, had to give up their language and learn English as they were a minority and had no other chance if they wanted to communicate with non-Chinese fellow workers or employees.

2.1.3 Aborigines and their languages

The Aborigines, the original Australian population, had to learn English if they wanted to communicate. Before the first white men arrived in Australia, about 300.000 Aborigines had been living together in some 500 tribes, speaking more than 200 languages.[8] Although some necessary words for animals, plants and geographical features of the landscape were borrowed and became a part of Australian English, aboriginal languages were doomed to lose importance or die out after the new immigrants arrived in increasing numbers. Aborigines had been given almost no rights. Persecuted and sometimes hunted like animals, they were forced to draw back to less densely populated areas where the newcomers would not like to live.

The preservation of aboriginal cultures and languages did not become a matter of interest until the mid of the 20th century, when it was almost too late: Only 25 percent of the Aboriginal languages survived as an active language of a community.[9]

2.1.4 The Development of Australian English in the 20th Century

In 1901 the Australian colonies founded a commonwealth and the authorities decided to allow no more immigrants from Asia to keep Australia “white“. The “Federal Immigration Restriction Act“[10] was meant to preserve Australia’s British cultural heritage, as most Australians understood themselves to be part of the British empire and regarded their cultural and economical connection to Great Britain as vital. During World War 2, they even sent troops to support their British friends against the Third Reich and were deeply shocked when they found out that their soldiers were, under British command, wasted without any military reason. They had to realize that the British did not care as much for their Australian “brothers“ as they had always believed. The bounds between Australia and Britain were damaged, and the disappointed Australians started to concentrate more on their own national - and cultural - identity. Cultivated Australian English, the language of the educated higher classes, officials and news-readers, was losing its status as “British-like“ pronunciation became increasingly unfashionable and is now regarded to be over-aggerated, sissy, or even embarrassing by most Australians; especially by juveniles.

The new arisen question of national identity led to a growing interest of Australians towards their own language, regarding it increasingly as a language of its own, resulting in the publishing of own dictionaries, like the “Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers“, published by the Australian Government 1966.[11]

2.1.5 Broad, General and Cultivated Australian English

Instead of regional, social differences became more important for the division of Australian English into the 3 branches cultivated, general and broad. Educated political prisoners, British officers and officials from middle or upper social classes refused to take over the “flash“ language of the lower class that contained borrowed words and expressions from criminals and sailors. Instead, they tried to keep closer to traditional, received British pronunciation, developing an own sociolect that became the basis of today’s Cultivated Australian English.

Today, the three branches of Australian English are distributed differently among the speakers: Cultivated (11%), General (55%) and Broad (34%). The numbers do not have to be taken too strictly as the borders between these three can often not be clearly distinguished. It depends on the speaker’s sex - males are more likely to use Broad or General AusE while females tend to use Cultivated or General AusE -, family background, education,[12] or simply the status of the person addressed.

2.2 Australian English today - a linguistic analysis

About 80 percent of all Australians speak Australian English as their mother tongue. Other variants of English spoken in Australia are pidgins like Kriol, Torres Strait Broken, Tok Piksin, used by Aborigines, and Migrant English, spoken mainly by first-generation immigrants of a non-English linguistic background.

2.2.1 Pronunciation

Australian English is said to be more pure and less influenced by dialects than American or British English. Australian English Phonology is very close to RP as it origins in South-East England (Cockney). Phonetic realisation, though, is different. The vowel system can be transcribed one-to-one with the RP System. Long vowels and diphtongs

The principal criterion for differentiating the three varieties of AusE is vowel quality, particularly the pronunciation o f the six long vowels in beat, boot, say, so, high, how.

In Cultivated Australian English they are very close to RP while in Broad Australian English they show a systematic chain shift, whereby the first four of these (the non-low long vowels) are diphtongal, with centralised and lowered nuclei, while the last two have respectively backed and fronted nuclei. General Australian English pronunciations fall between these extremes[13]


[1] David Crystal, “English as a global language“, p. 35

[2] David Crystal, “English as a global language“, p. 35

[3] Gregory R. Guy, “Australia“, p. 217

[4] George W. Turner, “English in Australia“, p.277

[5] Hansen, Carls, Lucko, „Die Differenzierung des Englischen in nationale Varianten“, p. 157

[6] Hansen, Carls, Lucko, „Die Differenzierung des Englischen in nationale Varianten“, p. 156

[7] David Crystal, “English as a global language“, p. 35

[8] Hansen, Carls, Lucko, „Die Differenzierung des Englischen in nationale Varianten“, p. 156

[9] Gregory R. Guy, “Australia“, p. 214

[10] Hansen, Carls, Lucko, „Die Differenzierung des Englischen in nationale Varianten“, p. 156

[11] Hansen, Carls, Lucko, „Die Differenzierung des Englischen in nationale Varianten“, S. 161

[12] Robert D. Eagleson, “Australia and New Zealand“, p. 424f

[13] Gregory R. Guy, “Australia“, p. 219f

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Australian and New Zealand impact on the English language
University of Regensburg  (Anglistics-American Studies)
2.7 (B-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
710 KB
Australian, Zealand, English
Quote paper
Andreas Hennings (Author), 2003, Australian and New Zealand impact on the English language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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