Language and National Identity in Australia

Term Paper, 2017

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical background
2.1 Language and identity
2.2 Historical background of AusE
2.3 Demographic diversity in Australia

3. Linguistic features of AusE
3.1 Phonology
3.2 Morphology
3.3 The lexicon

4. Conclusion

5. List of References

List of abbreviations

AusE Australian English

ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics

OED Oxford English Dictionary

1. Introduction

In 2013, right after having finished school, I spent one year in Australia. As a part-time tourist and seasonal worker, I gained insight into various parts of the Australian everyday life. Especially the language, the Australian variety of English with all its unique and absolutely unmistakable linguistic features captivated me. Another thing that struck me was, that in every part of the country I experienced an extraordinary sense of national pride; each person I met, regardless of age, ethnicity, origin or gender, presented her/himself to me as a proud “Aussie”, how they like to call themselves. This experience was strongly emphasized by ever-recurring symbols, such as Kangaroos, the Australian flag, boomerangs and references to the Aborigines. All these nation-bound features gave me the impression of a country that is strongly united and proudly presents its uniqueness to the world. After having passed several months there, it became clear to me that Australia is a highly diverse country due to its long history of colonization and migration that brought together many different groups of people whose origins and social relations between each other shaped the country and its people including their respective identities and languages.

Bearing this in mind, the purpose of my paper is to outline the manifestation of that national pride focusing specifically on the linguistic distinctiveness of Australian English (AusE) which is mainly based on its history and still represented in today's demographic situation of Australia. Thus, I shall be concerned with different topics: firstly I will point out the connection between identity and language. Having this theoretical framework in mind, I will briefly sketch the historical background of AusE and afterward provide a rough overview concerning the most common ancestries and origins of today's population in “down under”.These premises will lead to the main issue of this paper, namely the manifestation of Australia's national identity and pride in the form of unique and distinctive linguistic features of AusE.

2. Theoretical background

2.1 Language and identity

In the following, I shall be concerned with the definition of the two key terms language and identity with regard to the question of how they correlate with each other. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, identity is defined by “[w]ho or what a person or thing is; a distinct impression of a single person or thing presented to or perceived by others; a set of characteristics or a description that distinguishes a person or thing from others” (OED Online 2017). Language is “[t]he system of spoken or written communication used by a particular country, people, community, etc., typically consisting of words used within a regular grammatical and syntactic structure“ (OED Online 2017). But to what extent are they related?

Paltridge comments on the connection between language and identity by claiming that “[…] through the use of language – along with other semiotic resources – [...] people belong (or not) to groups” (2015: 20). Fielding describes the relationship between those terms as follows: “'Who we are' relates closely to the language we use. The language or languages that we speak form an important part of who we are. Our languages influence our identity, in particular our ethnic identity or social identity.” (2015: 38). These two suggestions display the focus on the awareness of belonging to a certain group or community. They underline the fact that identity is constructed through differences which are in turn crucial for the distinctiveness of different groups. Moreover, these quotes point out that the purpose of identity is to define the uniqueness of ourselves or of communities we belong to. Language is the ideal instrument in order to demonstrate this uniqueness and to mark and establish identity. With regard to Australia, Collins and Blair state that “Australians seem to have a perennial fascination with the question of national identity” (2001: 1) which is, i.a., displayed in the use of language as they claim in the following quote:

The role of language as a badge of social identity means that English in Australia serves a double social function. Within Australia, the range of varieties (or Englishes) provides a set of cultural and social indicators of ethnicity, social class, gender and age. From an external viewpoint, and primarily through its prestige dialect (AusE), the language provides a marker of “Australian-ness” which is increasingly recognisable to speakers of other Englishes around the world (Blair, Collins 2001: 11).

This mutual relationship of reciprocal influence and mediation between identity and language with view to Australia can be traced back and recognized in its history and current demographic situation which will be pointed out in the upcoming chapters.

2.2 Historical background of AusE

In the following, I am going to provide a brief overview of the Australian history, specifically with regard to immigration and the development of Australian English. Concerning the emergence of the English Language, Australia has a very short history. It started in 1788 when the British First Fleet reached Botany Bay in New South Wales. With the foundation of a penal colony, Britain wanted to expand their trade and naval power and since voluntary migration was not sufficient to settle a remote area like Australia, convicts were transported there (Schneider 2011: 112). Throughout the 19th century, the number of convicts, which were brought to Australia, was exceeded by the number of voluntary immigrants. The majority of those immigrants came from England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland (Schneider 2011: 113-114). Due to this continuous influx of mostly English-speaking immigrants from different countries and the permanent contact between each other, new forms of English arose, mainly by dialectal mixing (koinéization”). Along with the linguistic influence of mostly British immigrants, the language of indigenous people in Australia had a significant impact on today's AusE, as well (Schneider 2011: 114). Even though Australia became practically independent in 1901, the country still identified strongly with Britain as its mother country. Britain, on the contrary, did not attach great importance to Australia and even denied support during World War II where Australia feared an attack by Japan (Schneider 2011: 117). Consequently, Australia had to redefine itself as a proud and independent nation with a strong nation-bound identity constituted and expressed by a unique culture and a distinct language (Schneider 2011: 118).

It becomes obvious that the history of Australia shaped the country's national pride, especially with regards to the emergence of AusE which was decidedly influenced by immigration and the natives.

2.3 Demographic diversity in Australia

The last chapter provided a brief insight into the historical background concerning the evolution of AusE and built bridges to the origins of the Australians' national pride and their sense of identity based on language. In this chapter, I am going to show to what extent the very influential immigration history is still visible in the demographic diversity of Australia which could indicate a direct relation between AusE and the Australian national identity.

According to the latest census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2011, the total population in Australia is approximately 21.5 million (ABS 2011). Nowadays, the history of Australia is, i.a., represented in today's most common ancestries which are English (25.9%), Australian (25.4%), Irish (7.5%) and Scottish (6.4%) (ABS 2011). Furthermore, 2.5% (548,369) of the total population are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (ABS 2011). These numbers demonstrate the past and present non-Australian influence and imply that the Australian variety of English is still under constant linguistic influence. Even though only 69.8% of people were born there, Australia does remain overwhelmingly Anglo-dominant, with 76.8% of the population speaking only English at home (ABS 2011). The vast majority of speakers use AusE as their native language which highlights the language as a powerful symbol of Australian national identity and pride.

3. Linguistic features of AusE

Now, having established the connection between language and identity in Australia, based on its history and current demographic situation, I am going to outline the distinctive linguistic features concerning phonology, morphology, and the lexicon in AusE which altogether serve as an expression of alterity, peculiarity and independence and display the Australians' strong sense of identity. Before I start, I want to introduce an important characteristic when it comes to variation of linguistic features in AusE. The variety of Australian English has a notable homogeneity, meaning that there are hardly any regional differences concerning linguistic variation. However, there is a certain language continuum containing three social varieties, namely Broad, General and Cultivated Australian English, which still has a descriptive function when it comes to variation, especially in pronunciation (Schneider 2011: 119). Thus, all the following linguistic features of AusE are mostly widespread in the whole country and differ only along this spectrum of social variation.

3.1 Phonology

As already suggested in chapter 2.1, today's AusE is a variety which originated under the influence of numerous language varieties due to immigration from various countries, predominantly, however, from the British Isles. All these immigrants, coming from all social classes, forged the basis of today's AusE. This intermixture of people with different regional and social backgrounds led to a country-wide multitude of characteristic phonological features which make the pronunciation of AusE unmistakable. On the basis of some examples provided by Schneider (2011: 121-122) and Horvath (2008: 95-102) which represent the major features, I want to illustrate the very distinctive pronunciation of AusE.


- The diphthong /ei/ in words like face is articulated with a very open onset and sounds more like /ai/.
- The diphthong /ai/ in words like time is articulated further back in the mouth, so that it sounds like /oi/.


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Language and National Identity in Australia
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
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language, national, identity, australia
Quote paper
Marten de Wall (Author), 2017, Language and National Identity in Australia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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