Phonological Reflexes of British Varieties in Australian English

Bachelor Thesis, 2018
33 Pages, Grade: 1,3


1. Introduction

Any survey of the status and nature of English in Australia will reveal how closely the national language [...] reflects the essential cohesiveness and diversity of its home culture (Blair, Collins 2001: 11).

The reason why I chose to start with this quote is that it suitably depicts the fundamental premise of any research of English in Australia, including this paper. Regardless of the research area concerning English in Australia, it is vital to always take into account its intense and manifold, yet comparatively young, history as well as the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. In just a little bit more than 200 years and under numerous different linguistic, social, cultural and political influences, the initial English in Australia has developed into a major variety of the English language which is spoken throughout Australia, namely Australian English (henceforth, AusE).1 By now, AusE is not only de facto official language of Australia but also the first language of most of the population and it was a fairly long and complex process until AusE achieved its current reach and status. During the process of becoming an independent national standard with its own norms, AusE developed distinctive linguistic features which play a significant role in Australia’s cultural identity. All these features have been subject to substantial research by numerous scholars who agree that this variety serves not only as a national identity marker but also strengthens social cohesion in communities.2 Collins, for instance, claims that we can find the most transparent embodiment of Australian values, attitudes and self­perception in the Australian lexicon (2014: 464). Evidently, what comes into one’s mind at first are the numerous loanwords from indigenous languages, such as dingo, koala, wombat, kangaroo, boomerang etc., which are globally considered as “typical Australian” (Collins 2014: 467). Another highly characteristic feature of the Australian lexicon, among many others, is the affinity for the vernacular as well as colloquial and vulgar language, which are rooted in the British slang vocabulary of the first settlers in Australia (Collins 2014: 465). Concerning the morphology of AusE, the most prevalent and frequently used feature is the productivity of hypocoristic suffixation contributing to the emergence of many neologisms which are also exemplary for the distinctiveness of AusE (Simpson 2008). Moreover, the phonology of AusE is also a highly diverse subject and an extensively researched area to which linguists from all over the world have been paid much attention. According to the earliest scholarly sources concerning the phonology of AusE, it was agreed on that there are neither social nor regional differences throughout Australia. By now, this opinion is obsolete. Indeed, the regional phonological differences in AusE are much subtler and less substantial that those in the British Isles, yet, they exist and continue to develop (Bradley 2008). With respect to the alleged phonological homogeneity throughout social strata, Mitchell (1965) revised the outdated view as he discovered three different sociolects on the pronunciation continuum which he referred to as Broad, General and Cultivated (Horvath 2008: 89) Nowadays, these terms are still used for the description of the range of phonological variation in AusE. However, since the main focus of this paper is not the analysis of regional variation within Australia, I will not discuss those three sociolects in further detail.3 Yet, there are, as well, numerous other phonological features which display the uniqueness of AusE. A remarkable and highly interesting characteristic is certainly the phonological similarity to varieties of British English. For a long time, it was assumed that the phonology of AusE is essentially “like Cockney”. Most scholars, however, agree that this stereotypical view is mistaken and does not longer hold up (Svartvik 2016: 103). Nevertheless, it is undeniable that AusE and the varieties of the British Isles (henceforth, BrIEs4 ), especially Standard British English (Received Pronunciation, henceforth, RP), bear a certain similarity to one another which is rooted in the colonization of Australia by British settlers. Thus, the question arises to what extent the respective phonemic inventories (AusE and those of BrIEs) resemble each another and which British varieties influenced AusE the most.

Bearing this question in mind, the purpose of my paper is to examine phonological reflexes of British varieties in AusE focusing on the question of which British variety influenced AusE the most. In order to approach this issue, it is necessary to adduce a theoretical framework: firstly, I will sketch the history and evolution of AusE by means of Schneider’s “Dynamic Model” (2007) in order to clarify how and under which influences AusE evolved. Due to the utmost importance of the historical development of AusE with respect to its phonology, I will devote a proper chapter for this part. Additionally, I will provide a rough overview of Australia’s present demographic situation focusing on its cultural diversity and the people’s ancestries emphasizing Australia’s British roots. These preliminary theoretical considerations support and eventually lead to the third chapter which deals with the main issue of this paper, namely the analysis of the extent of phonological reflexes of British varieties in AusE. For this purpose, I will, firstly, examine every single vowel of AusE providing the respective phonetic descriptions as well as an account of potential similarities and differences concerning English dialects of the British Isles. Afterwards, I will discuss the most distinctive consonantal features of AusE and analyze if and to what extent they can be identified in BrIEs. At last, I will focus on a certain prosodic feature that AusE and BrIEs have in common. Taking all the outcomes into consideration, the analysis shall result in a substantial and reliable account of to what extent phonological traces of the different British varieties can still be identified in AusE.

2. Theoretical background

2.1. The history and evolution of Australian English

The history of Australia, and subsequently AusE, is highly complex and equally diverse. Its development is an intermixture of various different sociocultural, political and, of course, linguistic factors which, altogether, have been under constant change and reciprocal influence. For the purpose of this chapter, I consult Schneider’s “Dynamic Model” which describes the typical developmental history of Postcolonial Englishes, such as AusE, as a cyclical sequence of five distinct phases, namely “Foundation”, “Exonormative stabilization”, “Nativization”, “Endonormative stabilization”, and “Differentiation” (2007: 29). Schneider suggests that all Postcolonial Englishes (henceforth, PCEs) share a common underlying schema of historical evolution which is shaped by sociopsychological, cultural and political factors that do not differ very much across different territories (2007: 28). Furthermore, he claims that the evolution of PCEs involves two complementary strands of communicative perspective: on the one hand, the colonizer’s or the settler’s perspective (henceforth, STL) and on the other hand, the perspective of the colonized or indigenous people (henceforth, IDG) (2007: 31). In the course of the five phases, the two parties (STL and IDG) become more and more intertwined and their respective languages grow closer to each other over time. Moreover, each developmental phase shows manifestations of four causally determined parameters, namely (1) extralinguistic factors, like historical events and politics, (2) characteristic identity constructions, (3) sociolinguistics conditions of language contact, use, and attitudes, and finally (4) structural effects which emerge in the form(s) of the language variety/­ies involved (2007: 30). However, he emphasizes that one must leave room for variation concerning the respective identity construction and linguistic developments within the basic pattern since this idealized model does not only provide a strongly simplified but also very abstract and prototypical account of the development of PCEs (2007: 28).

However, considering all these factors and providing a complete and extensive account of the evolution of AusE would certainly go far beyond the scope of this paper.5 Thus, I am going to briefly outline the history of AusE taking into account the most important aspects with regards to its evolution. The five developmental phases of the historical evolution with regards to AusE can be described as follows (Schneider 2007: 118-127).

2.1.1. Phase 1: Foundation (1788-ca. 1830s)

The first phase began in 1788 when James Cook and the “First Fleet”, transporting convicts, landed at Botany Bay to establish a penal colony - New South Wales. Until the middle of the 19th century, the deportation of prisoners continued, and numerous free settlers accompanied them, which, logically, led to a rapid growth, as well as a strong diversification of Australia’s population. Consequently, the area of British settlement gradually expanded, and more colonies were established throughout Australia. For the aim of this paper, it is vital to mention where the convicts originally came from because their respective dialects and accents influenced and shaped the development of AusE. Robson (1965, cited in Fritz 2007: 20) collected data concerning the places of trial of the convicts who were transported to Australia indicating their origins which is presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Places of trial of convicts (cf. Fritz 2007: 20)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

5 Fritz’ work From English in Australia to Australian English: 1788-1900 (2007) is an extremely elaborate and meticulously researched book dealing with the diverse and complex history of Australia from 1788-1900 providing an extremely detailed and well-structured insight into the social, cultural, political and linguistic developments of Australia.

Considering the data and the strong phonological similarity of AusE and BrIEs, one can arguably say that the “founder effect” (Mufwene 2001: 27) has crucially determined the development of AusE. This effect implies that the dialect of the earliest population remarkably predetermines the linguistic characteristics of the subsequently evolving variety. Referring to this, it is noteworthy that more than half of the convicts came from south-eastern England and Ireland suggesting that mainly features of these dialects influenced AusE. In chapter 3, we will see if this holds true. Apart from that, it is remarkable that nearly all the convicts (97.9%) were brought to Australia from all over the British Isles. Bearing all those different origins and dialects in mind, it becomes obvious that dialect contact was the norm. In the 1820s and 1830s, documents have occurred which have witnessed dialect mixture and koinéization (Blair, Collins 2001: 1-2). Consequently, the development of AusE was pushed forward since several differing British varieties merged and mutually adjusted which resulted in the “mixing, levelling and simplification of language” (Turner 1994: 278).5

2.1.2 Phase 2: Exonormative stabilization (ca. 1830s-1901)

Even though the transition from phase 1 to phase 2 is not evidently clear-cut, it was probably when the number of free settlers outnumbered that of prisoners (ca. 1830s- 1850). Further, as the population grew steadily, and new colonies were established, the overall expansion continued. Additionally, the colonies of Victoria (1851), Tasmania (1852) and Queensland (1859) became autonomous contributing to Australia’s colonial stability (Fritz 2007: 41). However, the most seminal incident during this developmental phase occurred in the middle of the 19th century as gold was discovered in several parts of Australia which, subsequently, caused a gold rush throughout the whole country. This, in return, had tremendous effects on the social, political and linguistic situation (Fritz 2007: 40). Not only did this attract people from all over the world leading to a rapid increase of the number of immigrants but also was this the cause for massive population movements within the country which, in return, led to a further diversification of English and other languages (Kiesling 2006: 76). Thus, enormous internal and external migration waves caused a disruption of social and economic patterns and damped the “founder effect” due to the sudden influx of many various languages influencing the dialects that were forming which, eventually, guided the development of AusE in another direction (Kiesling 2006: 76).

2.1.3 Phase 3: Nativization (1901-1942)

The beginning of phase 3 can be dated to 1901, when all the former colonies were federalized to form the Commonwealth of Australia (Schneider 2007: 121). Nevertheless, the political, economic, and cultural relation between Australia and Britain was still fairly strong (2007: 121). However, the outbreak of World War I was the first time when “a feeling of nationhood” (2007: 121) came up due to the participation of many soldiers from both the STL and IDG strand (2007: 121). This, in return, led to a change in the perception of identity among many Australians as they felt more connected to their territory of residence than their “mother country” (2007: 121). By that time, the two strands were in regular contact and, thus, bilingualism among the IDG strand was normal (2007: 121). The British language, however, kept its superiority, at least in formal contexts while the dialects in the STL strand underwent further nativization and indigenization (2007: 121). Concerning the linguistic evolution in this phase, it can be said that AusE developed further on the levels of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar (2007: 122). Generally, the pride and interest in AusE increased, also due to the preceding events (Leitner 2004: 95).

2.1.4 Phase 4: Endonormative stabilization (1942-ca. 1980s)

The fourth phase in the evolutionary cycle of PCEs is often tied to a specific “Event X” which precedes or causes the detachment of the respective colonizer country (Schneider 2007: 122). Referring to the history of Australia, this incident was in 1942, during World War II, when Britain denied protecting Australia as Japan threatened to attack them (2007: 124). At this point, the population realized that the seemingly strong connection to Britain and the supposedly mutual importance was actually unilateral (2007: 124). Therefore, Australia had to redefine itself as a proud and self­dependent country with a strong nation-bound identity rooting in its territory (2007: 124). This reorientation brought about an increasing acceptance of the multiethnic and multicultural society as well as the inclusion of immigrants and the indigenous population (2007: 124). Another highly important step was the full acceptance of the Australian way of speaking English including all the national accents which, by that time, was seen as a symbolic expression of nationhood and regional pride (2011: 117). Moore dates these developments of linguistic and cultural nationalism to the 1970s (2001: 136). However, the ultimate declaration of linguistic independence and the recognition of a new autonomous variety of English was the release of national dictionaries, above all the Macquarie Dictionary which reached an iconic status in the process of codification and linguistic independence of AusE (Schneider 2007: 125). Thus, this phase of the evolution of Australia was characterized by an extreme striving for independence going along with a strong tendency of untying the connections to its colonizer.6

2.1.5 Phase 5: Differentiation (1980s-)

In the framework of the “Dynamic Model”, phase 5, and thus the end of the cycle, is characterized by the ongoing birth of new dialects and other group-specific varieties (ethnolects, sociolects) (Schneider 2007: 126). In the case of AusE, sociolects have been present for a long time in Australia as Mitchell & Delbridge (1965) describe. What was new, however, was the regional differentiation as well as the fragmentation of AusE into several ethnolects (Schneider 2007: 126). The

2.2 Demographic considerations

This brief historical account of the evolution of AusE described how it has developed to become a major variety of the English language. Further, it was demonstrated that especially British varieties significantly contributed to the evolution of AusE. Australia’s current demographic situation reflects these observations following the Census of Population and Housing, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016. By now, about 72.7% (approx. 17 million) of the total population (approx. 23.4 million) speak English at home (ABS 2016).


1 In this paper, Australian English refers to the unmarked form of English in Australia (“Anglo- English) as opposed to Aboriginal English and other Englishes in Australia (Blair & Collins 2001:2).

2 The research focus on AusE has been predominantly lexical (e.g. Ramson 1966) and phonological (e.g. Mitchell & Delbridge 1965). Recently, however, there is also some research on morphosyntactic features of AusE (e.g. Simpson 2008 or Peters, Collins & Smith 2009).

3 The focus in this thesis lies on phonological reflexes of British varieties in AusE and not that much on internal linguistic issues in Australia. Thus, I will not provide a detailed insight into the phonological differences between Broad, General and Cultivated vowels in AusE. For a more specific account of these sociolects, see Harrington et al. (1997).

4 In this paper, “varieties of the British Isles (BrIEs)” refers to varieties of English spoken in different parts of England (South-west, South-east, West Midlands, East Anglia, Northern, Channel Islands), Scotland (mainland, Orkney & Shetland), Wales, and Ireland.

5 For a more detailed account of dialect contact and mixture on the phonological level, see Trudgill (1986: 129-146).

6 For a more detailed and extensive outline of the “Differentiation” phase, see Peters (2014: 107-124)

Excerpt out of 33 pages


Phonological Reflexes of British Varieties in Australian English
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
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phonological, reflexes, british, varieties, australian, english
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Marten de Wall (Author), 2018, Phonological Reflexes of British Varieties in Australian English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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