The development of community languages and the role of Ethnolects in Australia

Term Paper, 2005

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Immigration to Australia

3. Community languages
3.1 The changing attitude towards community languages
3.2 Language demography in 1991 and 1996
3.3 The role of German as an example of a community language

4. Ethnolects
4.1 Linguistic characteristics of Ethnolects
4.2 The role of Ethnolects within their communities

5. Conclusion

6. References


1. Introduction

I have chosen this topic as I am very interested in Australia’s multicultural society and its unique history. The following paper aims to give an overview of community languages and their development in Australia from the very first settlers to Australian society nowadays.

At first, there will be a brief outline of the history of immigration to Australia in order to show the development of the different ethnic groups coming to Australia.

Furthermore, the changing attitudes will be outlined since community languages had to undergo changing situations within Australian society. I will consider the past as well as the latest situation in Australia by means of a demography comparison. The language demography of the years 1991 and 1996 will be analysed in order to point out the development of the widely-used community languages and their status. Interesting from a German point of view, is the evolution of German in Australia as many people would not expect German being one of the major community languages in the early settlement of Australia. A significant fact to analyse will be the changing role towards German after the two World Wars in the 20th century.

Besides, I will integrate the role of Ethnolects in Australian society and within their communities in this paper. I will exemplify linguistic characteristics of Ethnolects and will analyse them with regard to the aspect of different generations.

Literature of Michael Clyne will be considered primarily. Michael Clyne is Professorial Fellow in Linguistics at the University of Melbourne and one of the leading scientists of community languages in Australia, nowadays.

2. Immigration to Australia

Australia offers a vast majority of all kinds of ethnic varieties nowadays due to its unique history. The first settlers, aside from Aboriginal people, were largely prisoners, prison officers and their families from Britain, who established the first penal colonies at Sydney Cove / Port Jackson (New South Wales) in 1788.[1] Not only British convicts, but also migrants from other European countries were amongst political and religious refugees in order to escape from their regime in the course of time.

“Such migrants included: the Old Lutherans from Eastern Germany fleeing from religious suppression to South Australia as from 1838; the refugees from the 1848 German and Italian revolutions; the Polish Jews fleeing from anti-Semitism between the wars; the refugees from racism and political oppression in Nazi Germany and the territories it had annexed.”[2]

Also economic migrants emigrated to Australia from the very beginning. Amongst those migrants were many single men, who came to Australia during the gold rush period, which was in the middle of the 19th century, in order to find an improvement of work and living conditions. Especially South Australia and Victoria illustrated “workers paradises” for overseas workers by occupying universal suffrage, payment of parliamentarians, secret ballot, and the eight – hour working day. Migrants of the 20th century came from the mother country Britain, including Maltese, Greek, Dutch, German and Italians in the 1950s and 1960s, Yugoslavs in the late 60s and early 70s as well as Lebanese and Turks in the early 70s. (Clyne 1991:5)

On the one hand, many different languages and dialects were mixed in order to communicate, for instance Gaelic, Irish and Welsh, which were subjected to language assimilation. (Clyne 1991:7) On the other hand, however, languages maintained as community languages.

3. Community languages

The term “Community languages”, a relatively new one, denotes languages other than English and Aboriginal languages employed within the Australian community. (Clyne 1991:3). In the early time of settlement, from 1860 onwards, the main community languages were Irish, Chinese, German, Gaelic, Welsh, French, the Scandinavian languages, and Italian.

Community languages were taught in schools and played an eminent role. At first, community languages were instructed in order to maintain the religious and ethnic background of the children’s community. However, bilingual education was regarded as valuable, too, as children could benefit from bilingual tuition in order to learn another language. This fact, of course, proved a high quality of education and encouraged English-speaking families to send their children to bilingual schools. Clyne mentions that outstanding examples were German-English boys’ schools in Melbourne and Hahndorf (South Australia) modelled on the German Gymnasium and particularly French-English girls’ schools in Melbourne. (Clyne 1991:9) These bilingual schools could mainly be found in South Australia and Victoria, although the largest group of foreign nationalities lived in Queensland. In the course of the Education Acts, which were passed in most of the colonies between 1872 and 1880, bilingual schools were replaced by monolingual state schools mostly, apart from Lutheran schools in rural areas of the country.

The role of community languages was also influential in the public sector. Many newspapers were printed in one of the community languages, for instance, the “Australische Deutsche Zeitung”, the “Melbourner Deutsche Zeitung” or the “Victoria Deutsche Presse.”

To depict their situation precisely, community languages have to be analysed concerning their changing role within Australian history.

3.1 The changing attitude towards community languages

Towards the end of the 19th century and with the beginning of the 20th century, Australian society had to undergo an identity process, which could be regarded as rather challenging. Irish, Italian, German and Greek were all Australian, however, did not see themselves as Englishmen. They were part of an Australian society and therefore wanting to be referred to as Greek-Australians, for instance. The British Empire, however, started to develop a monolingual English society within all of their colonies. This evolution was accompanied by xenophobia and intolerance to languages other than English as Clyne points out (Clyne 1991:12). This development was even strengthened during the forthcoming World Wars by means of strict immigration laws and prohibition of any publication in another language. The function of community languages in Australian society changed slightly in the following postwar years. One could easily feel that the presence of 2nd world war refugees from Greece, Italy and Germany had an impact on the strict monolingual policy Australian government utilised. The official policy, however, was assimilation. Immigrant families were told to speak English with their children, both in public and at home. As many families, however, could not speak the new language properly, the policy of assimilation on the part of the Australian government did not work out.

From the 1970s onwards, Australia found itself in an identity process regarding its loosening ties to Britain and its increasing role of national identity. The tendency towards a multicultural and particularly multilingual society was noticeable in public and policy. As Clyne mentions “all major parties had included language maintenance and the provision of services in community languages and their policy platforms.” (Clyne 1991:21)


[1] Burridge, Kate and Jean Mulder. 1999 . English in Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne [u.a.]: Oxford University Press, 36

[2] Clyne, Michael. 1991 . Community languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 4

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The development of community languages and the role of Ethnolects in Australia
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Department of Anglophone Studies)
The English Language in Asia and the Southern Hemisphere
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Ethnolects, Australia, English, Language, Asia, Southern, Hemisphere
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Sabrina Weihrauch (Author), 2005, The development of community languages and the role of Ethnolects in Australia , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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