Australian English is the dialect spoken by native Australians or young immigrants to Australia (Collins 2012: 75; Cox & Palethorpe 2007: 341). English in Australia is a much wider term than Australian English in that it includes both the varieties of migrant communities and the varieties of Aboriginal communities (Cox & Palethorpe 2007: 341). Even though Australian English is a regional dialect that has the phonemic inventory of Southern British English it is the dominant variety in Australia while Aboriginal and Ethno-cultural varieties are minority varieties (Cox & Palethorpe 2007: 341). Standard Australian English has the most speakers and is also used in public life and broadcasting. One of its prominent features is that it became a marker of national identity and this affects many of the language’s characteristics like its accent and lexicon (Cox & Palethorpe 2007: 341). Australian English developed alongside Australian history and culture, and thus it is highly connected with the creation of the Australian identity (Moore 2008: v).
In 1788 a British Penal colony was established in Sydney, consisting of mainly prisoners and prison officers with their families whose origins were mostly found in Middlesex, Warwickshire and eastern Ireland (Burridge 2010: 295). These were the first people who used the English language in Australia but later there was extended settlement of free settlers in areas like Tasmania, Victoria, South and Western Australia (Burridge 2010: 295). The early inhabitants in order to adapt to their new environment and fill the need for communication in those special convict system conditions, created words that would both cover the need for communication as well as the social organization of the convict system (Moore 2008: vi). The newly formed dialect was also affected by the social tenses between the natives and the free settlers which had the idea of being superior to the native born Australians (Moore 2008: vi). Through the creation of new words, a new dialect was created mostly through contact and this dialect spread and changed throughout the country (Cox 2005: 6). As more settlements happened, borrowings of words began to happen from other indigenous languages as well and not just the one spoken at Sydney (Moore 2008: vi). In the case of indigenous words that were left out, due to differences in the surroundings between Australia and Europe, new coinages occurred often with a change of meaning to better serve the needs of people in Australia (Moore 2008: vi). Vocabulary also expanded greatly when immigration in search of gold began offering a new source for words while it also raised Australia’s population and brought changes to society as well (Moore 2008: vii).
The major distinct feature of Australian English language is its accent and it was also the area in which the language developed more during the first years of the colony (Moore 2008: vi). As Burridge mentions, when studying the dialect’s formation, a distinction can be made between the stages of its development (2010: 296). In the very early stages the variety was at a basic level that incorporated some minority characteristics and simplified them into a new dialect. With the appearance of the first native speakers, some variability appeared in terms of personal expression and also due to influences by contact with other speakers. The more stable form of Australian English came with the second generation of native born settlers, which incorporated mixing, leveling, unmarking and reallocation (Burridge 2010: 296). This final form is considered stable because of the little variation that is observed to it throughout the country. This is mostly due to the high mobility of people that carry the dialect with them but also because the Australian English dialect adapted other dialects as well despite the great socio-economic differences that existed in the colony (Collins 2012: 76).
Discussion is still ongoing on whether the accent was created in Australia, brought there from London, created in Sydney and then spread in the country or if it developed in each of the colonies separately (Moore 2008: vi). The dominant Australian English dialect varies across its speakers in relation to how vowels and consonants are realized, how phonemes are expressed and also in features of stress and tone but also voice quality (Cox 2005 16, 60). While regional variation is not extensive there is also gender differentiation which involves mostly consonants and the rhythm of speech (Cox 2005 60). The vowel system of Australian English is one of its prominent differences from other English accents along with how consonants change as well as the the quality of voice (Cox 2005: 7). It is not however that these characteristics only appear in Australian English dialects but rather the combination of these characteristics in the specific dialect, that make it unique. (Cox 2005: 11). AusE sound is characterized by flatness caused by the small range between high and low pitch and also a more evenly distributed stress along a sentence (Moore 2008: xii – xiv).. There is also nasality and the most prominently Australian feature of syllable deletion or omission while there is also a high rising tone concerning Australian speech (Moore 2008: xii – xiv).
The variation found in Australian English also mostly concerns accent which ranges from the distinctive accents of local varieties to the point of having resemblance to the Received Pronunciation of British English (Cox 2005:13). There are three distinct accents in AusE. These are, the “Cultivated” used by 11%, the “General” used by 55% and the “Broad” used by 34%, which differentiate mostly in how vowels are realized, in assimilation and omissions, merging but also pitch range and nasality (Cox 2005: 16 & Collins 2012: 78). Among them the Broad is the accent that carries the lowest prestige and has the most distinctive Australian characteristics however it is the General which is used by the majority and seems to be constantly gaining users as time progresses (Collins 2012: 78), mostly because younger speakers tend to avoid characteristics from the Broad or the Cultivated (Cox 2005:20). One could say that the Broad and the Cultivated are the two ends since the Broad is more vulgar, carries connotations of masculinity and lack of culture while the Cultivated is more associated with femininity, snobbishness and a closer affiliation to Britain (Cox 2005: 21). After the second world war, a shift away from Britain occurred and so there were no greater social advantages to those speaking with a British accent (Cox 2005: 21). General AusE accent became more popular especially among younger people that didn’t sound like previous generations (Cox 2005: 23). Younger people followed the need to keep a distance from the Ethnic Broad variety, and this included immigrant families and their children (Cox 2005: 22). This way features of the Broad accent that were considered extreme were abandoned as time went by, following the socio-cultural changes and sociopolitical maturity in Australia after its independence (Cox & Palethorpe 2007: 341). Accent as a symbol of identity is also affected by other factors such as socio-demographic speaker characteristics, socio-economic factors and gender but also age difference, especially concerning the usage of different verb forms and also pronunciation of words (Collins, 2012: 81). Later generations of Australians also consider accent as an expression of their ethnic identity and use it as a means to express their solidarity to their ethnic group (Collins 2012: 82). The background of the user affects characteristics like the raising and lowering of vowels, sound substitutions and dropping or hypercorrection of sounds which differentiate accordingly if the user is Irish, Scottish or British (Burridge 2010: 231).