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About Australian English Language

Australian English (AusE, AuE, AusEng, en-AU) is the form of the English language spoken in Australia.

Socio-historical linguistic context

Australian English began diverging from British English shortly after the foundation of the Australian penal colony of New South Wales in 1788. British convicts sent there, (including Cockneys from London), came mostly from large English cities. They were joined by free settlers, military personnel and administrators, often with their families. However, a large part of the convict body were Irish, with at least 25% directly from Ireland, and others indirectly via Britain. There were other populations of convicts from non-English speaking areas of Britain, such as the Welsh and Scots. English was not spoken,[citation needed] or was poorly spoken, by a large part of the convict population and the dominant English input was that of Cockney from South-East England.

In 1827 Peter Cunningham, in his book Two Years in New South Wales, reported that native-born white Australians of the time—known as "currency lads and lasses" —spoke with a distinctive accent and vocabulary, with a strong Cockney influence. The transportation of convicts to Australia ended in 1868, but immigration of free settlers from Britain, Ireland and elsewhere continued.

The first of the Australian gold rushes, in the 1850s, began a much larger wave of immigration which would significantly influence the language. During the 1850s, when the UK was under economic hardship, about two per cent of its population emigrated to the Colony of New South Wales and the Colony of Victoria.

Among the changes wrought by the gold rushes was "Americanisation" of the language—the introduction of words, spellings, terms, and usages from North American English. The words imported included some later considered to be typically Australian, such as dirt and digger. Bonzer, which was once a common Australian slang word meaning "great", "superb" or "beautiful", is thought to have been a corruption of the American mining term bonanza, which means a rich vein of gold or silver and is itself a loanword from Spanish. The influx of American military personnel in World War II brought further American influence; though most words were short-lived; and only okay, you guys, and gee have persisted.

Since the 1950s the American influence on language in Australia has mostly come from pop culture, the mass media (books, magazines and television programs), computer software and the internet. Some words, such as freeway and truck, have even been naturalised so completely that few Australians recognise their origin.

One of the first writers to attempt renditions of Australian accents and vernacular was the novelist Joseph Furphy (a.k.a. Tom Collins), who wrote a popular account of rural New South Wales and Victoria during the 1880s, Such is Life (1903). C. J. Dennis wrote poems about working class life in Melbourne, such as The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915), which was extremely popular and was made into a popular silent film (The Sentimental Bloke; 1919). John O'Grady's novel They're a Weird Mob has many examples of pseudo-phonetically written Australian speech in Sydney during the 1950s, such as "owyergoinmateorright?" ("How are you going, mate? All right?"). Thomas Keneally's novels set in Australia, particularly The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, frequently use vernacular such as "yair" for "yes" and "noth-think" for "nothing". Other books of note are "Let Stalk Strine" by Afferbeck Lauder – where "Strine" is "Australian" and "Afferbeck Lauder" is "alphabetical order" (the book is in alphabetical order) – and "How to be Normal in Australia" by Robert Treborlang.

British words such as mobile (phone) predominate in most cases. Some American and British variants exist side-by-side; in many cases – freeway and motorway, for instance – regional, social and ethnic variation within Australia typically defines word usage.

Australian English is most similar to New Zealand English, due to their similar history and geographical proximity. Both use the expression different to (also encountered in British English, but not American) as well as different from.

Words of Irish origin are used, some of which are also common elsewhere in the Irish diaspora, such as bum for "backside" (Irish bun), tucker for "food", "provisions" (Irish tacar), as well as one or two native English words whose meaning have changed under Irish influence, such as paddock for "field", cf. Irish páirc, which has exactly the same meaning as the Australian paddock.

Australia adopted decimal currency in 1966 and the metric system in the 1970s. This, too has affected Australian English.

Variation and changes

Three main varieties of Australian English are spoken according to linguists: Broad, General and Cultivated. They are part of a continuum, reflecting variations in accent. They often, but not always, reflect the social class or educational background of the speaker.

Broad Australian English is recognisable and familiar to English speakers around the world because it is used to identify Australian characters in non-Australian films and television programs. Examples are television/film personalities Steve Irwin, and Paul Hogan. Slang terms Ocker, for a speaker, and Strine, a shortening of the word Australian for the dialect, are used in Australia.

The majority of Australians speak with the General Australian accent. This predominates among modern Australian films and television programs and is used by, for example, Eric Bana, Dannii Minogue, and Hugh Jackman.

Cultivated Australian English has some similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. Cultivated Australian English is spoken by some within Australian society, for example Cyril Ritchard and Judy Davis.

There are no strong variations in accent and pronunciation across different states and territories. Regional differences in pronunciation and vocabulary are small in comparison to those of the British and American English, and Australian pronunciation is determined less by region than by social, cultural and educational influences. In Tasmania, words such as "dance" and "grant" are usually heard with the older pronunciation of these words, using [æ], whereas in South Australia, [aː] is more common. Other regions of Australia show different patterns of pronunciation of words with this vowel sound.


Australian English is a non-rhotic accent and it is similar to the other Southern Hemisphere accents (New Zealand English and South African English). Like most dialects of English it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology.

The vowels of Australian English can be divided into two categories: long and short vowels. The short vowels, consisting only of monophthongs, mostly correspond to the lax vowels used in analyses of Received Pronunciation. The long vowels, consisting of both monophthongs and diphthongs, mostly correspond to its tense vowels and centring diphthongs. Unlike most varieties of English, it has a phonemic length distinction: that is, certain vowels differ only by length.

The following linguistic features of Australian English are generally employed by people with lower standards of education and socio-economic background, and those with higher economic and/or educational standards speak in a manner which does not compress, shorten or remove these features.

Many speakers have also coalesced /dj/, /sj/ and /tj/ into /dʒ/, /ʃ/ and /tʃ/, producing standard pronunciations such as /tʃʉːn/ for tune.

The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] before unstressed vowels (as in butter, party) and syllabic /l/ (bottle), as well as at the end of a word or morpheme before any vowel (what else, whatever). Thus, for most speakers, pairs such as ladder/latter, metal/medal, and coating/coding are pronounced identically. This is a quality that it shares with American English.

Both intervocalic /nt/ and /n/ may be realised as [n] or [ɾ̃], another trait which it shares with American English; it can make winter and winner homophones. Interesting will sound like inner-resting. Most areas in which /nt/ is reduced to /n/, it is accompanied further by nasalisation of simple post-vocalic /n/, so that V/nt/ and V/n/ remain phonemically distinct. In such cases, the preceding vowel becomes nasalised, and is followed in cases where the former /nt/ was present, by a distinct /n/. This stop-absorption by the preceding nasal /n/ does not occur when the second syllable is stressed, as in entails.


Australian English has many words that some consider unique to the language. One of the best known is outback, meaning a remote, sparsely populated area. Another is The Bush, meaning either a native forest or a country area in general. 'Bush' is a word of Dutch origin: 'Bosch'. However, both terms have been widely used in many English-speaking countries. Early settlers from England brought other similar words, phrases and usages to Australia. Many words used frequently by country Australians are, or were, also used in all or part of England, with variations in meaning. For example, creek in Australia, as in North America, means a stream or small river, whereas in the UK it means a small watercourse flowing into the sea; paddock in Australia means field, whereas in the UK it means a small enclosure for livestock; bush or scrub in Australia, as in North America, means a wooded area, whereas in England they are commonly used only in proper names (such as Shepherd's Bush and Wormwood Scrubs). Australian English and several British English dialects (for example, Cockney, Scouse, Glaswegian and Geordie) use the word mate.

The origins of other words are not as clear or are disputed. Dinkum (or "fair dinkum") can mean "true", "is that true?" or "this is the truth!” among other things, depending on context and inflection. It is often claimed that dinkum dates back to the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s, and that it is derived from the Cantonese (or Hokkien) ding kam, meaning, "top gold". But scholars give greater credence to the conjecture that it originated from the extinct East Midlands dialect in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant "hard work" or "fair work", which was also the original meaning in Australian English. The derivative dinky-di means 'true' or devoted: a 'dinky-di Aussie' is a 'true Australian'. However, this expression is limited to describing objects or actions that are characteristically Australian. The words dinkum or dinky-di and phrases like true blue are widely purported to be typical Australian sayings, even though they are more commonly used in jest or parody than as authentic slang.

Similarly, g'day, a stereotypical Australian greeting, is no longer synonymous with "good day" in other varieties of English and is never used as an expression for "farewell", as "good day" is in other countries. It is simply used as a greeting.

A few words of Australian origin are now used in other parts of the Anglosphere as well; among these are first past the post, to finalise, brownout, and the colloquialisms uni "university" and short of a meaning stupid or crazy, (e.g. "a few bricks short of a load" or "a sandwich short of a picnic".)

Influence of Australian Aboriginal languages

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been adopted by Australian English – mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example dingo). Beyond that, little has been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms and slang. Some examples are cooee and Hard yakka. The former is used as a high-pitched call, for attracting attention, (pronounced /kʉː.iː/) which travels long distances. Cooee is also a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Hard yakka means hard work and is derived from yakka, from the Yagara/Jagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region. Also from there is the word bung, meaning broken or pretending to be hurt. A failed piece of equipment may be described as having bunged up or as "on the bung" or "gone bung". A person pretending to be hurt is said to be "bunging it on". A hurt person could say, "I've got a bung knee".

Although didgeridoo, referring to a well-known wooden musical instrument, is often thought of as an Aboriginal word, it is now believed to be an onomatopoeic word invented by English speakers. It has also been suggested that it may have an Irish derivation because the word dúdaire means "pipe player" in Irish Gaelic, and dúdaire dubh [du:dɪrʲɪ du:] means 'black pipe player'. Many towns or suburbs of Australia are also have been influenced or named after Aboriginal words. The most well known example is the capital, Canberra named after a local language word meaning "meeting place".


Australian spelling is usually the same as British spelling, with only a few exceptions. As in British spelling, the 'u' is retained in words such as honour and favour, and words such as realise and authorise are more commonly spelt with the -ise ending than with -ize. The Macquarie Dictionary is generally used by publishers, schools, universities and governments as the standard spelling reference. Well-known differences from British spelling include 'program' which is more common than programme.

'Gaol' is the standard spelling, although 'Jail' is also sometimes seen.

There was a widely held belief in Australia that controversies over spelling resulted from the "Americanisation" of Australian English; the influence of American English in the late 20th century, but the debate over spelling is much older. For example, a pamphlet entitled The So-Called "American Spelling", published in Sydney some time before 1901, argued that "there is no valid etymological reason for the preservation of the u in such words as honor, labor, etc.", alluding to older British spellings which also used the -or ending. The pamphlet also claimed that "the tendency of people in Australasia is to excise the u, and one of the Sydney morning papers habitually does this, while the other generally follows the older form." Newspapers are not always a reliable guide to community preference and usage, as they are often more concerned about saving space. By way of example, circa 2007 Melbourne newspaper The Age finally changed its longstanding policy of omitting the u, in response to continuing complaints from its readers. One of the two major political parties is the Australian Labor Party, spelt without a 'u', although this was chosen for reasons of symbolism, rather than because it was the ordinary form used.


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