|18.5 million in Australia (2021)|
5 million L2 speakers of English in Australia (approx 2021)
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Higher category: Language
Australian English (AusE, AusEng, AuE, AuEng, en-AU) is the set of varieties of the English language native to Australia.
Australian English is the country's common language and de facto national language. While Australia has no official language, English is the first language of the majority of the population, being the only language spoken in the home for about 72.7% of Australians. It is also the main language used in compulsory education, as well as federal, state and territorial legislatures and courts.
Australian English began to diverge from British and Irish English after the First Fleet established the Colony of New South Wales in 1788. Australian English arose from a dialectal 'melting pot' created by the intermingling of early settlers who were from a variety of dialectal regions of Great Britain and Ireland. By the 1820s, the native-born colonists' speech was recognisably distinct from speakers in Britain and Ireland.
Australian English differs from other varieties in its phonology, pronunciation, lexicon, idiom, grammar and spelling. Australian English is relatively consistent across the continent, however it encompasses numerous regional and sociocultural varieties. 'General Australian' describes the de-facto standard dialect, which is perceived to be free of pronounced regional or sociocultural markers and that is often used in the media.
The earliest Australian English was spoken by the first generation of native-born colonists in the Colony of New South Wales from the end of the 18th century. These native-born children were exposed to a wide range of dialects from across the British Isles. The process of dialect levelling and koineisation which ensued produced a relatively homogenous new variety of English which was easily understood by all. Peter Miller Cunningham's 1827 book Two Years in New South Wales described the distinctive accent and vocabulary that had developed among the native-born colonists.
The dialects of South East England, including most notably the traditional Cockney dialect of London, were particularly influential on the development of the new variety and constituted 'the major input of the various sounds that went into constructing' Australian English. All the other regions of England were represented among the early colonists. A large proportion of early convicts and colonists were from Ireland, and spoke Irish as a sole or first language. They were joined by other non-native speakers of English from Scotland and Wales.
The first of the Australian gold rushes in the 1850s began a large wave of immigration, during which about two percent of the population of the United Kingdom emigrated to the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria. The Gold Rushes brought immigrants and linguistic influences from many parts of the world. An example was the introduction of vocabulary from American English, including some terms later considered to be typically Australian, such as bushwhacker and squatter. This American influence was continued with the popularity of American films from the early 20th century and the influx of American military personnel during World War II; seen in the enduring persistence of such universally-accepted terms as okay and guys.
The publication of Edward Ellis Morris's Austral English: A Dictionary Of Australasian Words, Phrases And Usages in 1898, which extensively catalogued Australian English vocabulary, started a wave of academic interest and codification during the 20th century which resulted in Australian English becoming established as an endonormative variety with its own internal norms and standards. This culminated in publications such as the 1981 first edition of the Macquarie Dictionary, a major English language dictionary based on Australian usage, and the 1988 first edition of The Australian National Dictionary, a historical dictionary documenting the history of Australian English vocabulary and idiom.
The most obvious way in which Australian English is distinctive from other varieties of English is through its unique pronunciation. It shares most similarity with New Zealand English. Like most dialects of English, it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology.
The vowels of Australian English can be divided according to length. The long vowels, which include monophthongs and diphthongs, mostly correspond to the tense vowels used in analyses of Received Pronunciation (RP) as well as its centring diphthongs. The short vowels, consisting only of monophthongs, correspond to the RP lax vowels.
There exist pairs of long and short vowels with overlapping vowel quality giving Australian English phonemic length distinction, which is also present in some regional south-eastern dialects of the UK and eastern seaboard dialects in the US. An example of this feature is the distinction between ferry /ˈfeɹiː/ and fairy /ˈfeːɹiː/.
As with New Zealand English and General American English, the weak-vowel merger is complete in Australian English: unstressed /ɪ/ is merged into /ə/ (schwa), unless it is followed by a velar consonant. Examples of this feature are the following pairings, which are pronounced identically in Australian English: Rosa's and roses, as well as Lennon and Lenin. Other examples are the following pairs, which rhyme in Australian English: abbott with rabbit, and dig it with bigot.
Most varieties of Australian English exhibit only a partial trap-bath split. The words bath, grass and can't are always pronounced with the "long" /aː/ of father. Throughout the majority of the country, the "flat" /æ/ of man is the dominant pronunciation for the a vowel in the following words: dance, advance, plant, example and answer. The exception is the state of South Australia, where a more advanced trap-bath split has taken place, and where the dominant pronunciation of all the preceding words incorporates the "long" /aː/ of father.
|short vowels||long vowels|
|ʊ||foot, hood, chook||ʉː[nb 1]||goose, boo, who'd||ɪə||near, beard, hear[nb 2]|
|ɪ||kit, bid, hid,||iː[nb 3]||fleece, bead, heat||æɔ||mouth, bowed, how'd|
|e||dress, led, head||eː||square, bared, haired||əʉ||goat, bode, hoed|
|ə||comma, about, winter||ɜː||nurse, bird, heard||æɪ||face, bait, made|
|æ||trap, lad, had||æː||bad, sad, mad||ɑɪ||price, bite, hide|
|a||strut, bud, hud||aː||start, palm, bath[nb 4]||oɪ||choice, boy, oil|
|ɔ||lot, cloth, hot||oː||thought, north, force|
There is little variation in the sets of consonants used in different English dialects but there are variations in how these consonants are used. Australian English is no exception.
Australian English is uniformly non-rhotic; that is, the /r/ sound does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. As with many non-rhotic dialects, linking /r/ can occur when a word that has a final ⟨r⟩ in the spelling comes before another word that starts with a vowel. An intrusive /r/ may similarly be inserted before a vowel in words that do not have ⟨r⟩ in the spelling in certain environments, namely after the long vowel /oː/ and after word final /ə/. This can be heard in "law-r-and order," where an intrusive R is voiced after the W and before the A.
As with North American English, Intervocalic alveolar flapping is a feature of Australian English: prevocalic /t/ and /d/ surface as the alveolar tap [ɾ] after sonorants other than /m, ŋ/ as well as at the end of a word or morpheme before any vowel in the same breath group. Examples of this feature are that the following pairs are pronounced similarly or identically: latter and ladder, as well as rated and raided.
Yod-dropping generally occurs after /s/, /l/, /z/, /θ/ but not after /t/, /d/ and /n/. Accordingly, suit is pronounced as /sʉːt/, lute as /ˈlʉːt/, Zeus as /ˈzʉːs/ and enthusiasm as /enˈθʉːziːæzəm/. Other cases of /sj/ and /zj/, as well as /tj/ and /dj/, have coalesced to /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ respectively for many speakers. /j/ is generally retained in other consonant clusters.
In common with most varieties of Scottish English and American English, the phoneme /l/ is pronounced as a "dark" (velarised) l ([ɫ]) in almost all positions, unlike other dialects such as Received Pronunciation and Hiberno (Irish) English, where a light l (i.e. a non-velarised l) is used in many positions.
The wine–whine merger is complete in Australian English.
Differences in stress, weak forms and standard pronunciation of isolated words occur between Australian English and other forms of English, which while noticeable do not impair intelligibility.
The affixes -ary, -ery, -ory, -bury, -berry and -mony (seen in words such as necessary, mulberry and matrimony) can be pronounced either with a full vowel or a schwa. Although some words like necessary are almost universally pronounced with the full vowel, older generations of Australians are relatively likely to pronounce these affixes with a schwa while younger generations are relatively likely to use a full vowel.
Words ending in unstressed -ile derived from Latin adjectives ending in -ilis are pronounced with a full vowel (/ɑɪl/), so that fertile sounds like fur tile rather than rhyming with turtle.
In addition, miscellaneous pronunciation differences exist when compared with other varieties of English in relation to various isolated words. For example, as with American English, the vowel in yoghurt and the prefix homo- (as in homosexual or homophobic) is pronounced as /əʉ/ ("long o") rather than /ɔ/ ("short o"); vitamin, migraine and privacy are pronounced with /ɑɪ/ (as in mine) rather than /ɪ/, /i:/ and /ɪ/ respectively; the prefix paedo- (as in paedophile) is pronounced with /e/ (as in red) rather than /i:/; many loanwords with /æ/ in British English (e.g. pasta) are pronounced with /aː/; urinal is stressed on the first syllable and pronounced with schwa /ə/ rather than the second syllable and /ɑɪ/ ("long i"); harass and harassment are pronounced with the stress on the second, rather than the first syllable; and the suffix -sia (as in Malaysia, Indonesia and Polynesia) is pronounced /-ʒə/ rather than /-ziːə/, and the word foyer is pronounced /ˈfoɪə/, rather than /ˈfoɪæɪ/. As with British English, advertisement is stressed on the second syllable and pronounced with /ɪ̝/; tomato and vase are pronounced with /aː/ (as in father) instead of /æɪ/; zebra is pronounced with /e/ (as in red) rather than /iː/; basil is pronounced with /æ/ ("short a") rather than /æɪ/ ("long a"); buoy is pronounced as /boɪ/ (as in boy) rather than /ˈbʉːiː/; e in congress and progress is also pronounced with /e/ rather than the schwa; and the on in both silicon and phenomenon are pronounced with the schwa rather than the short o.
Examples of miscellaneous pronunciations which contrast with both standard American and British usages are data, which is pronounced with /aː/ ("dah") instead of /æɪ/ ("day"); maroon (colour), pronounced with /əʉ/ ("own") as opposed to /ʉː/ ("oon"); and cache, pronounced with /æɪ/ as opposed to /æ/. For many Australians, (un)precedent(ed) is mainly pronounced with /iː/ ("pree"), in addition to /e/ ("press"), regardless of their specific accent.
Relative to many other national dialect groupings, Australian English is relatively homogenous across the country. Some relatively minor regional differences in pronunciation exist. A limited range of word choices is strongly regional in nature. Consequently, the geographical background of individuals may be inferred if they use words that are peculiar to particular Australian states or territories and, in some cases, even smaller regions. In addition, some Australians speak creole languages derived from Australian English, such as Australian Kriol, Torres Strait Creole and Norfuk.
Although Australian English is relatively homogeneous, there are some regional variations. The dialects of English spoken in the various states and territories of Australia differ slightly in vocabulary and phonology.
Most regional differences are in word usage. Swimming clothes are known as cossies (pronounced "cozzies") or swimmers in New South Wales, togs in Queensland, and bathers in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia. What Queensland calls a stroller is usually called a pram in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania.
Preference for some synonymous words also differ between states. Garbage (i.e., garbage bin, garbage truck) dominates over rubbish in New South Wales and Queensland, while rubbish is more popular in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia.
Additionally, the word footy generally refers to the most popular football code in an area; that is, rugby league or rugby union depending on the local area, in most of New South Wales and Queensland, and Australian rules football elsewhere. In some pockets of Melbourne & Western Sydney it will refer to Association football. Beer glasses are also named differently in different states. Distinctive grammatical patterns exist such as the use of the interrogative eh (also spelled ay or aye), which is particularly associated with Queensland. Secret Santa and Kris Kringle are used in all states, with the former being more common in Queensland.
The most pronounced variation in phonology is between South Australia and the other states and territories. The trap–bath split is more complete in South Australia, in contrast to the other states. Accordingly, words such as dance, advance, plant, example and answer are pronounced with /aː/ (as in father) far more frequently in South Australia while the older /æ/ (as in mad) is dominant elsewhere in Australia. L-vocalisation is also more common in South Australia than other states.
In Western Australian and Queensland English, the vowels in near and square are typically realised as centring diphthongs ("nee-ya"), whereas in the other states they may also be realised as monophthongs.
A feature common in Victorian English is salary–celery merger, whereby a Victorian pronunciation of Ellen may sound like Alan and Victoria's capital city Melbourne may sound like Malbourne to speakers from other states. There is also regional variation in /ʉː/ before /l/ (as in school and pool).
In some parts of Australia, notably Victoria, a fully backed allophone of /ʉː/, transcribed [ʊː], is common before /l/. As a result, the pairs full/fool and pull/pool differ phonetically only in vowel length for those speakers. The usual allophone for /ʉː/ is further forward in Queensland and New South Wales than Victoria and the aforementioned pairs do not rhyme.
The General Australian accent serves as the standard variety of English across the country. According to linguists, it emerged during the 19th century. General Australian is the dominant variety across the continent, and is particularly so in urban areas. The increasing dominance of General Australian reflects its prominence on radio and television since the latter half of the 20th century.
Recent generations have seen a comparatively smaller proportion of the population speaking with the Broad sociocultural variant, which differs from General Australian in its phonology. The Broad variant is also found across the continent and is relatively more prominent in rural and outer-suburban areas.
A largely historical Cultivated sociocultural variant, which adopted features of British Received Pronunciation and which was commonplace in official media during the early 20th century, had become largely extinct by the onset of the 21st century.
Australian Aboriginal English is made up of a range of forms which developed differently in different parts of Australia, and are said to vary along a continuum, from forms close to Standard Australian English to more non-standard forms. There are distinctive features of accent, grammar, words and meanings, as well as language use.
Academics have also noted the emergency of numerous ethnocultural dialects of Australian English that are spoken by people from some minority non-English speaking backgrounds. These ethnocultural varieties contain features of General Australian English as adopted by the children of immigrants blended with some non-English language features, such as Afro-Asiatic languages and languages of Asia. Samoan English is also influencing Australian English.
Australian English has many words and idioms which are unique to the dialect and have been written on extensively.
Internationally well-known examples of Australian terminology include outback, meaning a remote, sparsely populated area, the bush, meaning either a native forest or a country area in general, and g'day, a greeting. Dinkum, or fair dinkum means "true" or "is that true?", among other things, depending on context and inflection. The derivative dinky-di means "true" or devoted: a "dinky-di Aussie" is a "true Australian".
Australian poetry, such as "The Man from Snowy River", as well as folk songs such as "Waltzing Matilda", contain many historical Australian words and phrases that are understood by Australians even though some are not in common usage today.
Several words used by Australians were at one time used in the United Kingdom but have since fallen out of usage or changed in meaning there. For example, creek in Australia, as in North America, means a stream or small river, whereas in the UK it is typically a watercourse in a marshy area; 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).
Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been adopted by Australian English—mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example dingo) and local culture. Many such are localised, and do not form part of general Australian use, while others, such as kangaroo, boomerang, budgerigar, wallaby and so on have become international. Other examples are cooee and hard yakka. The former is used as a high-pitched call, for attracting attention, (pronounced /ˈkʉːiː/) 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 Jagera/Yagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region. Also of Aboriginal origin is the word bung, from the Sydney pidgin English (and ultimately from the Sydney Aboriginal language), meaning "dead", with some extension to "broken" or "useless". Many towns or suburbs of Australia have also been influenced or named after Aboriginal words. The best-known example is the capital, Canberra, named after a local Ngunnawal language word meaning "meeting place".
Litotes, such as "not bad", "not much" and "you're not wrong", are also used. Diminutives and hypocorisms are common and are often used to indicate familiarity. Some common examples are arvo (afternoon), barbie (barbecue), smoko (cigarette break), Aussie (Australian) and Straya (Australia). This may also be done with people's names to create nicknames (other English speaking countries create similar diminutives). For example, "Gazza" from Gary, or "Smitty" from John Smith. The use of the suffix -o originates in Irish: ó, which is both a postclitic and a suffix with much the same meaning as in Australian English.
In informal speech, incomplete comparisons are sometimes used, such as "sweet as" (as in "That car is sweet as."). "Full", "fully" or "heaps" may precede a word to act as an intensifier (as in "The waves at the beach were heaps good."). This was more common in regional Australia and South Australia[when?] but has been in common usage in urban Australia for decades. The suffix "-ly" is sometimes omitted in broader Australian English. For instance, "really good" can become "real good".
Australia's switch to the metric system in the 1970s changed most of the country's vocabulary of measurement from imperial to metric measures. Since the switch to metric, heights of individuals are listed in centimetres on official documents such as a driver's licence and distances by road on signs are listed in terms of kilometres and metres.
Where British and American English vocabulary differs, sometimes Australian English shares a usage with one of those varieties, as with petrol (AmE: gasoline) and mobile phone (AmE: cellular phone) which are shared with British English, or truck (BrE: lorry) and eggplant (BrE: aubergine) which are shared with American English.
In other circumstances, Australian English sometimes favours a usage with is different from both British and American English as with:
Differences exist between Australian English and other varieties of English, where different terms can be used for the same subject or the same term can be ascribed different meanings. Non-exhaustive examples of terminology associated with food, transport and clothing is used below to demonstrate the variations which exist between Australian English and other varieties:
There also exist words which in Australian English are ascribed different meanings from those ascribed in other varieties of English, for instance:
In addition to the large number of uniquely Australian idioms in common use, there are instances of idioms taking different forms in Australian English than in other varieties, for instance:
There are extensive terms used in other varieties of English which are not widely used in Australian English. These terms usually do not result in Australian English speakers failing to comprehend speakers of other varieties of English, as Australian English speakers will often be familiar with such terms through exposure to media or may ascertain the meaning using context.
Non-exhaustive selections of British English and American English terms not commonly used in Australian English together with their definitions or Australian English equivalents are found in the collapsible table below:
The general rules of English Grammar which apply to Australian English are described at English grammar. Grammatical differences between varieties of English are minor relative to differences in phonology and vocabulary and do not generally affect intelligibility. Examples of grammatical differences between Australian English and other varieties include:
As in all English-speaking countries, there is no central authority that prescribes official usage with respect to matters of spelling, grammar, punctuation or style.
There are several dictionaries of Australian English which adopt a descriptive approach. The Macquarie Dictionary is most commonly used by universities, governments and courts as the standard for Australian English spelling. The Australian Oxford Dictionary is another commonly-used dictionary of Australian English.
Australian spelling is significantly closer to British than American spelling, as it did not adopt the systematic reforms promulgated in Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary. Notwithstanding, the Macquarie Dictionary often lists most American spellings as acceptable secondary variants.
The minor systematic differences which occur between Australian and American spelling are summarised below:
Furthermore, words with ae and oe are often maintained in words such as oestrogen and paedophilia, in contrast to the American English practice of using e alone (as in estrogen and pedophilia). The Macquarie Dictionary has noted a shift within Australian English towards using e alone, and now lists some words such as encyclopedia, fetus, eon or hematite with the e spelling as the preferred variant and hence Australian English varies by word when it comes to these sets of words.
Minor systematic difference which occur between Australian and British spelling are as follows:
Additionally, when it comes to -t and -ed endings for past tense verbs, the Macquarie Dictionary varies by word. The Macquarie Dictionary favours leaped, leaned or learned (with -ed endings) but spelt and burnt (with -t endings).
Other examples of individual words where the preferred spelling is listed by the Macquarie Dictionary as being different from current British spellings include analog as opposed to analogue, guerilla as opposed to guerrilla, verandah as opposed to veranda, burqa as opposed to burka, pastie (noun) as opposed to pasty, neuron as opposed to neurone, hicup as opposed to hicough, annex as opposed to annexe, etc. Unspaced forms such as onto, anytime, alright and anymore are also listed as being equally as acceptable as their spaced counterparts.
Different spellings have existed throughout Australia's history. What are today regarded as American spellings were popular in Australia throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the Victorian Department of Education endorsing them into the 1970s and The Age newspaper until the 1990s. This influence can be seen in the spelling of the Australian Labor Party and also in some place names such as Victor Harbor. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary has been attributed with re-establishing the dominance of the British spellings in the 1920s and 1930s. For a short time during the late 20th century, Harry Lindgren's 1969 spelling reform proposal (Spelling Reform 1 or SR1) gained some support in Australia and was adopted by the Australian Teachers' Federation.
Prominent general style guides for Australian English include the Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage, the Australian Government Style Manual (formerly the Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers), the Australian Handbook for Writers and Editors and the Complete Guide to English Usage for Australian Students.
Both single and double quotation marks are in use, with single quotation marks preferred for use in the first instance, with double quotation marks reserved for quotes of speech within speech. Logical (as opposed to typesetter's) punctuation is preferred for punctuation marks at the end of quotations. For instance, Sam said he 'wasn't happy when Jane told David to "go away"'. is used in preference to Sam said he "wasn't happy when Jane told David to 'go away.'"
The DD/MM/YYYY date format is followed and the 12-hour clock is generally used in everyday life (as opposed to service, police, and airline applications).
There are two major English language keyboard layouts, the United States layout and the United Kingdom layout. Keyboards and keyboard software for the Australian market universally uses the US keyboard layout, which lacks the pound sterling, euro and negation symbols and uses a different layout for punctuation symbols than the UK keyboard layout.
Measurements used by people in their private lives, in conversation or in estimation of sizes had not noticeably changed nor was such a change even attempted or thought necessary.
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