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Variation in Australian English

Australian English is relatively homogeneous when compared with British and American English. The major varieties of Australian English are sociocultural rather than regional, being general, broad and cultivated Australian.

There exist a number of Australian English-based creole languages. Differing significantly from English, these are not considered dialects of English; rather, they are considered separate languages. Notable examples are Torres Strait Creole, spoken on the Torres Strait Islands, Northern Cape York and South-Western Coastal Papua; the Norfuk language, spoken by some inhabitants of Norfolk Island and Australian Kriol language, which developed in and around the Sydney region in the days of early settlement, now exists only in rural areas of the Northern Territory.

Sociocultural variation

Broad, general and cultivated Australian

Variation in Australian closing diphthongs[1]
Diaphoneme Lexical set Cultivated General Broad
/iː/ FLEECE [ɪi] [ɪi] [əːɪ]
/eɪ/ FACE [ɛɪ] [ɐ̟ɪ] [ɐ̟ːɪ, a̠ːɪ]
/aɪ/ PRICE [a̠ɪ̞] [ɒɪ̞] [ɒːɪ̞]
/uː/ GOOSE [ʊu] [ïɯ, ʊʉ] [əːʉ]
/oʊ/ GOAT [ö̞ʊ] [ɐ̟ʉ] [ɐ̟ːʉ, a̠ːʉ]
/aʊ/ MOUTH [a̠ʊ] [æo] [ɛːo, ɛ̃ːɤ]

Three main varieties of Australian English are spoken according to linguists: broad, general and cultivated.[2] They are part of a continuum, reflecting variations in accent. They can, but do not always, reflect the social class, education and urban or rural background of the speaker.[3]

Broad Australian English is recognisable and familiar to English speakers around the world. It is prevalent nationwide but is especially common in rural areas. Examples of people with this accent are Steve Irwin and Paul Hogan.[4] In Australia, this dialect is sometimes called Strine (or "Strayan", a shortening of the word Australian), and a speaker of the dialect may be referred to as an Ocker. Tests indicated that the Broad speakers demonstrated a greater tendency for syllable assimilation and consonant elision, were more likely to use weak consonants or restricted intonation (narrow pitch range), were more likely to speak slowly (drawl), and further, showed a greater tendency to exhibit pervasive nasality.

The most common of Australian accents[5][6] is known as General Australian English. It is especially prominent in urban Australia and is used as a standard language for Australian films, television programs and advertising and is used by Hugh Jackman, John Howard and Eric Bana.

Cultivated Australian English has some similarities to Received Pronunciation. In recent generations, it has fallen sharply in usage.[5][6] Cultivated Australian English has in the past been perceived as indicating high social class or education. It is spoken by Malcolm Fraser, Alexander Downer, Christopher Pyne, Cyril Ritchard and Geoffrey Rush.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander English

Australian Aboriginal English refers to a dialect of Australian English used by a large proportion of Indigenous Australians. It 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. The dialect is not to be confused with Australian Kriol language, which is not mutually intelligible with Australian English but in fact a separate language spoken by over 30,000 people. On the Torres Strait Islands, a distinctive dialect known as Torres Strait English, the furthest extent of which is Torres Strait Creole, is spoken.[7]

Ethnocultural varieties

The ethnocultural dialects are diverse accents in Australian English that are spoken by the minority groups, which are of non-English speaking background.[8] A massive immigration from Asia has made a large increase in diversity and the will for people to show their cultural identity within the Australian context.[9] 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 the Afro-Asiatic and Asian languages.[7] In the 1960s, major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne received large amounts of immigrants from Southern Europe and the Middle East (Italians, Greeks, Lebanese, Maltese, Yugoslavians, Armenians etc), the second generation of these immigrants can also have a distinct accent, in a similar situation as the east coast of the United States with descendants of European migrants having the "Jersey accent".

Regional variation

Although relatively homogeneous, some regional variations in Australian English are notable. The dialects of English spoken in the eastern states, where the majority of the population lives, differ somewhat to that spoken in South Australia and Western Australia. Another notable dialect is Torres Strait English, spoken by the inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands. Torres Strait English, as distinct from Torres Strait Creole, developed separately to, but has been significantly influenced by, General Australian English.

The regional varieties of English can be distinguished in terms of vocabulary and phonology. With each local dialect taking words from various sources such as British, Irish and American English as well as local Aboriginal languages, it is in vocabulary where regional varieties are most distinct from each other. Regional phonological features may be inherited due to differing settlement patterns or may have developed locally.


Regional variation in Australia consists primarily of differences in vocabulary rather than tone or accent.

There are differences in the names of beer glasses from one area to another. In the 2000s, however, the range of glass sizes in actual use has been greatly reduced. In New South Wales, swimwear is known as swimmers or cossie and, in Queensland, it is togs. In most other areas, the term bathers dominates. What is referred to by schoolchildren as a bag in most parts of Australia is known as a "port" by some Queenslanders. Further, the processed meat known as "devon" on the East Coast is known as "polony" on the West Coast, while in Central Australia (South Australia and the Northern Territory), the term "fritz" is used.

Many regional variations are due to Australians' passion for sport and the differences in non-linguistic traditions from one state to another: the word football refers to the most popular code of football in different States or regions, or even ethnic groups within them. Victorians start a game of Australian rules football with a ball up, Western Australians with a bounce down; New South Wales people and Queenslanders start a game of rugby league football or rugby union football with a kick off, as do soccer players across Australia.

From 2004, the national governing body for Association football, (the Football Federation Australia), has promoted the use of "football" in place of "soccer". Several media outlets have adopted this use,[10][11] while others have stuck with "soccer".[12][13][14][15][16] However, use of the word "football" to mean either Australian football or rugby league, depending on the major code of the state, remains the standard usage in Australia. In all places, the specific name or nickname of the code ("soccer", "league", "union" or "Aussie rules") can often be heard used for disambiguation.

The slang word footy has been traditionally associated with either Australian rules football (Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory) or rugby league football (New South Wales, Queensland). Prominent examples in popular culture are The Footy Shows; also FootyTAB, a betting wing of the NSW TAB. The use of "footy" in Australia parallels its use in other countries: New Zealand usage to refer to rugby union.

For many Australians, the verb barrack (or the accompanying noun form barracker), is used to denote following a team or club. Barrack has its origins in British English, although in the UK it now usually means to jeer or denigrate an opposing team or players. The expression "root (or rooting) for a team", as used in the United States, is not generally used in Australia (root is slang for sexual intercourse in Australia).

There are many regional variations for describing social classes or subcultures. A bogan is also referred to as a bevan in Queensland. These variations however, have almost completely been replaced by the term bogan.

Distinctive grammatical patterns also exist such as the use of the interrogative eh? and the position of the word but at the end of a sentence in Queensland ("But I don't like him" becomes "I don't like him but").


Variation between /aː/ and /æ/

There exists significant regional variation in terms of the extent to which the trap–bath split has taken hold particularly before /nd/ (especially the suffix -mand), /ns/, /nt/, /ntʃ/ and /mpl/. In words like chance, plant, branch, sample and demand, the majority of Australians use /æː/ (as in bad). Some, however, use /aː/ (as in cart) in these words, particularly in South Australia, which had a different settlement chronology and type from other parts of the country.[citation needed] In Victoria, castle rhymes with hassle rather than parcel. Also, some may use /æː/ in grasp, gasp, plaque and rasp.[17] The table below, based on Crystal (1995), shows the percentage of speakers from different capital cities who pronounce words with /aː/ as opposed to /æ/.

Use of /aː/ as opposed to /æ/
Word Hobart Melbourne Brisbane Sydney Adelaide Ave. over all five cities
graph 0% 30% 56% 70% 86% 48%
chance 0% 60% 25% 80% 86% 50%
demand 10% 78% 78% 90% 100% 71%
dance 10% 35% 11% 30% 86% 34%
castle 60% 30% 33% 100% 86% 62%
grasp 90% 89% 89% 95% 100% 93%
to contrast 100% 100% 100% 100% 71% 94%
Ave. over all seven words 39% 60% 56% 81% 88% 65%
Centring diphthongs

In Western Australian English, the vowels in near and square are typically realised as centring diphthongs, [iə] or [iɐ] and [eə] or [eɐ] respectively, whereas in the eastern states they may also be realised as monophthongs, [iː] and [eː] respectively.[18]


When /l/ occurs at the ends of words before pauses and before consonants it sometimes sounds like a vowel sound rather than a consonant. This is because /l/ is made with two different articulations. One of the articulations is like a vowel articulation and the other is more like a typical consonant articulation. When /l/ occurs at the ends of words before pauses and before other consonants, the consonantal articulation can be obscured by the vowel articulation. This makes the /l/ sound like /ʊ/.[19]

The tendency for some /l/ sounds to become vowels is more common in South Australian English than that of other states. Milk, for example, in South Australia has a vocalised /l/, leading to the pronunciation [mɪʊ̯k], whereas in other states the /l/ is pronounced as a consonant.[citation needed]

Salary–celery merger

In Victoria, many speakers pronounce the "a" and "e" vowels in a way that is distinct from speakers in other states.[citation needed] For many younger speakers from Victoria, the first vowel in "celery" and "salary" are the same, so that both words sound like "salary".[citation needed] These speakers will also tend to say "halicopter" instead of "helicopter", and pronounce their capital city (Melbourne) as "Malbn" with an "A" instead of an "E".[citation needed] For many older Victorian speakers, the words "celery" and "salary" also sound the same but instead both sound like "celery".[citation needed] These speakers will also pronounce words such as "alps" as "elps".[citation needed]

Variation in /uːl/

The vowel in words like "pool", "school" and "fool" varies regionally.

See also


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (1982), Accents of English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 597 
  2. ^ Robert Mannell (14 August 2009). "Robert Mannell, "Impressionistic Studies of Australian English Phonetics"". Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  3. ^ Australia's unique and evolving sound Edition 34, 2007 (23 August 2007) – The Macquarie Globe
  4. ^ Lauren Gawne (29 November 2011). "Accent on politicians' speech misses the point". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Struth! Someone's nicked me Strine – Sushi Das – Opinion". 28 January 2005. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  6. ^ a b Amy Corderoy (26 January 2010). "Evolution of Australian accent | interactive website". Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  7. ^ a b "ethnocultural voices | Australian Voices". 29 July 2010. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  8. ^ "australian english | Australian Voices". 30 July 2010. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  9. ^ "australian english defined | Australian Voices". 25 October 2009. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  10. ^ "Foxsports". 
  11. ^ "Sydney Morning Herald". 23 December 2012. 
  12. ^ "Daily Telegraph". 
  13. ^ Herald Sun[dead link]
  14. ^ The Courier-Mail[dead link]
  15. ^ "West Australian". 
  16. ^ The Advertiser[dead link]
  17. ^ Felicity Cox and Robert Mannell (9 August 2009). "Australian English Transcription Practice Exercises – Orthography". Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  18. ^ "regional accents | Australian Voices". Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  19. ^ "audio illustrations | Australian Voices". 29 July 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2011.