30 January 2011

Australian English

Excerpts from an interesting article at the OED (where the free access offer is entering its final week): 
Australian English differs from other Englishes primarily in its accent and vocabulary. The major features of the accent were established by the 1830s. In the period between colonial settlement (1788) and the 1830s, when the foundation accent was being forged, new lexical items to describe the new environment...

And then, at the end of the nineteenth century, something curious and largely unpredictable happened to Australian English. In response to a newly-developed concept of Received Pronunciation in Britain, which was closely tied to notions of social prestige, some Australian speakers modified their vowels and diphthongs in order to move them towards the British exemplars. From the 1890s, and well into the 1950s, elocution was in the air, and elocution teachers found a ready market for the teaching of British vowels and diphthongs to the socially-aspirational classes. This modified form of Australian speech came to be called Cultivated Australian.

As if in response against this new British-based Cultivated Australian, a diametrically opposed form of Australian English developed in the first part of the twentieth century. This form moved the Australian vowels and diphthongs even further away from what was now the British standard of pronunciation, and emphasized nasality, flatness of intonation, and the elision of syllables.This second modified form of Australian speech came to be called Broad Australian. While it is true that when non-Australians hear any Australian say ‘mate’ or ‘race’ they are likely to mistake the words for ‘mite’ and ‘rice’, the mishearing is most likely to occur with speakers of Broad Australian.

The majority of Australians continued to speak with the accent that had been established in the first fifty years of settlement, and this form of speech came to be known as General Australian. General Australian was now book-ended by Cultivated Australian and Broad Australian, and these forms of Australian English came to carry with them very different sets of values. Cultivated Australian, for example, came to express a longing for British values and a nostalgia for a country that was still regarded by many as ‘home’. Broad Australian was strongly nationalistic, and carried with it notions of egalitarianism that were antagonistic to a perceived class-obsessed and hierarchical Britain....
More at the link, especially regarding the lexis.


  1. As an Australian interested in language, I'm ashamed to say these concepts are new to me!

  2. I'm also Australian (and something of a backyard linguist), and had never heard of Cultivated Australian or General Australian either (shime!). Broad Australian is a term I've often heard used, but I always thought that 'broad' was being used as a normal adjective and just meant 'thick' or 'heavy' when applied to accents in general. It all makes sense now!

    Anyone wanting to hear these varieties would do well to watch the Australian comedy series "Kath and Kim", where the accents are clearly distinguished according to social/class divisions. From what I can gather, the predominant accent used is Broad, while K&K's posh counterparts "Prue and Trude" (or "Proi and Troid") use Cultivated Australian. There is a marriage counselor who, thinking back, I believe uses General Australian. There are some clips on YouTube for those interested (most NSFW), just make sure you get the Australian series and not the US one.

  3. Then there's this:


  4. I was just about to link to the Miss Cellania post on Australian English. I'm Australian, and its hilariously spot on! lol.

    Very fascinated with how Australian English developed though - great link to the OED, thanks.


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