Broad Australian

Australian English

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


Australian English began diverging from British English shortly after the foundation of the Australian penal colony of New South Wales (NSW) 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.

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 goldrushes, in the 1850s, began a much larger wave of immigration, which would significantly influence the language. During the 1850s, when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was under economic hardship, about two per cent of its population emigrated to the Colony of NSW 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. Bonza, 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 American influence has mostly arrived via pop culture, the mass media books, magazines, television programs, and computer software and the world wide web. Some words, such as freeway and truck, have even naturalised so completely that few Australians recognise their origin.

British words predominate: as mobile or mobile phone. Some American and British English variants exist side-by-side, as TV and telly (an abbreviation of television). In many cases telly versus TV and SMS versus text, 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, each having a shared history and geographical proximity. Both use the expression different to (also encountered in British English, but not American) as well as different from.

There is also some influence from Irish English, but perhaps not as much as might be expected given that many Australians are of Irish descent. Influences include the Irish word 'Ta' for thank you and also the pronunciation of the name of the letter "H" as "haitch" /hæɪtʃ/, which can sometimes be heard amongst speakers of "Broad Australian English", rather than the unaspirated "aitch" /æɪtʃ/ more common among English speakers worldwide. This is also true of the Scouse accent in Liverpool where many Irish people settled at the same time as emigrating to Australia, and the United States.

Other Irish influences include the non-standard plural of "you" as "youse" /jʉːz/, sometimes used informally in Australia, and the expression "good on you" or "good onya". Of these, the former is common in parts of North America and in working class South African English, while the latter is encountered in New Zealand English and British English. Another Irish influence is use of the word me replacing my, such as in the phrase Where's me hat? This usage is generally restricted to informal situations.


Australian English is a non-rhotic dialect. It is most similar to New Zealand English and bears some resemblance to dialects from the Southeast of England, particularly those of Cockney and Received Pronunciation. 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.

Australian English consonants are similar to those of other non-rhotic varieties of English. In comparison to other varieties, it has a flapped variant of /t/ and /d/ in similar environments, as in American English. Many speakers have also coalesced /dj/, /sj/ and /tj/ into /dʒ/, /ʃ/ and /tʃ/, producing standard pronunciations such as /tʃʉːn/ for tune.


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 bush, meaning either a native forest or a country area in general. However, both terms have been widely used in many English-speaking countries. The convicts 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 United Kingdom 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 (it can be used at night time) and is never used as an expression for "farewell", as "good day" is in other countries.

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 / 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" in Irish Gaelic.

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 beers short of a six pack").


Australian spelling is usually the same as British spelling, with only a few exceptions. The Macquarie Dictionary is generally used by publishers, schools, universities and governments as the standard spelling reference. Well-known differences to British spelling include:

  • program is more common than programme
  • jail is prevalent, gaol is generally still used in official contexts

There is a widely-held belief in Australia that controversies over spelling result 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". The Australian Labor Party retains the -or ending it officially adopted in 1912. However, while many Australian newspapers did formerly "excise the u", in words like colour, this is no longer the case. The town of Victor Harbor has the Victor Harbour Railway Station and the municipality's official website speculates that excising the u from the town's name was originally a "spelling error". This continues to cause confusion in how the town is named in official and unofficial documents.

Varieties of Australian English

Most linguists consider there to be three main varieties of Australian English: Broad, General and Cultivated Australian English. 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 the most recognisable variety. It is 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, for the dialect, are used in Australia.

General Australian English is the stereotypical variety of Australian English. It is the variety that the majority of Australians use and predominates among modern Australian films and television programs. Examples are actors Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe (who, although born and partly-raised in New Zealand, does not speak New Zealand English).

Cultivated Australian English has many similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. Cultivated Australian English is now spoken by less than 10% of the population. Examples are actors Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush.

There is significant variation in Australian English vocabulary between different regions; perhaps the most prominent example being the many names for processed pork products, generally known in other countries as "bologna sausage" or "luncheon meat". It is known as strassberg - or alternatively Strasbourg - (or strass in its shortened form) in Melbourne and parts of rural Victoria, pork German in other parts of that state, Devon or Spam in New South Wales, German veal in Queensland, Fritz in South Australia and Polony in Western Australia.

It is sometimes claimed that there are variations in accent and pronunciation among people of different states and territories. However, these 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. Nevertheless, there are some well-documented regional preferences. For example, in Tasmania, words such as "dance", "grant" and "branch" are usually heard with the older pronunciation of these words, using , whereas in South Australia, is preferred. Both pronunciations are common in other parts of Australia, although when people sing the national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair", they often use [əd'vaːns] where they might otherwise use [əd'væːns].

Use of words by Australians

Australian English makes frequent use of diminutives. They are formed in various ways and are often used to indicate familiarity. Some examples are arvo (afternoon), barbie (barbecue), footy (Australian rules football or rugby league football). They also use litotes such as "you're not wrong".

Many phrases once common to Australian English have become stereotypes and caricatured exaggerations, and have largely disappeared from everyday use. Among the words less used are cobber, strewth, you beaut and crikey; and stereotypical phrases like flat out like a lizard drinking are rarely used without being jocular.

The phrase put a shrimp on the barbie is a misquotation from a phrase made famous by Paul Hogan in tourism advertisements that aired in America. Australians use the word prawn rather than shrimp. Many Australians dislike the phrase for this reason, thus choose to ignore the person who says it, or point it out bluntly.

Australian patriotic song Waltzing Matilda, written by bush poet Banjo Paterson, contains many obsolete Australian words and phrases that appeal to a rural ideal and are understood by Australians even though they are not in common usage outside the song. One example is the title, which means travelling (particularly with a type of bed roll called a swag).

Samples of Australian English

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".

Some Australian actors use their natural accents in international films and television programs. Australian actors in non-Australian productions sometimes use exaggerated Broad Australian accents.

See also


  • Mitchell, Alexander G., 1995, The Story of Australian English, Sydney: Dictionary Research Centre.

External links

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