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Australian pronunciation

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 came to express a longing for British values and nostalgia for a country that was still regarded by many as ‘home’.
  • Broad Australian was strongly nationalistic and was seen to offer an egalitarian alternative to the British obsession with social class.

All three forms of Australian English included most of the words that had developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, including:

billy
A tin or enamel cooking pot with a lid and a wire handle, for use when camping.
swag
A traveller’s or miner’s bundle of personal belongings.
swagman
A person carrying a swag or bundle of belongings.
fossick
To search for gold in abandoned workings; to search or rummage for anything. Perhaps a variant of the midland and southern English fussock (to bustle about).
the outback
The remote and usually uninhabited inland districts of Australia.
the never-never
The unpopulated desert country of the interior of Australia; the remote outback. So named from the notion that one might never return from such remote country.
brumby
A wild or unbroken horse.
larrikin
A boisterous, often badly behaved young man.


Read more about the vocabulary of Australian English here.

See more from The English of Australia