The English of Australia

by Professor Bruce Moore, editor of the Australian National Dictionary.

Introduction

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 were developed either from Aboriginal languages (coolibah, wombat, wallaby, waratah, and so on) or from the ‘transported’ English word stock (native bear, wild cherry, and so on). Many more words were later added in response to the nineteenth-century process of settlement and pastoral expansion. All of this seems at once predictable and inevitable—this is the way a colonial society imposes its linguistic footprint on a subjected land. 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.

Click on the headings below to read more about how Australian English evolved in the twentieth century: