Australian English. Main characteristics

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The urgency of conducted analysis is proven by the fact that all types of English language have their own peculiarities which are always difficult to get. The same is true for the Australian English. That is especially takes place and is important for people who have to spend some time in Australia, because even if they know English on a good level they can be very confused by lots of words and expressions Australians often use in their everyday speech. Their history, people, life became the reasons of their language peculiarities. A lot of researches were conducted to examine Australian way of speech and slang.
So, the purpose of conducting this yearly project consists in the determination of such peculiarities and main features of Australian English from different points of view (history, origin, spoken language, slang and so on).

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The urgency of conducted analysis is proven by the fact that all types of English language have their own peculiarities which are always difficult to get. The same is true for the Australian English. That is especially takes place and is important for people who have to spend some time in Australia, because even if they know English on a good level they can be very confused by lots of words and expressions Australians often use in their everyday speech. Their history, people, life became the reasons of their language peculiarities. A lot of researches were conducted to examine Australian way of speech and slang.

So, the purpose of conducting this yearly project consists in the determination of such peculiarities and main features of Australian English from different points of view (history, origin, spoken language, slang and so on). According to this purpose the main task of this degree includes carrying out of Australian English analysis using information about Australian speech in different fields.

In compliance with specified purpose and main task of the research the following tasks were set in this project:

Firstly, to examine Australian English itself, its peculiarities, history, origin, aboriginal influence, spelling and so on. To determine difference between men and women speech in Australia.

Secondly, to examine Australian slang including information about colloquialism, history and ways of Australian spoken speech, Australian slang dictionary.

Thirdly, to trace Australian speech peculiarities in different life spheres: sport, food, vehicles, etc.

To accomplish these tasks three clauses were written. The first clause includes the information concerning definition of Australian English, its peculiarities, Aboriginal English, Australian spelling, Australian language and English comparison and so on.

The second clause of this project contains the information about Australian slang, its features and history, including Australian slang dictionary. The third clause is dedicated to the Australian speech in different life spheres.

Different literature including works of famous English specialists in analyzed field () and online sources of information was used as methodological and theoretical data base for writing of this project.

Structurally the project consists of the introduction, three clauses, conclusion and list of information sources.


Main part

I. Australian English. Main characteristics

Spoken Australian English is thought to be highly colloquial, possibly more so than other spoken variants. Whether this idea is true or not, a substantial number of publications aimed at giving an overview of Australian English have been published.

Many books about Australian lore have been published, beginning with Karl Lentzner’s Dictionary of the Slang-English of Australia and of Some Mixed Languages in 1892. The first dictionary of based on historical principles that covered Australian English was E. E. Morris’s Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (1898).

After a long period of uninterest and/or antipathy, the first synchronic dictionaries of Australian English began to appear. In 1976, the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary was published, the first dictionary edited and published in Australia. In 1981, the more comprehensive Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English was published, after 10 years of research and planning. Updated editions have been published since and the Macquarie Dictionary is widely regarded as authoritative. Oxford University Press also publishes a range of dictionaries of Australian English, including the Oxford Dictionary of Australian English.

Various publishers have also produced “phrase books" to assist visitors. These books reflect a highly exaggerated and often outdated style of Australian colloquialisms and they should partially be regarded as amusements rather than accurate usage guides.

I.1 History and origins

Australian English incorporates many terms that Australians consider to be unique to their country. One of the best-known of these is outback which means a “remote, sparsely-populated area”. Many such words, phrases or usages originated with British and Irish convicts transported to Australia in 1788-1868. And many words which are still used frequently by rural Australians are also used in all or part of England, with variations in meaning. For example:

a creek in Australia (as in North America), is any “stream or small river”, whereas in England it is a small watercourse flowing into the sea;

paddock is the Australian word for “field”, while in England it is a small enclosure for livestock;

bush (as in North America) or scrub mean “wooded areas" or “country areas in general" in Australia, while 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 (eg. Cockney, Scouse, Geordie) use the word mate to mean a close friend of the same gender (or sometimes a platonic friend of the opposite sex), rather than the conventional meaning of “a spouse”, although this usage has also become common in some other varieties of English.

The origins of other terms are not as clear, or are disputed. Dinkum or fair dinkum means “true”, “the truth”, “speaking the truth”, and related meanings, depending on context and inflection. It is often claimed that dinkum was derived from the Cantonese (or Hokkien) ding kam, meaning “top gold”, during the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s. This, however, is chronologically improbable since dinkum is first recorded in the 1890s. Scholars give greater credence to the notion that it originated with a now-extinct dialect word from the East Midlands in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant “hard work” or “fair work”, which was also the original meaning in Australian English. 1 The derivation dinky-di means a “true" or devoted Australian. The words dinkum or dinky-di and phrases like true blue are widely purported to be typical Australian sayings, however these sayings are more commonly used in jest or parody rather than as an authentic way of speaking.

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.

Sheila, Australian slang for “woman”, is derived from the Irish girls name Síle.




















I.2 Words of Australian Aboriginal origin

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example, dingo, kangaroo). Beyond that, few terms have been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms, or slang. Some examples are cooee and Hard yakka. The former is a high-pitched call (pronounced /kʉː. iː/) which travels long distances and is used to attract attention. Cooee has also become a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Hard yakka means hard work and is derived from yakka, from the Yagara/Jagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region. Also from the Brisbane region comes the word bung meaning broken. A failed piece of equipment might be described as having bunged up or referred to as “on the bung” or “gone bung”. Bung is also used to describe an individual who is pretending to be hurt; such individual is said to be “bunging it on”. In Western Australia the Nyoongah word “Winyarn”, meaning “poor" or “sick" or is used similarly, especially among young people, in a similar sense to the more common “piss weak”. The final syllable is extended to denote intensity, and may be followed by “unna”, a Nyoongar word translatable loosely as “isn’t it”, or “aren’t you?".

Though often thought of as an Aboriginal word, didgeridoo (a well known wooden ceremonial musical instrument) is probably an onomatopaoeic word of Western invention. It has also been suggested that it may have an Irish derivation. 2

Australians use a variety of colourful terms to refer to people. These terms may indicate such things as the person’s ethnicity, the place where the person resides, the social status of the person, the person’s behaviour, etc. Many of these words occur in other English dialects, especially New Zealand English, whilst others are unique to Australian English.

It’s also interesting to consider system of kin names in Australian Aboriginal English. Words referring to one’s relatives are used in different senses to Standard English, reflecting traditional Australian kinship systems: 3

aunty and uncle are used as terms of address for older people, to whom the speaker may not be related;

brother and sister include close relatives of the same generation, not just siblings;

cousin includes any relative of one’s own generation;

the combinations cousin-brother and cousin-sister are used to refer to biological cousins;

in south-east Queensland, daughter is used to refer to any woman of one’s great-grandparents’ generation; this is due to the cyclical nature of traditional kinship systems;

father and mother include any relative of one’s parents’ generation, such as uncles, aunts, and in-laws;

grandfather and grandmother can refer to anyone of one’s grandparents’ generation (grandfather can also refer to any respected elderly man, to whom the speaker may not be related);

poison refers to a relation one is obligated to avoid;

the term second, or little bit in northern Australia, is used with a distant relative who is described using a close kinship term. For example, one’s second fathers or little bit fathers are men of one’s father’s generation not closely related to the speaker. It is contrasted with close, near or true.

A skin or skin group are sections which are determined by the skin of a person’s parents, and determine who a person is eligible to marry.

Son can refer to any male of the next generation, such as nephews.


I.3 Australian Spelling

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 programme4

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. ”,5 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”. 6 This continues to cause confusion in how the town is named in official and unofficial documents. 7


I.4 Australian Language Peculiarities

As a result of social conflict in Australia, the Australian version of English has some peculiarities that differentiate it from other versions of English around the world.

One of the peculiarities is that there are three, rather than one, accents. About ten per cent of Australian men speak like Paul Hogan with what is known as a broad accent. Although only a small minority of Australians actually use broad accents, it has a great deal of cultural credibility. For example, it is used by a disproportionately large number of newsreaders. It is also used in a disproportionately large number of television commercials. Around 80 per cent of Australians speak like Nicole Kidman with what is known as a British received accent or general Australian English. A final ten per cent speak with a cultivated accent, which sounds like someone educated at Oxford University in England. Although it is not very popular today, in past eras, the cultivated accent had the kind of cultural credibility that the broad accent has today. For example, newsreaders on the government funded ABC had to speak with the cultivated accent. Since there was a shortage of Australian men able to speak in the accent, male newsreaders were imported from England.

A second cultural peculiarity of Australia is that there is a significant difference between how men speak, and how women speak. It is quite rare to find a woman speaking with a broad Australian accent, and quite rare to find a man speaking with the cultivated accent. A woman speaking with a broad accent would be like a woman wearing a blue bonds singlet and talking about pig shooting. Likewise, a man with a cultivated accent would be like a man wearing a skirt and talking about make-up. No other English speaking country has the same gender difference in pronunciation.

A third peculiarity is that there is no regional variance in the accent. Despite the vast distances between Australian cities, and the very different migrant histories in the cities, all Australians speak with one of the three accents, with roughly the same proportion of speakers in each region. The lack of regional variance suggests that regional identities have not as strong in Australia as they have been in different parts of Britain and America. Instead, most of the Australian identities have related revolved around a pro-Australia anti-Australia social dynamic that has existed Australia wide. Alternatively, Australians may have had different conceptions about gender identities. Men have been expected to be more of the roguish side while women more on the refined side. If compared to New Zealanders, Australian men are definitely more masculine while Australian women are more feminine.






















I.5 Australian to English languages comparison

As well as being distinguished in pronunciation, the Australian version of English is also differentiated in regards to function and usage. One difference is in regards to informality. In America and England, the use of informal English is often interpreted as a sign of rudeness. Consequently, titles and family names are used to maintain a degree of social distance between people. In Australia, however, formality is more typically used by professional that don’t like each other. The difference is most clearly seen in greetings used in business letters. Whereas Americans usually greet with Dear Ms/Mrs/Mr (family name), Australians are more like Dear (first name.) Likewise, boss and workers get on first name basis far more quickly than they do in other English speaking countries.

The American strain of the English language is simple and easily understood by most English speakers the world over. Its simplicity can be traced to the country’s puritan foundations. As religious fanatics wanting to expand their flock, puritans desired a language of persuasion. To ensure clarity, they used generic words that were understood by the majority of the population. To increase the persuasive power of their words, they used a lot of analogies.

Contrasted to America, the foundations of Australian English were in the prison system. Unlike puritans, convicts did not want a simple language to persuade others to unite behind them. To the contrary, convicts wanted to disguise their language so that no one would know what they were talking about.

As a legacy, the contemporary Australian dialect, or Strine, is littered with idioms, similes and invented words that make it one of the world’s most advanced English dialects. Although speakers of American English struggle to understand English speakers from outside of America, speakers of Strine can understand everyone, or confuse everyone if they so desire.

Aboriginal words have always had a very prominent use in Australian English. For example, Australia’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, uses Aboriginal words like coolibah, jumbuck and billabong. Likewise, most of rural Australia has been given Aboriginal names like Wagga Wagga, Joondalup, Bondi, Yakadanda.

Perhaps the lazy way that Australians are perceived to speak is a result of using the Aboriginal words. The Aboriginal words generally end with a vowel sound, which is quite smooth and pleasant on the ear. It is possible that the use of the diminuitive, such as shortening words like journalist to journo, was a way of smoothing over the rough edges of British English in order to gain more consistency with the smoother Aboriginal English.


II. Australian slang

Table of Australian slang words and expressions is represented below. The table 1 includes only some part of numerous slang words used in Australian English nowadays.

Table 1. Australian slang expressions. 8



Ankle biter

small child



Back of Bourke

a very long way away




teapot; container for boiling water.


a large male kangaroo




a wild horse


dead, not functioning

Cook (noun)

one's wife

Cut lunch




Dead horse

tomato sauce


tobacco, cigarette



Fair dinkum

true, genuine


search, rummage



Give it a burl

try it, have a go

Good oil

useful information, a good idea, the truth


great, terrific, very good




baby kangaroo






to criticise




sweets, candy

Mickey Mouse

excellent, very good





No drama

same as “no worries”


an assistant, helper




large glass of beer





Pom, pommy

an Englishman


present, gift

Quid, make a

earn a living




pleased, delighted


vehicle registration

Rellie or relo

family relative


original, genuine

Right, she

it'll be all right


great, fantastic




very angry


Cheating, fiddling, defrauding


a sandwich


instant lottery ticket


a woman

Shoot through

to leave


a good looking person


nosy person


very pleased


Australian slang and pronunciation

Stuffed, I feel

I'm tired



Tall poppies

successful people


small aluminium boat

Tinny, tin-arsed


Too right!





flat, apartment


utility vehicle, pickup truck



Walkabout, it's gone

it's lost, can't be found








an uncouth person


sixpence (5 cents)

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