“Everybody wants to say who they are and where they're from. And the easiest and cheapest and most universal way of doing that is through their accent.” - David Crystal
Would you like to go to Australia to see kangaroos, Sydney opera house, or the coral reef?
The magazine US News & World Report and the University of Pennsylvania organised a survey of 21,000 people from 36 different countries to decide which were the best countries in the world. As you probably guessed, Australia made it into the top 10!
It’s a lot of people’s dream to go to Australia, which is one of the many countries where English is the official language. Of course, this isn’t the same English as spoken in other countries. The English language has spent a lot of time in a lot of different countries, which means that it's changed a lot from when it first left Britain.
There are different English accents, dialects, ways of expressing yourself, you’ve got a lot on your plate if you want to learn how to speak Australian English.
So what exactly is Australian English?
Let’s have a look at what makes it so special.
Australian English in a Linguistic Context
Australia is a relatively young country. We say young because it gained its independence in 1901. Before this time, the English spoken there was heavily influenced by British English.
Later on, during the gold rush, American English also influenced Australian English, especially in terms of certain words, the grammar, and terminology specific to North America. There are words like “dirt” and “digger” that became part of the vocabulary. America also brought a number of terms later on, such as “truck” and “freeway”.
A lot of other terms have come from pop culture, media, and the internet. All of this has helped create Australian English as we know it today. Of course, going to Australia to learn English needn’t be a challenge. Whether you’re opening a bank account in Melbourne, finding work in Canberra, or volunteering in Tasmania, it’s easier than you think.
Australia is a welcoming country which is great for learning English. A relative stone’s throw from New Zealand (if you’re European or American) and the great barrier reef, it’s a great destination for anyone interested in mastering Australian English. In some cases, Australian accents can be difficult for beginners to understand. However, you need to make sure you concentrate!
Working, studying, and living in Australia is a great way to learn the specificities of Australian English. Living in Australia can be a lot of fun.
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The Particularities of Australian English
“There is no such thing as an ugly accent, like there's no such thing as an ugly flower.” - David Crystal
Linguists divide Australian English into three main categories: Broad, general, and cultivated. These categories are usually down to social standing and level of education.
For over 200 years, the English spoken in Australia has been different to English as it’s spoken elsewhere. When the Colony of New South Wales was founded, there was a mix of English, Irish, and German settlers.
Despite certain similarities with the English from New Zealand, Australian English created, and has since conserved its own identity. Australian English is as far from New Zealand English as Australia is from New Zealand.
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From a shared history and a perceived geographic closeness, a lot of people confuse the two and oversimplify them as just a mix between British English and American English. There are plenty of things that set Australian English apart.
The accent is obviously the first thing you’ll notice. While certain accents are difficult to understand, most of the accents from the larger cities aren’t as broad.
For, the letter “a” sometimes sounds like an “i” or an “e”. Thus, “cat” might sound like “kit” or “ket” to the untrained ear. You have to hear it! You can hear the “ou” sound pronounced as a “eah” sound. Thus, “see you” might sound like “see yeah”. Of course, that’s not all! Certain “i” and “ee” sounds are also pronounced as “eah”, too. This means that it may also be pronounced “seah yeah”. It might seem complicated at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
It’ll probably take a few hours to get used to the accent when you’re looking for work, getting a visa, or just speak with the locals. The pronunciation and words they use mightn't be what you learnt in school.
Australians have also their own terms for certain things, which you can find in dictionaries. This has helped legitimise the dialect. There are a number of terms whose usage is unique to Australia so if you’re travelling there, you’re going to have to learn some of these terms.
- Mate: While this term means “friend”, you can use it to punctuate almost any sentence in Australian sentence. Australians refer to each other as "mate", even if they’re not mates at all.
- Good day: Say goodbye to the boring “hello” and “good morning” and say hello to “g’day”, the most Australian of greetings.
- Aussie: A nickname for an Australian person.
- Drongo: This term is used for a dummy or a fool. It’s not very nice, so we hope you never have to use it.
- Hooroo: This is a variation on “goodbye” which is typically Australian.
- Ripper: Put simply, it’s just another form of “super”, “great”, “awesome”, “amazing”, etc. This is a term that you’ll hear in a lot of situations if you’re living in Australia.
- Gander: Imagine you’re on the west coast of Australia on a beautiful white sand beach. You’re about to have a “gander” at your phone. You got it? “Gander” means “to have a look at”.
When it comes to spelling, Australian English is closer to British English as it uses “ou” rather than just “o” (colour, for example) and keeps the “ise” suffix rather than the American “ize” suffix (like in “realise”).
There are so many differences that it’s worthwhile visiting the country for just the linguistic efforts themselves. These same particularities help to distinguish the language from American and British English and give Australian English its own linguistic identity.
That said, English is global and there is a lot of overlap with other variants.
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Similarities to Other Variants of English
While historically influenced by the UK, Australian English blends elements of British English, Irish English, and even American English. If you’re looking for work in Australia, the accent is one of the first things you’ll probably have to get used to!
There are certain grammatical elements that differ from town to town, especially if you’re looking for somewhere to live and wanting to speak like a genuine Aussie!
One grammatical element that Australians have borrowed from British English is the past tense of certain verbs. For example, “spell” becomes “spelt” and “smell” becomes “smelt”.
For certain pronunciations, British English has left its mark on Australian English. For example, the /r/ sound isn’t pronounced when preceded by a vowel or when it’s followed by a consonant. For example, the “r” in “yard” won’t be pronounced. Similarly, the “r” sound won’t be pronounced at the end of words like “better”. Usually, these words are pronounced with a long “ah” sound, which makes it sound more like “bettah”.
When it comes to numbers, Australia has followed American English’s example. The number 1200 will be said as “twelve hundred” rather than “one thousand two hundred”.
There are so many differences in terms of vocabulary and grammar, just like the other English variants around the world. Over the course of history, Australian English has gained its own identity in terms of its accent, its expressions, and its general approach to language, which is quintessentially Australian.
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So are you ready to travel?
Of course, there are English speakers all over the world and people speak English differently in every country. English words have different meanings in different places, there are different nouns, phrases, different ways to pronounce certain words, and plenty of interesting slang. If Australia isn't your thing, you should check out American English or how they speak English in Scotland and Ireland.
Let's not forget that there are tonnes of English dialects in places where they speak English as a second language, too. The English-speaking world is an interesting place and words that mean one thing may mean something completely different elsewhere. It's all just part of the fun.