Australian English

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Australian English is the form of the English language used in Australia.


Relationship to other varieties of English

Australian English began to diverge from British English after the foundation of the Colony of New South Wales in 1788. By the 1820s, observers had recognised that native-born white Australians spoke with a distinctive accent and vocabulary. Since the Australian goldrushes – which began in the 1850s – Australian English has borrowed increasingly from external sources, including Chinese (dinkum) and American English. This so-called "Americanisation" was accelerated by a massive influx of US military personnel during World War II. The large scale importation of television programs and other mass media from the United States, from the 1950s onwards, also had a significant effect. As a result, for example, Australians use the word truck instead of the British lorry, and freeway is the most common word for a high-speed, grade-separated road, though motorway is also sometimes used, particularly for toll roads (although tollway is also used).

Due to their shared history and geographical proximity, Australian English is most similar to New Zealand English. However the difference between the two are immediately obvious to a speaker from either country, if not to a casual observer from a third country. The Australian English accent stresses a long "ay" sound, whereas the New Zealand English stresses a long "i" sound.


The exposure to the different spellings of British and American English leads to a certain amount of spelling confusion, such as "organize" as opposed to "organise", or "color" as opposed to "colour". Generally, British usage and spelling is preferred, although there are exceptions, such as the "American" spelling of program, jail, etc. Publishers, schools, universities and the government generally use the Macquarie Dictionary as a standard spelling reference. Both -ise and -ize are accepted suffixes, as in British English, but -ise is the preferred form in Australian English.

It should be noted that some spellings are assumed wrongly to be "American", when they are older spellings which were once widely accepted around the world. One such example is the Australian Labor Party, which officially adopted that name in 1908.

Irish influences

There is also a strong influence from Hiberno-English, as many Australians are of Irish descent. Perhaps most noticeable is the widespread – but not universal – pronunciation of the name of the letter "H" as "haitch" , rather than the unaspirated "aitch" found in New Zealand, as well as most of Britain and North America. This is most often found amongst speakers of Broad Australian English and is thought to be the influence of Irish Catholic priests and nuns. Others include the non-standard plural of "you" as "youse" , which is common in some social circles, and the expression "good on you" or "good onya", although both of these are also encountered in New Zealand English and British English.

Samples of Australian English

Non-Australians can get a good impression of Australian English from well-known actors and other native speakers. The normal speaking voices of Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman are examples of Australian accents (unless they are acting in roles as non-Australians). Steve "Crocodile hunter" Irwin has a broad Australian accent (see below) and as a result his voice is often parodied inside Australia as well as out. Several Australian actors provided voices for Finding Nemo, although many caricatured the Broad accent when voicing these roles. Nigel the pelican, the three sharks, and the dentist are Australian voices.

The ABC provides many streams of their radio programs ( Many of these would make a good reference for the casual, relaxed Australian accent and use of the English language as opposed to scripted performances. The novel "They're a weird mob" by Nino Culotta is a good example of phonetically-written "Strine" in the 1950s. Kath and Kim provide good examples of broad Strine.


For more information on Australian vocabulary and the way it is used, see the article Australian words.

The origins of Australian words

Australian English incorporates many uniquely Australian terms, such as outback to refer to remote, sparsely-populated areas, and bush to refer to native forested areas, but also to country areas in general. One theory is that many such words or usages originated with British convicts transported to the penal colonies of Australia between 1788 and 1868. The convicts were mostly people from English cities, such as Cockneys, and many words widely used by country Australians are or were also used in London and/or south east England, with minor variations in meaning. For example: creek (in Australia, a stream whereas in England it is a small watercourse flowing into the sea); paddock (in Australia any field, in England a small enclosure for livestock); bush (in England this usage survives as a proper name, for example Shepherd's Bush) and; scrub (lightly wooded area, in England, this survives as a proper name, for example Wormwood Scrubs).

The origins of other terms are not as clear, or are disputed. Fair dinkum can mean "are you telling me the truth?", "this is the truth!", or even "ridiculous!" depending on context. Dinkum is often claimed to date back to the gold rushes of the 1850s, and that it is derived from the Cantonese for "real gold". More recently, dinkum is said to derive from English regional slang for "hard work" or "fair work".[1] ( G'day is well known as a stereotypical Australian greeting ("G'day" is not quite synonymous with "good day", and is never used as an expression for "farewell").

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, very few terms have been adopted into the wider language. A notable exception is Cooee (a musical call which travels long distances in the bush and is used to say 'is there anyone there?'), which can also be used as a term for an audible range of distance ("If he's within cooee of here we'll spot him").

Though often thought of as an Aboriginal word, Didgeridoo/Didjeridu (a well known wooden musical instrument) is usually considered to be an onomatopaoeic word of Western invention. It has also been suggested that it may have an Irish derivation.[2] (

Varieties of Australian English

Broad, General and Cultivated Australian English

Most linguists consider that there are three main varieties of Australian English: "Broad", "General" and "Cultivated". These three main varieties are actually part of a continuum and are based on variations in accent. They often, but not always, reflect the social class and/or educational background of the speaker.

Broad Australian English

Broad Australian English is the archetypal and most recognisable variety and is familiar to English speakers around the world, because of its use in identifying Australian characters in non-Australian films and television programs. In reality it is somewhat less common than General Australian English. Broad Australian English is recognisable by a perceived drawl and by the prevalence of dipthongs.

General Australian English

General Australian English is the stereotypical variety of Australian English. It is the variety of English used by the majority of Australians and it dominates the accents found in contemporary Australian-made films and television programs, such as Neighbours. This variety has noticeably shorter vowel sounds than Broad Australian English, among other differences. There is perhaps a trend towards General Australian away from the extremes.

Cultivated Australian English

Cultivated Australian English (CAE) has many similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. CAE is now spoken by less than 10% of the population. An overwhelmingly large and growing majority of Australians now have either General or Broad accents. One effect of this is that the speech of people like Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is mocked as sounding "affected (", "snobby (" or "aloof (", when his accent is simply an example of Cultivated Australian English, which was once common among public figures in Australia.


Examples of each include the normal speaking voices of the following identities:

Broad – Paul Hogan; Steve Irwin; Pauline Hanson.
General – Nicole Kidman; Russell Crowe; John Howard
Cultivated – Geoffrey Rush; Dame Joan Sutherland; Sir Robert Helpmann

Regional Variation

It is sometimes claimed that regional variations in pronunciation and accent exist, but if present at all they are very small compared to those of British and American English – sufficiently so that linguists are divided on the question. Overall, pronunciation is determined less by region than by social and educational influences.

Regional vocabulary

There, however, is a significant variation in Australian English vocabulary between different regions. For example, Queenslanders say "port" (short for "portmanteau") while people in the other states say "school bag", "backpack" and/or "knapsack". In the past variation was so strong that the residents of the NSW town of Maitland would use the term "port" where Newcastle, some 20 kilometres away, would prefer the latter term.

"Football" refers to the most popular code of football in the various States, or regions within them. Victorians start a game of Australian rules football with a "ball up", Western Australians with a "bounce down"; New South Welsh people and Queenslanders start a game of Rugby League with a "kick off".

The variety of names given by Australians to a bland, processed pork sausage — known in other countries as pork luncheon meat or baloney — is so great, that these words are used by linguists to ascertain not only which Australian state or territory a person is from, but also regional origin within states in some cases. For example, in South Australia this product is known as fritz, in Victoria it is stras (short for "Strasbourg"), in New South Wales it is devon, in Western Australia polony, in Queensland windsor and in Tasmania, belgium, and so on.

Other regional mannerisms are alleged: for example, it is often said that people from North Queensland end sentences with the interrogative "eh?", although this can also be found in other parts of the English-speaking world, and is common in Canadian English.

The steadily increasing centralisation of film, TV and radio production, however, is rapidly blurring such distinctions.

Regional phonology

Academic studies have shown that there are limited regional variations in Australian English. This chart shows the percentage of speakers from different capital cities who pronounce words with as opposed to . This is probably the most significant regional phonetic variation in Australian English.

Use of as opposed to
Word Hobart Melbourne Brisbane Sydney AdelaideAve. over all cities
graph 0% 30% 56% 70% 86% 48%
chance 0% 60% 25% 80% 86% 50%
demand 10% 78% 78% 90% 100% 71%
dance 10% 35% 11% 30% 86% 34%
castle 60% 30% 33% 100% 86% 62%
grasp 90% 89% 89% 95% 100% 93%
to contrast 100% 100% 100% 100% 71% 94%
Ave. over all words 39% 60% 56% 81% 88% 65%

Source: David Crystal, 1995, Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge University Press.

There are some other minor differences. For example, younger Melburnians are said to pronounce /el/ as /al/, so that "celery" and "salary" are homophones.

(See also: Regional accents of English speakers – Australia for accent description, Australian literature.)


Main article: phonemic differentiation.

Australian accents generally use 24 consonants and 20 vowels. Two of these vowels correspond to centring diphthongs of RP and have variable realisations. Besides these 2 vowels there are also 7 short and 6 long monophthongs, and 5 diphthongs. Australian English is a non-rhotic dialect: the consonant sound /r/ occurs only before a vowel.


There are similarities between the Australian and New Zealand vowel systems. The differences, however, are immediately apparent to any Australian and New Zealand English speaker. Aside from this the Australian vowel system is quite different from that of other dialects.

Other standard dialects have tense vowels, lax vowels, and diphthongs. Australian English on the other hand has turned most of the tense vowels into diphthongs, and turned some of what are diphthongs in RP into long vowels, thus replacing the tense-lax distinction (one of quality) with a long-short distinction (one of quantity). The table below, based on Harrington, Cox and Evans (1997) (, shows these:

Australian Vowel Pronunciation in IPA and X-SAMPA
General Australian Received Pronunciation Examples
i: i: heed, happy
I I hid
e E head
{ { hat, had
6: A: hard, fast
6 V hut
O Q hot
o: O: horde, dawn
U U hood
}: u: hoon
3: 3: heard
@ @ banana, centre
{I eI hate
Ae aI hide
{O aU howl
@} @U hope
OI OI hoist
I@ I@ beard, hear, idea
e: E@ hair, yeah
U@ U@ tour, pure
  • The vowel in words like tour, pure, cure, moor, poor, tournament, sure, etc. has diverged according to the whim of the speaker, either remaining as , or splits to become (a sequence of two separate monophthongs) in some words or (a long monophthong) in other words.
  • Additionally, the vowels are generally pronounced higher up in the mouth than their English counterparts; (beard) is often pronounced as when followed by a consonant; (bird) takes on a fronter, more rounded quality; (bat) has split into two distinct phonemes, so that whereas lad, can (I can do it), bat have a short vowel, bad, can (tin can), rag have a long one.
  • In Western Australia, beer becomes a two-syllable word, rhyming with seer.
  • gone takes on a peculiar quality: whereas all other (born, saw) became , and all (hot) became , gone stayed as .
  • For many speakers in southern Australia, pull and pool are merged in position, that is the quality distinction is lost, pull is pronounced and pool is pronounced , but they're not usually pronounced the same. Some people believe that when hearing South Australians pronounce these words, pronounce them the same, when in fact they do not pronounced them the same. Pairs like pull/pool, full/fool, etc. are distinguished only in length by these speakers.
  • In Victoria, a short e before an l is sometimes pronounced as a short a, so that celery and salary are homonyms.
  • The sound in "Australia" may be elided; it becomes "Austray-yah".
  • For some speakers in the eastern states, pool and school are sometimes pronounced and respectively.
  • -ed and -es endings are pronounced with and , instead of and which is how they are pronounced in British and North American English.
  • There is a significant rising and fronting on-glide in (also a feature of New Zealand English).
  • For some speakers, there's a split in the phoneme that causes bred and bread to be distinguished as and . Bread rhymes with aired for these speakers.
  • Unlike in New Zealand English, the distinction between beer and bear, cheer and chair, etc. is preserved in Australian English.
  • From the above chart it can be seen that vowel length is phonemic in Australian English.


Consonants used in Australian English are similar to those used in the other English dialects. The consonants used are given below in IPA, with the X-SAMPA equivalent in round brackets.

plosives/stops: (p), (b), (t), (d), (k), (g)
fricatives: (f), (v), (T), (D), (s), (z), (S), (Z), (h)
affricates: (tS), (dZ)
nasals: (m), (n), (N)
semivowels: (j), (w)
liquids: (l), (r\)
  • The distinction between and as in wine and whine, witch and which, etc. is lost in Australian English.
  • H-dropping was historically present in many varieties of Australian English, but it's mostly gone in present Australian English.


There are many allophones in Australian English. Here are some examples:

  • "Noeline's notes"
→ , (IPA)
/@}/ → [Oo], [@}] (SAMPA)
  • "I can open the can"
→ or , (IPA)
/{/ → [{] or [@], [{:] (SAMPA)

Other phonological phenomena

Varieties of Australian English (particularly Broad) are rife with elision and assimilation. Often so many sounds are elided that it can seem that an entire sentence has been contracted into a single drawling word. However, words are not somehow "more separated" in other dialects in any phonetic sense. "How are you travelling?" might be rendered as "Ayatravlin?". Similarly, "It's going to rain" may be heard as "Scona rine". For this reason, Broad Australian can be difficult to decipher to non-Australians.

This truncated language is sometimes referred to as "Strine", a self-referential truncation of "Australian" made popular in the 1965 book "Let Stalk Strine" (that is "Let's Talk Australian").

Myths about Australian accents

Negative evaluations of Australian English, like those of many other English dialects, tend to centre on the belief, or come from the perspective that other forms of English (especially Received Pronunciation) are superior. These evaluations of Australian English are simple value judgments and essentially meaningless, although largely made by Australians. Nevertheless, some Australians have developed an unwarranted complex of inferiority about their accent.

Australian English is sometimes described as high-pitched, nasal, lazy, or drawling. The charges of high pitch and nasality are not entirely true, as many Australian English speakers perceive much of American English to be nasal, while laziness and drawling are impossible to test objectively. If anything, the tendency for Australians to turn pure vowels into diphthongs requires more work from the speech organs.

Similarly, the ridiculing of the Australian accent by foreigners for its supposed "questioning intonation", known in linguistics as high rising terminal, is not entirely justified. Many Australians' speech patterns do not conform to this stereotype, and the "questioning intonation" is often found in many regional speech patterns in the south of England, Northern Ireland, and in some American ones.

Use of words by Australians

Perception has it that a common trait is the frequent use of long-winded similes, such as "slow as a wet weekend", "built like a brick shit-house", "mad as a cut snake", or "flat out like a lizard drinking". Whether this perception is based in reality or has been produced by popular culture items of fiction such as the (successfully exported) television soap opera Neighbours and the films of Paul Hogan remains in question.

Many Australians believe themselves to be direct in manner, and this is typified by statements such as "why call a spade a spade, when you can call it a bloody shovel". Such sentiments can lead to misunderstandings and offence being caused to people from cultures where an emphasis is placed on avoiding conflict, such as people from South East Asia.

Spoken Australian English is generally more tolerant of offensive and/or abusive language than other variants. A famous exponent was the former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who referred in parliament to opponents as a "mangy maggot", a "stupid foul-mouthed grub" and so on. The widespread desire among Australians to avoid pomposity, or even polite, formal or dignified speech, is sometimes seen as reflecting a suspicion of success in general, a phenomenon sometimes known as the tall poppy syndrome.


An important aspect of Australian English usage, inherited in small part from Britain and Ireland, is the use of deadpan humour, in which a person will make extravagant, outrageous and/or ridiculous statements in a neutral tone, and without explicitly indicating they are joking. Tourists seen to be gullible and/or lacking a sense of humour may be subjected to tales of kangaroos hopping across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and similar tall tales. (See also Drop Bear.) It is frequently criticised by foreigners for being immature humour which lacks thought and wit, although it could be countered that said foreigners just didn't get the joke.


Australian English frequently uses diminutives formed by adding -o or -ie to the ends of (often abbreviated words). Although these are also used in British English, they occur far more often in Australia, including some formal contexts. There does not appear to be any particular pattern to which of these suffixes is used. Examples with the -o ending include abo (aborigine - now considered very offensive), arvo (afternoon), servo (service station), rego (annual motor vehicle registration) and ambo (ambulance officer). The Salvation Army is often referred to as "The Salvos". Examples of the -ie ending include barbie (barbecue), bikkie (biscuit), brekkie (breakfast) and blowie (blowfly). Occasionally, a -za diminutive is used, usually for personal names where the first of multiple syllables ends in an "r". Karen becomes Kazza, Barry becomes Bazza, and Sharon becomes Shazza. Also popular and common is the -z diminutive form (also found in British English) whereby Karen becomes Kaz, and so on.


External links

sv:Australisk engelska


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