English in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Asia

Simon Horobin, Writing for
Episode #522

English in Australia and New Zealand

The same process of dialect mixing that triggered a distinctive American variety lies behind the Englishes spoken in Australia and New Zealand. British convicts who were deported to Australia in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were frequently of Cockney and Irish extraction, so that these dialects have a particular importance for the formation of the distinctive Australian accent. Colonial lag is evident in the preservation of some archaic English words, such as the Australian tucker ‘food,’ from the word tuck, still preserved in old-fashioned English tuck shops and tuck boxes, and dunny ‘toilet,’ which was current in English slang of the late eighteenth century.

Other features which are uniquely Australian are words formed by adding an ‘ie’ ending, as in barbie ‘barbeque,’ coldie ‘cold beer,’ rellies ‘relatives,’ and even Aussie, as well as contractions like arvo ‘afternoon,’ journo ‘journalist,’ and beaut ‘beauty.’ British settlers in Australia adopted local words from Aboriginal languages to describe cultural objects and practices specific to Australia, such as the boomerang, from the Dharuk language, and indigenous animals such as koala, wallaby, and kangaroo.

The first settlers in New Zealand arrived in the 1790s, although official colonies were not established until 1840. Because this is a more recent variety, more is known about the dialects of the earliest settlers who first migrated from Britain to New Zealand. Recordings made in the 1940s of speakers born and raised in New Zealand reveal a liberal and apparently random conglomeration of features drawn from a great variety of English dialects. Greater affinity to Britain has led to the acceptance of more influence from the English spoken in Britain, while a desire to set the New Zealand usage apart from that of Australia has prompted further distinctive differences in accent. Where the Australian accent tends to pronounce the place name Sydney as ‘Seedney’, New Zealanders prefer a ‘Sudney’-style pronunciation.


About the Author

Simon Horobin, Writing for Grammar Girl
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