Australian English Development and Peculiarities
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Australian English Development and Peculiarities

The history of Australian English starts with kangaroo (1770) and Captain James Cook?s glossary of local words used in negotiations with the Endeavour River tribes. The language was pidgin.

Aboriginal Vocabulary

The aboriginal vocabulary, which is one of the trademarks of Australian English, included billabong (a waterhole), jumbuck (a sheep), corroboree (an assembly), boomerang (a curved throwing stick), and budgerigar (from budgeree, ?good? and gar, ?parrot?).
The number of Aboriginal words in Australian English is quite small and is confined to the namings of plants (like bindieye and calombo), trees (like boree, banksia, quandong and mallee), birds (like currawong, galah and kookaburra), animals (like wallaby and wombat) and fish (likebarramindi). As in North America , when it comes to place-names the Aboriginal influence was much greater: with a vast continent to name, about a third of all Australian place-names are Aboriginal.
The Aborigines also adopted words from maritime pidgin English, words like piccaninny and bilong (belong). They used familiar pidgin English variants like talcum and catchum. The most famous example is gammon, an eighteenth-century Cockney word meaning ?a lie?.

Non-aboriginal Vocabulary

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Australian population were either convicts, ex-convicts or of convict descent. The convict argot was called ?flash? language, and James Hardy Vaux published a collection of it in 1812, the New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language. Most of the words and phrases Vaux listed remained confined to convict circles and have not passed in the main stream of Australian English. There are a few exceptions, of which the best known is swag meaning ?a bundle of personal belongings? in standard Australian. Swagman, billy, jumbuck, tucker-bag and coolibah tree are early Australianisms.
The roots of Australian English lie in the South and East of England, London, Scotland and Ireland. To take just a few examples, words like corker, dust-up, purler and tootsy all came to Australia from Ireland; billy comes from the Scottish bally, meaning ?a milk pail?. A typical Australianism like fossick, meaning ?to search unsystematically?, is a Cornish word. Cobber came from the Suffolk verb to cob, ?to take a liking to someone?. Tucker is widely used for ?food?. Clobber has Romany roots and is originally recorded in Kent as clubbered up, meaning ?dressed up?.

Australian Peculiarities

In 1945 Sidney J. Baker published the book The Australian Language which was a milestone in the emergence of a separate Australian Standard. Since 1945 the Australian vernacular continues to flourish.
Australian English incorporates several uniquely Australian terms, such as outback to refer to remote regional areas, walkabout to refer to a long journey of uncertain length and bush to refer to native forested areas, but also to regional areas as well. Fair dinkum can mean ?are you telling me the truth??, ?this is the truth!?, or ?this is ridiculous!? depending on context - the disputed origin dates back to the gold rush in the 1850s, ?dinkum? being derived from the Chinese word for ?gold? or ?real gold?: fair dinkum is the genuine article. G'day is well known as a stereotypical Australian greeting - it is worth noting that G'day is not synonymous with the expression ?Good Day?, and is never used as an expression for "farewell". Many of these terms have been adopted into British English via popular culture and family links.
Some elements of Aboriginal languages, as has already been mentioned, have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for the indigenous flora and fauna (e.g. dingo, kangaroo), as well as extensive borrowings for place names. 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??). Although often thought of as an Aboriginal word, didgeridoo/didjeridu (a well known wooden musical instrument) is actually an onomatopoeic term coined by an English settler.
Australian English has a unique set of diminutives formed by adding -o or -ie (-y) to the ends of (often abbreviated) words. 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),
aggro (aggressive),
ambo (ambulance office),
arvo (afternoon),
avo (avocado),
bizzo (business),
bottleo (bottle shop/liquor store),
compo (compensation),
dero (homeless person ? from derelict),
devo (deviant/pervert),
doco (documentary),
evo (evening),
fisho (fishmonger),
fruito (fruiterer),
garbo (garbage collector),
gyno (gynaecologist),
journo (journalist),
kero (kerosene),
metho (methylated spirits),
milko (milkman),
Nasho (National Service ? compulsory military service),
reffo (refugee),
rego (vehicle registration),
Salvo (member of the Salvation Army),
servo (service station/gas station),
smoko (smoke or coffee/tea break),
thingo (thing, whadjamacallit),
vejjo (vegetarian),
Examples of the -ie (-y) ending include
aggie (student of agricultural science),
Aussie (Australian),
barbie (barbeque),
beautie (beautiful, stereotypically pronounced and even written bewdy),
bikkie (biscuit),
bitie (biting insect),
blowie (blowfly),
bookie (bookmaker),
brekkie (breakfast),
brickie (bricklayer),
Brizzie (Brisbane ? state capital of Queensland),
Bushie (someone who lives in the bush),
chewie (chewing gum),
chokkie (chocolate),
cozzie (swimming costume ? mostly used in New South Wales),
Chrissie (Christmas),
exy (expensive),
greenie (environmentalist),
kindie (kindergarten),
lippy (lipstick),
mozzie (mosquito),
oldies (parents),
possie (position),
postie (postman),
prezzie (present),
rellie (sometimes relo ? relative),
sickie (day off sick from work),
sunnies (sunglasses),
surfy (surfing fanatic),
swaggie (swagman),
trackies (track suit),
truckie (truck driver),
vedgie (vegetable)

Occasionally, a -za diminutive is used, usually for personal names. Barry becomes Bazza, Karen becomes Kazza and Sharon becomes Shazza.

There are also a lot of abbreviations in Australian English without any suffixes. Examples of these are the words

beaut (great, beautiful),
BYO (Bring Your Own restaurant, party, barbecue etc),
deli (delicatessen),
hoon (hooligan),
nana (banana),
roo (kangaroo),
uni (university),
ute (utility truck or vehicle)
We cannot but mention unique and, indeed, colourful Australian metaphors and similes, as
as bald as a bandicoot,
as cunning as a dunny rat,
as lonely as a country dunny,
flat out like a lizard drinking,
grinning like a shot fox,
look like a consumptive kangaroo,
let alone Australian expressions, as
a feed, a frostie and a feature,
bring a plate,
in full feather,
rough end of a pineapple,
to plant the foot,
to big-note oneself,
to give it a burl,
not to know Christmas from Bourke Street,
not to have a brass razoo,
dingo?s breakfast,
to have kangaroos in the top paddock,
to have tickets on oneself

American Influence

In the middle of the century, the hectic years of the gold rush in Australia drew prospectors from California to the hills of New South Wales, bringing with them a slew of Americanisms to add to the Australian lexicon. The invasion of American vogue words marked the beginning of tension in Australia between the use of British English and American English. Should an Australian say biscuit or cookie, nappy or diaper, lorry or truck? The answer seems to be that Australian English, like its British ancestor (and like Canadian English), borrows freely according to preference, but on the other hand the British influence is much greater in Australia than in Canada. So Australians get water from a tap not a faucet, but tend to ride in elevators as well as lifts. Their cars run on petrol not gas, but they drive on freeways not motorways. American influence is evident in such words as caucus (in politics), sedan (BrE saloon), station wagon (BrE estate car), truck (BrE lorry), high school (BrE secondary school). On the other hand British English influence is evident in class (AmE grade), cinema (AmE movies), boot (AmE trunk). With foodstuffs Australian English tends to be more closely related again to the British vocabulary, e.g. biscuit for the American cookie. However, in a few cases such as zucchini, snow pea and eggplant Australian English uses the same terms as the Americans, whereas the British use the equivalent French terms courgette, mange-tout and do not care whether eggplant or aubergine is used. This is possibly due to a fashion that emerged in mid-nineteenth century Britain of adopting French nouns for foodstuffs, and hence the usage changed in Britain while the original terms were preserved in the (ex-)colonies. (For some uncertain reason, Australia uses the botanical name capsicum for what both the British and the Americans would call (red or green) pepper.) Finally, the oddest of all borrowings from America is kangaroo court.

Australian English Worldwide

In the 1980s Australian English has hit the international headlines. Films like Gallipoli and My Brilliant Career have won critical acclaim and found large audiences in the United Kingdom and the United States. The ?New Australians? (Turks, Yugoslavs, Sri Lankans and Italians) influenced on the language (pizza, kebab). There is not and cannot be any doubt that there is a great respect for Australian English in the English-speaking world.

General Australian Pronunciation

Australians have a distinct accent, which varies between social classes and is sometimes claimed to vary from state to state, although this is disputed. Accents tend to be strongest in the more remote areas. (Note that while there are many similarities between Australian accents and New Zealand ones, there are also a number of differences.)
In Australia they commonly distinguish between 3 accents, these are as follows:
1. Cultivated. An accent, used by about 10 per cent of the population, on which Received Pronunciation continues to exert a considerable influence. In some speakers the accent is very close to educated southern British, with just a hint of its Australian origin in certain vowels and in the intonation. In its most RP-like form, speakers of other varieties tend to think of it as affected.
2. Broad. At the opposite extreme, this accent, used by about 30 per cent of the population, is the one most clearly identified with the notion of an Australian twang. It is heard in many countries in the voices of the characters portrayed by such actors as Paul Hogan and Barry Humphries.
3. General. In between there is a mainstream group of accents used by most of the population.
The Australian vowel system is quite different from other varieties. Other standard varieties 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 Received Pronunciation into long vowels, thus replacing the tense-lax distinction (one of quality) with a long-short distinction (one of quantity). The table below shows these.


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