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Australian and New Zealand English

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Australian and New Zealand English

     Australian and New Zealand English are very similar in vocabulary and accents, due to their shared history and geographical proximity. Both include words taken from the hundreds of languages that existed in these countries before the time of the European settlers. However, the differences between the two spoken versions is obvious to people from either country, if not to a casual observer from a thirdy country (as with Canadian and US English). The vocabulary used in each country also exhibits some marked differences.


Australian English (AusE)

Brief History

     Australian English began to diverge from British English soon after the foundation of the colony of New South Wales (NSW) in 1788. The settlement was intended mainly as a penal colony. The british convicts* sent to Australia were mostly from large English cities, such as Cockneys**. Amongst the first immigrants there were also many free settlers, military personnel and administrators and their families. In 1827, Peter Cunningham, in his book Two Years in New South Wales, reported that native-born white Australians spoke with a distinctive accent and vocabulary, albeit with a strong Cockney influence. The transportation of convicts to Australian colonies ended in 1868, but immigration of free settlers from Britan continued unabated.

    The first Australian gold rushes in the 1850s resulted in a much larger wave of immigration that also had a significant influence on Australian English. At the time, Britain and Ireland were experiencing major economic hardship and about two per cent of their combined population emigrated to NSW and the Colony of Victoria*** during the 1850s. At the same time, large numbers of people who spoke English as a second language were also arriving.






Small gold minehead without shelter and six miners,     Gulgong, ca. 1875, (by AACP).



      The "Americanisation"of Australian English — signified by the borrowing of words, spellings, terms and usages from North American English — began during the gold rushes and was accelerated by a massive influx of United States military personnel during World War II. Since the 1950s, there has been an increasing availability and importation of mass media content written in US English, such as books and magazines, television programs, computer softwares and the world wide web; this has also had an effect. As a result Australians use many British and american words interchangeably, such as pants/trousers and lift/elevator.

* Convict = 1) A person found or declared guilty of an offense or crime. 2) A person serving a sentence of imprisonment.

**Cockneys = Natives of the East End of London (read the firts table below).

*** Victoria = located in the southeastern corner of Austalia, nowadays, Victoria is a state.


Curiosity Cockney Dialect

     Cockney (and its Rhyming Slang) is an interesting dialect of English, the street talking, spoken in London's east end. The Rhyming Slang refers to a word by referring to two things, the last of which rhymes with what is being referred to. For examples, money is "bees and honey," gloves is "turtle doves," suit is "whistle and flute" and trouble is "Barney Rubble." Even more confusing, sometimes the second word (which rhymes with the word being referred to) is omitted, so that money is called just "bees."

Read more about Cockney Rhyming Slang in http://www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk/cockney_rhyming_slang


Vocabulary and Spelling

    Australian English generally follows British English in vocabulary and spelling, although many North American words are used. It also has many words that some consider unique to the language. Perhaps one of the best known is outback, meaning a remote, sparsely populated area (thought, this term have been widely used in many English-speaking countries).

   Another word is billabong, meaning a dead-end channel extending from the main stream of a river, a streambed filled with water only in the rainy season or a stagnant pool or backwater.

                                     a billlabong

Many words used frequently by Australians are, or were, also used in all or part of England, with variations in meaning. For example:

creek: in Australia, as in North America, means a stream or small river, whereas in the United Kingdom it means a small watercourse flowing into the sea or a small bay;

a creek, in the Australian sense

       a creek, in the British sense


paddock: in Australia means field, whereas in the UK it means a small enclosure for livestock;

bush or scrub: in Australia, as in North America, means a wooded area, whereas in England they are commonly used only in proper names (such as Shepherd's Bush and Wormwood Scrubs).    

Curiosity - The influence of Aboriginal languages

     Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been adopted by Australian English – mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example, dingo, an Australian native wild dog). Beyond that, little has been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms and slang. An example is the word bung, meaning broken or pretending to be hurt. A failed piece of equipment may be described as having bunged up or as "on the bung" or "gone bung". A person pretending to be hurt is said to be "bunging it on". A hurt person could say, "I've got a bung knee".

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