It was two centuries ago when Lieutenant James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks embarked on their adventures across the unchartered waters of Australia’s East Coast. In his journal, Banks describes seeing an unfamiliar animal “as large as a greyhound, of a mouse color and very swift.” He asked nearby Aboriginal natives what the animal was. “Kangaroo” they replied, and the rest is history.
It is a well-known anecdote amongst linguists and language lovers alike that “kangaroo” actually meant something like “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” In fact, the word can be traced back to the “gangurru,” a Guugu-Yimidhirr phrase meaning “black kangaroo.” This is one of the most widely-held examples of how the Aboriginal languages contributed to Australian English and influenced its unique vocabulary and accent.
This explains just some of the variations of British and Australian English. Although there is substantial overlap both ways, it comes as no surprise that there are also some remarkable differences. To understand more, let’s take a closer look.
Australian English vs. British English
Round 1: Historical Context
With its sunny climate, dusty plains and unique wildlife, for the European dwellers, Australia was far away from the familiarities of their little island. Eventually, this would not only give way to a new form of the English language but new cultural ideals, partially influenced by surrounding areas. To get a better grasp of how Australian English came about, let’s delve deeper into the history of both:
- British English arose in the 5th century following the invasion of Britain by the Jutes, Saxons and Angles.
- Prior to this arrival, the inhabitants of the British Isles are believed to have spoken ancient Celtic.
- The language was fully standardized by the British government towards the end of the 15th century.
- It is estimated that about a third of the world’s population, almost two million people speak English.
- The Australian accent emerged after the arrival of the European Settlers in 1788, who came from different parts of Britain.
- Unlike British English which is made up of nearly 40 different dialects, Australian English isn’t as varied despite the east and west coast being approximately 4000 kilometers apart.
- Australian English is strongly influenced by both British and American English.
- It is said that the favorable climate contributes to Australians’ relaxed and sunny outlook on life.
Round 2: Vocabulary
Beyond phonetics, one of the most striking features of the Australian accent is its range of vocabulary. While some English words have been fully absorbed into the Australian dialect, when it comes to common words and phrases, the Aussie’s have adopted their own set of rules and quirks:
|English||American English||Australian English|
|french fries||chips||hot chips|
|Maccy D’s||Mickey Dee’s||Maccers|
Round 3: Phonetics & Pronunciation
If you find the British accent difficult to understand, it’s likely you’ll find the Aussie accent even harder to grasp as, for the most part, Australia is a melting pot of all the different regional dialects of British English.
Over time, these regional dialects have blended into 3 different accents – general, cultivated and broad. Broad is what most non-Aussies are used to hearing as an Australian accent, although it is more common in rural areas. General is the dialect spoken by the majority of the population. Just like Britain, the Cultivated accent was heavily influenced by RP (Received Pronunciation) otherwise known as the Queen’s English, however, these days hardly anyone in Britain or Australia speaks this way.
While Australians and English speak the same language, there are certain phonetic and pronunciation variations that you will only find in Australian English.
The Australian vowel sounds which include both monophthongs and diphthongs are extra long. In other words, the sound from the first vowel to the second is longer in duration. For example, an Aussie speaker would pronounce “beard” and lengthen the word to sound more like /bɪːd/. For some Australian accents, this can be also be pronounced as a diphthong – i.e /bɪəd/
In Australia, the letter “T” is spoken with a softer tone, making it sound more like a North American “D”. In Broad Australian, the letter “T” is softer still or dropped entirely. For example, “water” sounds more like “wadduh”.
Shortening of words:
A British speaker listening to an Aussie accent will at times feel they are hearing an entirely different version of their language. Australians are known to shorten words or even whole sentences. For instance, Australians would pronounce “good day” as “g’day” or “sandwich” like “sanga” and use “footie” as the short form of “football”, although they’ll be referring to rugby. Most native English speakers will pronounce all the syllables in “Australia,” but Aussies say “straya” instead.
Check out this fun video on YouTube to hear the differences in pronunciation in British, Aussie and American English.
Australia has a very distinct dialect compared to Britain, not just in the words they use but the way they are spoken. These differences reflect the extraordinary history and evolution of one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. Our language experts specialize in all areas of translation to help you capture the heart of your messaging in English or any other language of your choice. Whatever your requirements, get in touch to learn more.