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Department of Linguistics

audio illustrations

Australian English accent highlights

general features of australian english:

Voice Portrait

For some other interesting examples of the changing Australian English accent, visit in the past.

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examples of australian speakers

The Australian accent has a number of very distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other English accents. This page has interesting examples to illustrate some of the important features of the Australian accent.

Listen to some audio excerpts from Australian English speakers. The distinctive Australian pronunciation of many words is due to the quality of the vowels sounds.

21 year old female from regional NSW

"The plane flew down low over the runway then increased speed and circled the airfield a second time."

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Listen to the sound of the vowels in "plane", "down", "low", "increased speed", "time".

20 year old male from Sydney

"Pete sat in the little boat with his bait and his fishing boots on the floor beside him waiting for the trout to bite."

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Listen to the sound of the vowels in "boat", "bait", "boots", "bite".

35 year old male from Victoria

"Then the sun shone out warmly and immediately the traveller took off his cloak."

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Listen to the sound of the vowels in "immediately", "cloak".

The vowels in all these words are very distinctive markers of Australian English.

35 year old female from Tasmania

"The three girls, Sallyanne, Zita and Del, wore their fake fur coats, brown boots and felt hats to our high school dance in second year."

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Listen to the words "three girls", "fake", "brown boots", "our high school dance", "second year".

Notice that the words "wore", "fur", and "year" do not have an "r" sound at the end. This is because Australian English is a non-rhotic accent that does not have 'r' sounds at the ends of words before pauses or consonants.

Study Tip: Learn more about rhoticity on the Further Study page...

In some speakers of Australian English the vowel in "year" would be pronounced with a diphthong – that is two vowel sounds together, starting with a sound like "i" as in "hit" and then drifting into a very weak vowel like the first sound in "above". For some speakers the second part of this diphthong would instead be like the sound in "but". Some more detail can be found here. The vowel in "year" is the same as the vowel in "beard" and "fears". For speakers who omit the last element of the diphthong such as in the example here, the words "beard" and "fears" are the same as the words "bid" and "fizz" but with a longer vowel.

Notice also the pronunciation of the vowel in "dance". Some speakers of Australian English use the same vowel as in "bad" for this word and others use the same vowel as in the word "hard".

Study Tip: Learn more about the dance vowel on the Further Study page...

40 year old male from Queensland

"From forty love the score was now deuce and the crowd grew tense."

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Listen to the sound at the beginning of "deuce". This word sounds the same as "juice"” in Australian English.

Study Tip: Learn more about palatalisation on the Further Study page...

Also listen to the way he pronounces the consonant "t" in "forty". Here he is using a flapped 't'. This is a sound made by flicking the tip of tongue against the roof of the mouth. This can happen when "t" occurs between vowels if the second vowel is a weak vowel. The "t" sounds a little more like a "d". "t" flapping is a very common process in connected speech.

20 year old female from Sydney

"They suggested that the ice would thaw as soon as spring arrived."

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Notice that this speaker inserts an "r" sound between the words "thaw" and "as". This is a phenomenon known as "intrusive r".

Study Tip: Learn more about linking and "intrusive r" on the Further Study page...

vowels

monophthongs and diphthongs

Vowel sounds are different from each other mainly because of the different ways that the tongue, the jaw and the lips are positioned. A simple way to illustrate this relationship is to use a vowel space map.

The diagrams here represent a standard vowel plane which very loosely reflects the position of the tongue and jaw during speech production and the auditory result of the articulatory shape.

The horizontal plane represents the front to the back of the mouth (front on the left and back on the right). The vertical plane represents the height of the tongue and jaw (high at the top and low at the bottom). The top left side of the diagram represents sounds that are made at the front of the mouth with the jaw quite high and the tongue quite close to the roof of the mouth. The top right represents vowels that are made with the jaw high and the tongue raised towards the back of the mouth. The bottom right represents the low (jaw open, low tongue) back position and the bottom left represents the low front position.

The vowel in the word "bid" is a high and front vowel and the vowel in the word "bad" is a low front vowel. If you say the word "bid" and then try saying the same word but with an open jaw after the "b", you will create a word that sounds like "bad".

In Australian English, in addition to the effects of the jaw and tongue position, the vowels in "booed, good, board, pod", and sometimes "heard", have the lips in a rounded position. Lip rounding is an important characteristic of the vowels.

There are also roughly two degrees of length for Australian English monophthongs. The vowels in "bead, bared, hard, bored, booed, bird" are all long vowels. The others are considered short vowels, however the vowel in "bad" has variable length depending on the particular word.

More information about "bad/lad split" can be found on the further study page.

Click on the monophthong diagram to hear the Australian English monophthong sounds. These are vowels that have a relatively stable articulatory position during their production.

Monophthong Space Chart

Monophthongal vowels do not require the tongue to be moving during their production.

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The diphthong diagram has the same vowel space grid but because the diphthongs are dynamic they can't be represented by a single point. Therefore the diphthongs are represented by arrows that show the general direction of the tongue and jaw movement during their articulation. Click on each word to hear the sound and see the movement of the arrow. The specific symbols for diphthongs can be found on the further study page.

Diphthong Space Chart

Diphthong vowels DO require movement of the tongue, jaw and lips for their production.

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intonation

high rising tune

Some Australian English speakers commonly use a form of upward inflection in their speech that is not associated with asking questions. In English, upward inflection (a rise in the pitch of the voice at the end of a sentence) typically signals a question. However, some speakers also use upward inflection as a way of including their conversational partner in the dialogue. As such, they are an important interactive tool. The following excerpts illustrate High Rising Tune, sometimes called Australian Questioning intonation or uptalk.

"So I just went above Dingo Opencut Mine"

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"and then you go down south"

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"loose rubble sort of positioned halfway down the page"

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"Go up and over the millionaire's castle"

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"and there's a wooden pole"

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broadness variation

broad, general and cultivated accents

Some researchers believe that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Australian English began to develop a continuum of broadness based primarily on the pronunciation of the diphthongs, particularly those in the words like "beat, boot, bait, bite, boat, bout". This Broadness Continuum was considered the main way that the Australian accent varied among speakers. The three categories along this Broadness Continuum were Broad, General, and Cultivated. Current research shows that the Broadness Continuum no longer provides an adequate framework for describing how the Australian accent varies.

Listen to examples from three Australian Prime Ministers who each use speech from different Broadness categories.

Study Tip: Learn more about Broadness on the Australian Accent page...

Broad:
Bob Hawke
"Oh, ah, several cups of tea"

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General:
Gough Whitlam
"Well may we say 'God save the Queen' . . . "

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Cultivated:
Robert Menzies
"Fellow Australians"

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regional variation

centring diphthongs, dance, alps, vocalisation of "l", the vowel "oo"

In Australia there is rather less regional variation in accent than there is in most other English speaking countries. However there are a few markers of region that may help to give away a speaker’s place of origin or upbringing.

1. Centring diphthongs:
In Western Australia there is a tendency for centring diphthongs like the vowels in the words "ear" and "air" to be pronounced as full diphthongs (i.e. vowels that require the tongue, jaw and lips to move during their production) or as disyllables (two vowels together forming two separate syllables.) In NSW the tendency is for these vowels to be produced as monophthongs (vowels that don’t require any change in the tongue, jaw, and lip position during production).

The following two speakers illustrate this characteristic with the word "fear" in the sentence:

"They noticed that the door of the hunting lodge stood ajar and they grabbed their guns in fear."
Male from WA

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Male from NSW

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2. DANCE, ADVANCE, FRANCE
Some Australian English speakers use the vowel in "hard" in words like "France, advance, dance" and "plant, grasp" but others use the vowel in "bad". This variation has a regional distribution with speakers from South Australia more likely to use the vowel in "hard" rather than the vowel in "bad" for these words.

Study Tip: Learn more about the dance vowel on the Further Study page...

"france" - short

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"france" - long

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3. In Victoria, many speakers have interesting vowels in words like "alps" and "Alan" and also "Ellen" and "elk". For some, mainly older, speakers the first vowel in "alps" and "Alan" sound like the vowel in "bed", so "alps" sounds like "elps" and "Alan" sounds like "Ellen". For other, younger speakers, the first sound in "Ellen" and "elk" sound like the vowel in "had" so "Ellen" sounds like "Alan" and "elk" sounds like "alk".

Listen to the word "alps" produced by older male speakers from Victoria and NSW.

"alps" - Victoria

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"alps" - NSW

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Listen to the sentences here spoken by younger female speakers from Victoria and NSW.

"Helen picked a good spot near the water and spent the morning surfing and relaxing in the sun."
Female from Victoria

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Female from NSW

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4. Vocalisation of "l"
When the consonant "l" occurs at the ends of words before pauses and before consonants it sometimes sounds like a vowel sound rather than a consonant. This is because /l/ is made with two different articulations. One of the articulations is like a vowel articulation and the other is more like a typical consonant articulation. When /l/ occurs at the ends of words before pauses and before other consonants, the consonantal articulation can be obscured by the vowel articulation. This makes the /l/ sound like "oo". This phenomenon is more common in South Australia than in other parts of the country. The following sentence illustrates vocalisation of "l" in the word "tilts".

"The table is made so sloppily that it tilts."
Male from SA

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5. The vowel "oo"
When the vowel "oo" as in "who" occurs before a vocalised "l", it can change into a sound more like the vowel in "pull". This change is more likely to occur in South Australia but is gradually becoming more widespread across the country. In the following audio examples, listen to the word "school", particularly the characteristics of the vowel sound. In the South Australian speaker the "oo" sound is more like the vowel in "pull".

"The footpaths at the back of the school have become decidedly overgrown."
Female from SA

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Female from NSW

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