Skip to Content

Department of Linguistics

australian accent

Voice Portrait

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

Sorry, flash is not available.

accent

a marker of national identity

The Australian accent is a very powerful and important marker of national identity. Speakers display their Australian heritage through their accent.

speech

When talking about speech it is important that we think in terms of sounds that a person uses rather than how particular words are spelled because spelling does not give a clear indication of pronunciation. For instance, the spoken word "walk" contains just three sounds and there is no "l" sound in the spoken word, the word "music" has six sounds, and "anchor" has four sounds despite having six letters in the written word. The word "far" spoken by an Australian English speaker has just two sounds and doesn't have an "r" sound at the end. In this word, the letter "r" is not pronounced unless the word is followed by another one that starts with a vowel as in "far away".

Click on the following links to learn about how to identify and describe speech sounds:
The International Phonetic Association
Macquarie University Phonetics and Phonology Transcription Materials
Bachelor of Speech and Hearing Sciences

To describe an accent we carefully consider the kinds of vowels and consonants that are used and how these are put together into words and phrases. It's also important to think about the stress and intonation patterns that are used.

accent variation

accents vary according to:

  • system of sounds: the number and type of sounds that are used to make words (phonemic system). Australian English has the same phonemic system as Southern British English but differs from American English.
  • phonetics: what the sounds are like. This relates to the characteristics of the individual sounds (phones) but also to how the sounds vary in different contexts (allophones).
  • phonotactics: how sounds go together in the structure of words. For instance, Australian English does not have "r" sounds before consonants or pauses but Irish English does.
  • lexical characteristics: what sounds occur in particular words. For example, in Australian English some people pronounce the word "dance" with the vowel that is in the word "cat" and others may use the vowel in the word "cart".
  • suprasegmentals: what intonation patterns are present.

The vowel system is one of the strongest features used to differentiate accents.

accent broadness

Speakers of Standard Australian English do not all sound the same. There are regional differences, age related differences, and social differences.

In the past, accent variation in Standard Australian English was described with reference to a continuum of broadness, ranging from the most local type (Broad Australian) through to a more British sounding type (Cultivated Australian). An intermediate category, General Australian, was the most common type.

Broad Australian

Sorry, flash is not available.

General Australian

Sorry, flash is not available.

Cultivated Australian

Sorry, flash is not available.

Speakers were assigned to the Broadness categories mainly according to their pronunciation of six main vowels. These are the vowel sounds in the words "beat, boot, say, so, high, how".

Over the past 40 years, Australian English speakers have gradually moved towards the centre of this broadness continuum. The majority of younger speakers today use a General type of Australian English.

The move away from the Cultivated type is probably related to the shift in linguistic affiliation from a British external standard to an Australian internal standard of English. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Australian English became increasingly accepted as the standard form of English used in this country. This acceptance was paralleled by Australian independence in a global marketplace.

Cultivated Australian increasingly became associated with British affiliation, affectation and effeminacy. As the 20th century progressed, fewer social advantages were to be gained by speaking with a Cultivated Australian English accent.

Broad Australian English also lost some ground. This form symbolised republicanism, mateship, larrikinism, and egalitarianism. However, it was the most stigmatised form having connotations of ockerism and a lack of sophistication. A move away from the Broad may also have been related to a shift in Australia's sense of place in the world. It has also been suggested that Broad may have decreased as a result of association with a foreign accent variety used by migrants from Southern Europe in the post-WWII era.

The General type was uniquely Australian but without the undesirable connotations associated with either Cultivated or Broad. It became the new standard.

Accent variation in Australia today cannot be adequately described with reference to the broadness continuum. Recent research shows that there is now new variation that is separate from these traditional categories.

style

speaking style

Every person will speak differently in different situations. This is called speaking style. There is a range of styles from very casual and informal through to very precise and formal. All speakers are capable of producing formal and informal speech. Style varies according to the situational context and depends on who you are speaking to, what you are speaking about and where you are speaking. Formal style is usually characterised by a greater proportion of prestigious elements including more carefully articulated speech. Formal speaking style is more carefully monitored by the speaker and has the listener in mind (hyperarticulation). Casual speech is less carefully monitored (hypoarticulation) and is speaker-centred rather than listener-centred. We all have a range of voices from which to select the most appropriate for any given situation.

References:
Cox, F., & Palethorpe, S. (2001). The changing face of Australian English vowels. In D. B. Blair & P. Collins (Eds.), Varieties of English Around the World: English in Australia (pp. 17-44). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Horvath, B. M. (1985). Variation in Australian English: The sociolects of Sydney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.