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Department of Linguistics


The Vowels of Australian English

Robert Mannell

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Impressionistic Studies of Australian English Vowels

Prior to the advent of modern acoustic analysis techniques, and overlapping with acoustic studies during the early years of acoustic phonetics, phonetic analysis was "impressionistic" and was carried out by phoneticians trained in auditory and transcription skills. For an overview of impressionistics studies of Australian English read:-

Acoustic Studies of Australian English Vowels

Until recently, most Australian phoneticians used the symbols originally used by Mitchell (Mitchell, 1946; Mitchell & Delbridge, 1965) to make broad (or phonemic) transcriptions of Australian English vowels. Clark (1988) proposed a new system which more accurately represents the actual pronunciations of an "average" speaker of general Australian English. Clark's vowel symbols are an attempt to relate the actual pronunciation of each vowel by an average speaker of General Australian English (averaged across > 60 speakers) to the closest cardinal vowel. These pronunciations are derived from an acoustic study (Bernard, 1970; Bernard and Mannell, 1986) which will be dealt with in a separate course on Acoustic Phonetics. Cox (1996), Harrington, Cox and Evans (1997) examined further detailed acoustic data of Australian English vowels spoken by both adolescents and adults. The conclusions of those studies resulted in a further revision of Clark's proposals for the transcription of Australian English vowels. This new system is contrasted with that of Mitchell and Delbridge (used by the Macquarie Dictionary) in the table below.

Mitchell (1946) Harrington, Cox & Evans (1997) Example word
i heed
ɪ ɪ hid
ɛ e head
æ æ had
a ɐː hard
ʌ ɐ hut
ɒ ɔ hot
ɔ horde
ʊ ʊ hood
u ʉː shoot
ɜ ɜː heard
ə ə suppose
æɪ hate
ɑe hide
æɔ howl
əʉ hope
ɔɪ hoist
ɪə ɪə hear
ɛə hair
ʊə ʊə tour

Table 8: The vowel symbols utilised by Mitchell and Delbridge (1965) and Harrington, Cox and Evans (1997).

Very Important Note: Unless specifically told otherwise, when doing a broad transcription of Australian English for assessment in this course you must use the Harrington, Cox and Evans (HCE) vowel set.


Please note: The references listed below do not represent required reading for this module. This is simply a listing of the references cited in this module. On-campus students may, if they wish, use this list as a guide to further reading. External students should note that they will not be disadvantaged because of their inability to gain access to the following books and articles as they are optional additional reading only.

Bernard, J.R. (1970) "Toward the acoustic specification of Australian English", Zeitschrift fur Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung, Band 23, Heft 2/3

Bernard, J.R. and Mannell, R.H. (1986) "A study /h_d/ words in Australian English", Working Papers of the Speech, Hearing and Language Research Centre, Macquarie University

Clark, J.E. (1989) "Some proposals for a revised phonetic transcription of Australian English" in Collins, P. & Blair, D. (eds) Australian English: The Language of a New Society, Univ. Queensland Press.

Cox, F. M. (1996) An acoustic study of vowel variation in Australian English, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Macquarie University.

Cox, F. M. (2006) "The acoustic characteristics of /hVd/ Vowels in the Speech of some Australian teenagers ", Australian Journal of Linguistics, 26, 147-179.

Cox, F. M. (2006) "Australian English Pronunciation into the 21st Century" Prospect: Australian Journal of TESOL, 21, 3-21.

Harrington, J., Cox, F., & Evans, Z. (1997) "An acoustic study of broad, general and cultivated Australian English vowels", Australian Journal of Linguistics, 17, 155-184.