Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Australia's Regional Dialects - Introduction

One interesting issue is the extent to which Australia has its own regional dialects. The traditional answer is no. Yet the position is not as clear cut as that.

Let's start with a definition of dialects. Essentially, dialects are varieties differing from each other in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.

Now there have always been variations in the pronunciation of Australian English, but these have usually been construed into three main groups linked to economic and social class. Thus today we have broad, general and cultivated Australian English. Forty years ago the same groups were classified as broad, educated and posh.

Like all English variants, Australian English has been evolving.

Broad English has in some ways become less broad with the spread of education.

Posh or cultivated Australian English has become broader and declined in relative importance with the ending of the BBC English influence that used to provide a common benchmark across Empire and Commonwealth countries. My daughters, as a current example, are struck by just how posh or cultivated many of the Aboriginal activists sound who fought for the 1967 constitutional change in Australia, a marked contrast from the current stereotypical Aboriginal English.

General or educated English in its turn has become broader, a similar process has occurred with New Zealand English.

So when we talk about Australia's regional dialects, we have to put this in a context of broader change in Australian English.

There have always been regional variations in vocabulary. All Australians recognise this, although they are sometimes hard-pressed to define the differences outside a few well known examples.

There have also been some differences in pronunciation and grammar, although these are harder to see and did decline for a period. However, in recent times a whole series of regional variations have started to re-appear in Australian English. Often subtle, they reflect broader cultural change within Australia, a process proceeding at different speeds and different directions across the country.

I will explore this from time to time in coming posts.

Next post.

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