English Dialectology

Lecture about Australian English dialect

Australian English is predominantly British English, and especially from the London area. R’s are dropped after vowels, but are often inserted between two words ending and beginning with vowels.

The vowels reflect a strong “Cockney” influence: The long a (/ei/) tends towards a long i (/ai/), so pay sounds like pie to an American ear. The long i (/ai/), in turn, tends towards oi, so cry sounds like croy. Ow sounds like it starts with a short a (/æ/). Other vowels are less dramatically shifted.

Even some rhyming slang has survived into Australian English: Butcher’s means look (butcher’s hook); hit and miss means piss; loaf means head (loaf of bread); Noah’s ark means shark; Richard the third means turd, and so on.

Like American English has absorbed numerous American Indian words, Australian English has absorbed many Aboriginal words:

  • billibong — watering hole
  • coolabah — a type of tree
  • corroboree — a ceremony
  • nulla-nulla — a club
  • wallaby — small cangogroo
  • wombat — a small marsupial
  • woomera — a weapon
  • wurley — a simple shelter

…not to mention such ubiquitous words as kangaroo, boomerang, and koala!

Aborigine and colonialist myths blended easily, and there are a number of fearsome creatures. For example, the bunyip lives near bilibongs and eats children. Also living in bilibongs is the mindi, a hairy snake. A yowie is the Australian version of Sasquatch. And the min-min light is their version of a will-o-the-wisp.

Many common words refer to the traditions of the bushman or bushie — the early explorers and settlers of the outback (wilderness). You can find many of these in Australia’s national song, Waltzing Matilda.

  • billy — tin pot for making tea
  • cooee — call used in the outback
  • dingo — native dog
  • jackeroo — young station hand
  • joey — young kangaroo
  • jumbuck — sheep
  • matilda — backpack
  • never-never — the far outback
  • squatter — rancher
  • station — ranch
  • swagman — bushman or tramp
  • tucker — food

Colorful expressions also abound:

  • Like a greasespot — hot and sweaty
  • Like a stunned mullet — in a daze
  • Like a dog’s breakfast — a mess
  • Up a gumtree — in trouble
  • Mad as a gumtree full of galahs — insane
  • Happy as a bastard on Fathers’ Day — very happy
  • Dry as a dead dingo’s donger — very dry indeed

Another characteristic of Australian English is abbreviated words, often ending in -y, -ie, or -o:

  • aussie — Australian
  • chalky — teacher
  • chewie — chewing gum
  • chockie — chocoloate
  • coldie — a cold beer
  • cossie — swimming costume (swimsuit)
  • footy — football (Australian rules, of course)
  • frostie — a cold beer
  • garbo — garbage man
  • lavvy — lavatory
  • lippie — lipstick
  • lollies — sweets
  • mossie — mosquito
  • mushies — mushrooms
  • oldies — one’s parents
  • rellies — one’s relatives
  • sammie — sandwich
  • sickie — sick day
  • smoko — cigarette break
  • sunnies — sunglasses

And, of course, there are those peculiarly Australian words and expressions, such as g’day (guhdoy to American ears), crikey, fair dinkum, no worries, Oz, Pavlova, and Vegemite!

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