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Australian English

Australian English is the form of the English language used in Australia.

Australian English is similar in many respects to British English, but there are a few cases where Australian English is closer to American English. For example: Australian English uses the American English truck instead of the British English lorry and the American English freeway instead of British English motorway. Like American English and unlike British English, Australian English uses singular verbs with singular collective nouns. The British English use of the plural verb - for example, "the Government are committed" - sounds quite odd to an Australian (or American) ear.

Many Americans struggle to distinguish an Australian English speaker from a New Zealand English speaker, or even a British speaker (just as Canadian and other North American English speakers are often indistinguishable to Australasian ears and are only identified as American). The difference between Australian English and New Zealand English is immediately obvious to a speaker from either country. Australian English is sometimes called "Strine[?]" and New Zealand English "Newzilid" - "strine" being the way "Australian" is pronounced with a heavy Australian accent, and "Newzilid" the equivalent for New Zealand - which embodies the essential pronunciation differences. Where Australian English has the lax vowel notated in SAMPA as /I/, New Zealand usually has the unstressed vowel of Standard English about, even in stressed positions, hence the frequent joke among Australians that New Zealand speakers like "sux buts of fush and chups".

Due to the predominence of foreign mass media products in Australia, most Australians are familiar with at least some of the variants of modern British English and American English, and many have adopted some of the distinctive vocabulary and idioms of those languages. The exposure to the different spellings of British and American English leads to a certain amount of spelling confusion - for instance, "organize" as opposed to "organise". Generally, either variant is accepted. Some other differences are less known to both cultures e.g. behavior/behaviour and this does provide a dilemma for any Australians (or English) who communicate with Americans, since most Americans are even less aware of these variations and (ironically) presume the non-Americans are poor spellers.

In 1981 the Macquarie Dictionary[?] of Australian English was published after 10 years of research and planning. Editions have been published ever since.

Table of contents

Unique Australian traits

Australian English also incorporates several uniquely Australian terms, such as outback to refer to remote regional areas, walkabout to refer to a long journey of uncertain length and bush to refer to native forested areas, but also to regional areas as well. Fair dinkum can mean are you telling me the truth? this is the truth!, or this is ridiculous! depending on context - the disputed origin (see http://www.anu.edu.au/ANDC/Ozwords/November_98/7._dinkum.htm ) dates back to the gold rush in the 1850s, "dinkum" being derived from the Chinese word for "gold": "fair dinkum" is the genuine article. G'day is well known as a stereotypical Australian greeting - it is worth noting that "G'day" is not synonymous with the expression "Good Day", and is never used as an expression for "farewell". Many of these terms have been adopted into British English via popular culture and family links.

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for the indigenous flora and fauna (e.g. Dingo, Kangaroo), as well as extensive borrowings for place names. Beyond that, very few terms have been adopted into the wider language. A notable exception is Cooee (a musical call which travels long distances in the bush and is used to say 'is there anyone there?'). Though often thought of as an Aboriginal word, Didgeridoo/Didjeridu (a well known wooden musical instrument) is actually an onomatopoeic term coined by an English settler.

Spoken Australian English

According to stereotype, spoken Australian English is thought to be highly colloquial, possibly more so than other spoken variants. Various publishers have produced "phrase books" to assist visitors. These phrasebooks reflect a highly exaggerated and outdated style of Australian colloquialisms and they should be regarded as amusements rather than accurate usage guides. Perception has it that a common trait is the frequent use of long-winded similes, such as "Slow as a wet weekend", "Built like a brick shit-house". Whether this perception is based in reality or has been produced by popular culture items of fiction such as television series Neighbours and the films of Paul Hogan remains in question.

A substantial collection of unique or unusual words are in common spoken usage - e.g. "dacks" (trousers), "dag" (unfashionable person), "bludge" (to shirk), "ute" (a utility vehicle or pickup truck). Another well-known Australianism, "wowser" (a killjoy), has now fallen out of use. An even larger vocabulary is derived from recognisable words with entirely new meanings - "to bag" (to criticise), "blue" (either a fight or heated argument, or an embarrassing mistake), "crook" (unwell, also unfair), "to wag" (to play truant), "cactus" (non-functional), "cut" (angry) and especially "root" (a euphemism for sexual intercourse, which has caused social embarrassment for American women who innocently declare that they "root" for a particular sports team). Note that the slang term "root" was common in the 1970s but is rarely heard today. Also, the term Australians use for "fanny pack" is "bum bag" since in Australia fanny is a slang term for a woman's vagina.

Spoken Australian is also generally far more tolerant of expletives than other variants: the former Prime Minister Paul Keating once publicly (and, in many Australians' opinions quite accurately) referred to the Prime Minister of Malaysia as a "recalcitrant bastard". (Unfortunately, the Prime Minister of Malaysia did not share this liberal attitude and took considerable offence).

One notable trait of Australian English usage, inherited from Britain, is the use of deadpan humor[?], in which the joker will make an outrageous or ridiculous statement without explicitly indicating they are joking. Americans visiting Australia have gained themselves a reputation for gullibility and a lack of a sense of humor by not recognising that tales of kangaroos hopping across the Sydney Harbour Bridge are examples of this propensity.

Talking about food

With foodstuffs Australian English tends to be more closely related to the British vocabulary, eg. biscuit[?] for the American cookie. However in a few cases such as zucchini[?], snow pea[?] and eggplant Australian English uses the same terms as the Americans, whereas the British use the equivalent French terms courgette, mange-tout and aubergine. This is possibly due to a fashion that emerged in mid-19th Century Britain of adopting French nouns for foodstuffs, and hence the usage changed in Britain while the original terms were preserved in the (ex-)colonies. For some uncertain reason, Australia uses the botanical name capsicum for what both the British and the Americans would call (red or green) peppers.

Regional variation

It is sometimes claimed that regional variations in pronunciation exist, but if present at all they are very small compared to those of British and American English - sufficiently so that linguists are divided on the question.

However, there used to be a significant regional variation in Australian English vocabulary between different states. For example, Queenslanders say "port" while New South Welshmen and Victorians say "school bag"; westerners and South Australians start a game of Australian rules football with a "bounce down", easterners with a "ball up". The steadily increasing effect of centralised film, TV and even radio production, however, is rapidly blurring these distinctions.

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