Major English dialects:
American English
Australian English
British English
Canadian English
Caribbean English
Indian English
Jamaican English
Liberian English
Malaysian English
New Zealand English
Singapore English
South African English

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

Table of contents
1 Differences with other variations of English
2 Unique Australian traits
3 Phonetics of Australian English
4 Vocabulary
5 Spoken Australian English
6 Myths about Australian English
7 Talking about food
8 Regional variation
9 External links

Differences with other variations of English

Australian English is similar in many respects to British English but it also borrows from American English. (For example, it uses truck instead of lorry, and freeway rather than motorway.) It is most similar to New Zealand English, although the difference 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".

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).

Due to the predominence of foreign mass media products in the country, 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", or "behavior" as opposed to "behaviour". Generally, either variant is accepted.

In 1981 the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English was published after 10 years of research and planning. Editions have been published ever since. There is also an Oxford dictionary of Australian English.

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?, or this is the truth!, or even this is ridiculous! depending on context. The disputed origin (see ) 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 quite synonymous with "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 places, flora and fauna (e.g. Dingo, kangaroo). 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.

Australian English has a unique set of diminutives formed by adding -o or -ie to the ends of (often abbreviated words). There does not appear to be any particular pattern to which of these suffixes is used. Examples with the -o ending include abo (aborigine - now considered very offensive), arvo (afternoon), servo (service station) and ambo (ambulance officer). Examples of the -ie ending include barbie (barbeque), bikkie (biscuit) and blowie (blowfly). Occasionally, a -za diminutive is used, usually for personal names. Barry becomes Bazza, Karen becomes Kazza and Sharon becomes Shazza.

Phonetics of Australian English

The "cultivated" and "general" accents use 24 consonants, 11 vowels and 8 diphthongs. (The "broad" accents employ a myriad of different vowels and diphthongs). IPA symbols of the sounds are as follows (where similar or no characters can be provided in unicode, names of the symbols are included for clarification):


    plosives/stops: p, b, t, d, k, g
    fricatives: f, v, θ, , s, z, S (esh), Z (yogh), h
    affricates: tS (tee-esh), dZ (dee-yogh)
    nasals: m, n, ŋ
    semivowels: j, w
    liquids: l, r


    short vowels: I (small capital i), , ε, A (inverted v), υ, @ (turned cursive a)
    long vowels: i, a, u, 3 (reversed epsilon), ) (open o)
    special status: ə

The symbols /e/ and /o/ are also used, but only in diphthongs.


    aI, eI, )I, aυ, oυ, Iə, εə, υə

Note: /ə/ is the only short vowel that appears at the end of a word


    There are many allophones in Australian English.  Here are some examples:

"Noeline's notes" /oυ/ -> [)υ], [əυ]

"I can open the can" // -> [] or [ə], [:]


  • abo - derogatory term for Aborigine
  • Anglo-Celtic - Australian of British or Irish descent
  • banana bender - Queenslander
  • Asian - usually East Asian rather than South Asian
  • dob - to tell on
  • dole bludger - workshy person living on welfare
  • crow eater - South Australia (seen on car number plates)
  • footy - football, Rugby League in New South Wales or Queensland, Australian Rules in other states, but not soccer
  • New Australian - 1950s term for immigrant, usually from continental Europe
  • Pom- (also pommy) mildly derogatory word for English person. Origin uncertain; possibly from "pompous".
  • Premier - elected head of a state government
  • rort - scam
  • sandgroper - Western Australian
  • 'tothersider - someone from eastern Australia (used by Western Australians, now obselete)
  • tall poppy - someone who gets ideas above his station
  • wog - derogatory term for Italian, Greek or other southern European

Many disctinctive Australian words have been driven into extinction or near extinction in recent decades, under the homogenising influence of mass media and imported culture. For example, no-one under 50 now addresses a friend as "cobber." This process is widely regretted but seems to be irreversable.

Some examples:

  • bloke - generic term for a man (driven out by the ubiquitous "guy")
  • bloody - the "great Australian adjective" (survives, but increasingly replced by stronger expletives such as "fucken/fucking", particularly among young men)
  • bonzer - really good (almost extinct)
  • chunder - to vomit (ridiculed to death by Barry Humphries, now replaced by "puke/puked/puking")
  • cobber - friend, mate (almost extinct)
  • digger - ex-soldier, term of address to an older man (nearly extinct)
  • drongo - a fool (survives, but in decline)
  • dinkum - genuine (still used but in decline)
  • poofter - homosexual man (replaced in polite use by "gay" and as a term of abuse by "fag")
  • sheila - young woman (driven out by "chick")
  • smoko - break from work (smoking is banned in most workplaces)
  • struth! - expression of shock or dismay (replaced by stronger expletives such as "fuck!" or "shit!")

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", "mad as a cut snake" or "flat out like a lizard drinking". 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 not heard as much today although it is still used. Also, the term Australians use for "fanny pack" is "bum bag" since in Australia fanny is a slang term for a vagina.

Spoken Australian English is also generally far more tolerant of expletives than other variants: the former Prime Minister Paul Keating would openly refer to his parliamentary opponents as as "mangy maggot piss ants".

Australians are known for ther directness or "why call a spade a spade, when you can call it a bloody shovel!", which can lead to misunderstanding and offence on the part of Australia's Asian neighbours. Prime Minister Keating's description of the Prime Minister of Malaysia as "recalcitrant" in 1993 caused considerable offence in that country.

Another notable trait of Australian English usage, inherited from Britain, is the use of deadpan humour, 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 humour by not recognising that tales of kangaroos hopping across the Sydney Harbour Bridge are examples of this propensity.

Myths about Australian English

Negative evaluations of Australian English, like those of many other English dialects, tend to centre on the belief, or come from the perspective that other forms of English (especially Received Pronunciation British English) are superior for some reason. These evaluations of Australian English are simple value judgments and essentially meaningless.

Australian English is sometimes described as "high-pitched", "nasal", and often "lazy" or "drawling". The charges of high pitch and nasality are not true and laziness or "drawling" are impossible to test objectively; the claims are simply based on prejudice. If anything, the tendency for Australians to turn pure vowels into diphthongs requires more work from the speech organs rather than less.

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 do not care whether eggplant or aubergine is used. 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 and accent 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 Welsh and Victorians say "school bag". "Football" refers to the most popular code in the state. Western and South Australians start a game of Australian rules football with a "bounce down", New South Welsh and Queenslanders start a game of Rugby League with a "ball up". The steadily increasing affect of centralised film, TV and even radio production, however, is rapidly blurring these distinctions.

Regional Phonetic Variation

Studies have shown that there are limited regional variations in Australian English. This chart shows the percentage of speakers from different capital cities who pronounce words in a certain way, concentrating on the usage of // vs. /a/.

graphgræf (100%)græf (70%)graf (56%)graf (70%)graf (86%)
chancetSæns (100%)tSans (60%)tSæns (75%)tSans (80%)tSans (86%)
demanddəmænd (90%)dəmand (78%)dəmand (78%)dəmand (90%)dəmand (100%)
dancedæns (90%)dæns (65%)dæns (89%)dæns (60%)dans (86%)
castlekasl (60%)kæsl (70%)kæsl (67%)kasl (100%)kasl (86%)
graspgrasp (90%)grasp (89%)grasp (89%)grasp (95%)grasp (100%)
contrastkəntrast (100%)kəntrast (100%)kəntrast (100%)kəntrast (100%)kəntrast (71%)

Source: David Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge UP, 1995

See also: Distinguishing accents in English#Australia for accent description.

External links