Wednesday, January 06, 2016

That Australian Life - regional variations in Australian English

Interesting piece in The Conversation, Togs or swimmers? Why Australians use different words to describe the same things, regional variations in Australian English. The piece draws from The Linguistics Road Show's Mapping Words around Australia.

Australia's regional language differences are relatively small, if greater than many realise (here, here). The European history of the country is relatively short, while there was considerable internal migration during the colonial period, far more than in recent years. This limited the creation of distinct regional dialects of the type found in, say, the US.

The main variation picked up the Mapping Words piece reflects state variations. This is partly due to the settlement patterns from the state capital, partly to the way that economic activity (and advertising) up to the 1950s was state based. In the marchland areas between states such as the River Murray or the far North Coast of New South Wales where state influences contest, there is some overlapping of words.

While state variations appear important, there are other influences as well. One classic example is the relative distribution of the terms Koori and Murri to describe Aboriginal people in Eastern Australia. A second is the concentration of immigrants from particular areas in Australian localities such as Germans in the Barossa valley. The linguistic effects here have declined with time as those populations became assimilated into the broader community. There are also socio-economic effects reflecting a combination of particular economic activities such as mining with the home location of migrants attracted to those activities.

It's interesting, however, that regional dialects are far more pronounced in New Zealand than in Australia. I wonder why?


2 tanners said...

It's interesting, however, that regional dialects are far more pronounced in New Zealand than in Australia. I wonder why?

Inferiority complex.

Jim Belshaw said...

Laughed, 2t. Mine, yours or the kiwis?

2 tanners said...

Let me not be caught outing anybody's problems, Jim, or another of your commentators might direct a swift verbal kick up my pixelation.

More seriously, I think I would have found an age breakup useful too. Raised as I was in Adelaide, bathers was the standard use, but cossie was what older folks said. Togs identified a blow-in and swimmers was a class distinction (the private schoolies who played Rugger, not Rules).

Eastern staters could be identified by the way they said Newcassell, not Newcarsell and in fact all foreigners said graf, not grarf. i think the fairly distinctive SA accent has died, along with the slow FNQ accent which involved not moving the upper lip at all.

These things change. That's life, although I do regret the loss of the gentle SA accent. Especially in my own speech.

Anonymous said...

So I went searching Wiki for dialects, and chanced upon the sub-referenced Aus/NZ section, which I found very interesting:

tanners' comment re age breakup is interesting; maybe yet another effect of our ever ongoing colonisation by all things American? And on a personal note, the most extreme example in my life was talking with my brother after he returned from 2 years in Perth - weird how his vocals had changed.

aka 'another commentator' :)

Anonymous said...

Hey tanners, just stumbled upon this:

COMMENTER: person who comments on commentator's comment.

COMMENTATOR: personage who makes original comment.

Follows the rule: higher status merits longer word. (Plebians 'use'; patricians 'utilize'.)

Consider yourself corrected :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Utilising (no z kvd) my patrician position commentator for a few follow up comments.

The age thing is interesting. Intuitively, I would expect this to be important, so with 2t wish that it could have been included. The link that kvd gave implies a matrix: we have general language categories General Australian, Broad Australian, Cultivated Australian and Australian Aboriginal English and then we have regional variations superimposed.

The broad Australian categories have shifted with time. For example, the old categorisation was broad Australian, educated Australian, English or posh Australian.

You did get particular local or regional variations that reflected varying socio-economic and source mixes. For example, Cessnock in the Hunter was working class with predominantly English origin so far as the miners were concerned. To some degree this affected the structure, tone and vocabulary of the English spoken.

Both 2t and kvd pointed to regional differences that they had noticed. Growing up in New England, there were distinct language shifts from east to west, with the coast, tablelands and western slopes/plains all speaking slightly different forms of English. The tablelands with its predominantly English-Scottish origin squatting families spoke what would be seen as more English Australian. Broad Australian was less prevalent than on the coast or in the west, while western English was distinctly slower in cadence. Indeed, it still is.

Survival of a language or dialect of a language depends upon usage. Regional variations of Australian English never established themselves to the degree that you would find in North England or Scotland. Their use was effectively limited to the private space among relatively small groups.

Languages also shift. The term strine dates to 1964. I struggled then and indeed still do to get the humour because I just don't speak that way. The popularity of strine was the sign of a language shift that was taking place in Australia, New Zealand and Canada around the same time. I must admit that I struggled with the humour associated with strine; I just didn't speak that way!

Young Australians are surprised at the English spoken in films or recordings from the 1950s or earlier. It seems just so English. In fact, if they listen to Canadian or NZ film or recordings from the same time, they may struggle to see any difference. In both Oz and NZ, the accent as a whole became broader during the sixties and seventies, the Canadian accent seems to have become more American.

These broader language shifts can but need not overpower specific regional variations. In the case of the UK, for example, the social and political changes that took place actually empowered regional dialects at the expense of the previous idea of standard English. The opposite happened in Australia.

This has become a muse rather than comment. But it got me thinking about language shifts as seen through the prism of my own experience. Why, for example, did spoken Australian English converge on educated Australian, dropping off broader Australian, while the opposite happened in New Zealand? Oh well, enough for the moment.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is very interesting. I'm not sure whether my way of speaking qualifies as General, Broad, cultivated or something else. 2T, also not familiar with what you call the SA accent, though I have had a girl board with me in the past from SA. Her accent as well as her syntax was quite different. I also remember several comments in my early working years questioning whether I was in fact from Western Sydney. Apparently I spoke too "nicely". GL

2 tanners said...

The South Australian accent was clearly differentiable. The "a" was a drawn-out "ah" in many cases, so "dance" was "dahnce" and graph was "grahph". It was like a soft educated English accent (not as English as an ABC announcer's pronunciation) and with many exceptions. Pants rhymed with ants, but dance rhymed with France. There were other differences as well, but tht was the main, easily identifiable one.

I recall Kiwis having a very English accent, except for their hilarious inability to pronounce "six". My, how that has changed.

Anonymous said...

"Utilising (no z kvd)"

Was a simple cut/paste from an American blog Jim, indicated by italicizing/italicising. If I had altered the spelling in the original, would I not have been plagiarising/plagiarizing?

ps not being picky; just seems somehow relevant to your post anyway :)

Jim Belshaw said...

Now its my turn to be corrected, kvd! However, you would probably not have been guilty of plagiarising,just misquoting!

Good morning, GL. Interesting. I thought that the WA accent was a little broader, in fact! 2t, the SA accent you are talking about was certainly pronounced earlier. Professor Russel Ward comes to mind. There is a certain irony that the man who invented the term Australian legend and focused on mateship should talk in such a patrician way. New England Tablelands English was a cross between Sydney and SA! I still say dance as in France!

Anonymous said...

This "dance as in France" stuff is crazy! We (mostly) all seem to rhyme those words, but that doesn't indicate the pronunciation. Do you mean you vocali(s/z)e the "a" as in 'charm' or as in 'pants'?

Your non-native-speaking readers might find that a bit more helpful.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. Point taken. I am not a linguist so not good at these things.

As you note, the difference lies in the a. The a in pants is short - p-a-nts. Many people follow this in words such as dance or prance. In Bob's example or in my case, the a sound in dance is longer, more equivalent to an aah sound. Thus d-aah-nce.

France is normally pronounced with the longer a. However, this is not universally true. In some cases those who use the shorter a will also use if in France.

To complicate matters further, in broad Australian, the a sound broadens again to become aa!