Australian English Reimagined
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Australian English Reimagined

Structure, Features and Developments

Louisa Willoughby, Howard Manns, Louisa Willoughby, Howard Manns

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eBook - ePub

Australian English Reimagined

Structure, Features and Developments

Louisa Willoughby, Howard Manns, Louisa Willoughby, Howard Manns

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Australian English is perhaps best known for its colourful slang, but the variety is much richer than slang alone. This collection provides a detailed account of Australian English by bringing together leading scholars of this English variety. These scholars provide a comprehensive overview of Australian English's distinctive features and outline cutting-edge research into the variation and change of English in Australia. Organised thematically, this volume explores the ways in which Australian English differs from other varieties of English, as well as examining regional, social and stylistic variation within the variety.

The volume first explores particular structural features where Australian English differentiates itself from other English varieties. There are chapters on phonetics and phonology, socio-phonetics, lexicon and discourse-pragmatics as these elements are core to understanding any variety of English, especially within the World Englishes paradigm. It then considers what are arguably the most salient aspects of variation within Australian English and finally focuses on historical, attitudinal and planning aspects of Australian English.

This volume provides a thorough account of Australian English and its users as complex, diverse and worthy of study. Perhaps more importantly, this volume's scholars provide a reimagining of Australian English and the paradigm through which future scholars may proceed.

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Introducing Australian English

Louisa Willoughby and Howard Manns


This book brings together leading scholars of Australian English (AusE) who review its features and variation in its use. Australian English is perhaps best known for its vocabulary and through stereotyped portrayals of Australians and their English in the global media. At the best of times, these stereotypes see Australians and their ways of speaking as easy-going, humorous and egalitarian (e.g. Sussex, 2004; Sinkeviciute, 2014). However, these stereotypes also implicitly or explicitly construe Australians and their English as white, male and, at times, unsophisticated (see Ronowicz & Yallop, 2007). Scholars in the current volume strip away these stereotypes and show Australian English for what it is: a recognised World English, rich in regional, social and multicultural systematicity. In doing so, authors provide a 21st-century review and “reimagining” of Australian English, theoretically, methodologically and conceptually.

Australian English as a World English

The foundations of Australian English, like American English, are linked to the first dispersal of 25,000 “mother tongue” English speakers, mostly from the south and east of England, from the 17th to the 18th centuries (Jenkins, 2009:5). In both Australia and the United States, the English-speaking settlers entirely (and often violently) displaced the indigenous populations and their languages. The English varieties spoken by the settlers came to dominate and evolved into new Englishes distinct from their British Isle origins. Yet American English, Australian English and British English share similarities and remain intertwined. The American, Australian and British linguistic contexts have historically been driven by a monolingual mindset (Romaine, 1991a) and sit in contrast to those multi-lingual contexts to which English arrived in the second dispersal (Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia). Australian English is closer to British English in terms of its phonology and lexicon, but both, like most World English varieties, have come under the global influence of American English. All three varieties wield influence on other regional and global varieties of English. Australian English has been described as being at the epicentre of English in the Asia-Pacific (Leitner, 2004:1), and it wields some influence on New Zealand English and possibly on Fiji and Singapore (see Peters, 2009).
Australian English is comparatively understudied, but its status as a World English variety has been a topic of interest for nearly 50 years. One of the first collections of papers on Australian English (Turner, 1972) considers World Englishes a key theme.1 Turner’s (1972) volume spoke to the concerns of an Australian public coming to grips with the very existence of Australian English and what it meant to speak or write “Good Australian English”. Until WWII, there had been a bias toward British English in Australia, and even educated Australian English was considered nonstandard. By the 1970s, Australian English had become more visible in the Australian media, the Australian government had published its first style manual and a Labor government with noticeably broad Australian accents came to power under the leadership of Gough Whitlam (Collins & Blair, 2001; Peters, 2014). This led to an “identity crisis” (see Collins & Blair, 2001), including concerns about to what degree British English did or should influence Australian English, what impact American English was having on Australian English and what, if any, language features might be considered distinctively Australian. These themes were taken up in a series of volumes on Australian English, including Turner’s but also Collins and Blair (1989) and Romaine (1991b). However, it is through a series of 21st-century volumes on Australian English (e.g. Blair & Collins, 2001; Peters, Collins & Smith, 2009) and Australian contributions to World Englishes collections (e.g. Cox & Palethorpe, 2012; Peters, 2014) that we get our best sense of Australian English as a World English variety.
One key question in debates about World English varieties is to what degree they have achieved independence from their (in most cases) British origin. Schneider’s (2007) model of postcolonial English development describes this in terms of endonormative stabilisation and subsequent entry into the Differentiation Phrase (the emergence of internal variation). Australian English has achieved endonormative stabilisation, but has done so comparatively recently. A distinctive Australian way of speaking likely emerged from the opening days of the Australian colony. However, as noted previously, Australians remained oriented to Britain and British English until WWII. This is reflected in statements like the following from an ABC correspondent in 1942: “There is not, and should not be, any difference in standard English as spoken here, in the Motherland, or elsewhere in the Empire” (Ronowicz & Yallop, 2007:115). However, WWII saw the rapid dissolution of ties with Britain, the sudden need for Australian self-reliance and Australia paying closer attention to its role in the Asia-Pacific region. Further, from the 1940s, Australian English found a pair of champions in A.G. Mitchell and Arthur Delbridge, who described and defended Australian English (especially the accent) as a legitimate national variety. Australian English has only achieved endonormative stabilisation in the last few decades, whereas, in comparison, American English had achieved this by the start of the 20th century (see Peters, 2014).
Australian English is now among a handful of settler colony Englishes to have entered Schneider’s final Differentiation Phase (Peters, 2014). The shift from “endonormative stabilisation” to “differentiation” raises a series of new questions for Australian English scholars and those scholars interested in Australian English as a World Englishes variety. For instance, to what degree have Australians’ attitudes toward their English variety evolved? Australians’ historic orientation to Britain has meant that, since the 19th century, they have suffered a “cultural cringe” to all things Australian. Entry into the Differentiation Phase suggests that there would be greater acceptance of the local, national variety, but recent work suggests the cringe lingers, at least for some people in some contexts (see Willoughby, Starks & Taylor-Leech, 2013; Severin, 2017). Next, to what degree have methodological and theoretical innovations come to bear on our understanding of Australian English as a World English variety in its own right rather than merely a British-derived variety? For example, Australian English is perhaps best distinguished from other world varieties by its phonology (Cox & Palethorpe, 2012). Mitchell and Delbridge (1965) devised a transcription system for this phonology, but based this system on British English. In more recent years, Felicity Cox and colleagues (e.g. Harrington, Cox & Evans, 1997; Cox, 2006, 2008), using acoustic analysis, have proposed a revised transcription system for Australian vowels which uses the International Phonetic Alphabet’s cardinal vowels as the reference system rather than the British English standard. Also, the Differentiation Phase suggests the emergence of greater regional variation for Australian English. Australian English has historically been described as having less regional variation than other varieties of English like British English or American English (Cox & Palethorpe, 2012; Peters, 2014). However, recent studies have demonstrated greater awareness and use of regional variables among Australians (Billington, 2011; Loakes, Hajek & Fletcher, 2017).
One final but essential point in our understanding of Australian English as a World English emerges via a critique of the study of English varieties more generally. World Englishes scholars highlight the need to understand English not only as named linguistic systems but rather as contextualised social practice (Pennycook, 2010). Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the conceptualisation of Aboriginal English and ethnic variation in Australia. For instance, work on ethnolects has taken place under a variety of labels, including “migrant English” (Clyne, 1982) and “Ethnic Broad” (Horvath, 1985). The labels used by linguists have existed alongside other labels used in the wider community, including “wogspeak” (Warren, 1999) and “Lebspeak” (Rieschild, 2007). But Pennycook and Otsuji (2015) perhaps best demonstrate the complex multilingual realities of Australia and how, for multilingual Australians, English is one of many social resources that come to bear on their everyday interactions. Similar observations may be made about what has traditionally been labelled “Aboriginal English” but is better described in pluralistic terms (i.e. Aboriginal Englishes) and which exists alongside Aboriginal languages in lived multilingual interaction (Butcher, 2008). Traditional descriptions of Australian English have made little reference to ethnic influence and the multilingual realities of Australia (Leitner, 2004; Cox, 2006). However, English speakers in Australia, like those in Britain and the United States, have increasingly encountered, and acknowledged, the multilingual and multicultural realities of day-to-day interaction (Romaine, 1991a).

Australian migration and language

When the First Fleet of British settlers arrived in what was to become Sydney in 1788, they set foot on a continent where over 250 indigenous languages were spoken (Clyne, 1991:6). Among the earliest convicts, soldiers and free settlers were speakers of Irish Gaelic (Jupp, 2001:797, 800) and deaf signers (Thornton, 2018); however, the overwhelming majority were British English speakers. Clyne characterised the society that they established as “basically 
 monolingual”. Over the next 60 years, over 155,000 convicts would be transported from Britain to Australia and drive development of colonies along the eastern coast (Clark, 2006:141). From the 1830s onwards, UK policies assisted willing free settlers in moving to Australia, and the South Australian colony also supported the immigration of Prussian Lutherans. However, it was the gold rush of the 1850s that saw the Australian colonies really take off. Between 1851 and 1861, the population across the colonies more than doubled: from just under 438,000 to slightly over 1.1 million (Clark, 2006:155). Even during the gold rush, the United Kingdom remained the principal source country for Australian immigrants; however, the country saw the establishment for the first time of a small but highly visible Chinese community on the gold fields (estimated at 24,000 in Victoria in 1861 [Clark, 2006:155]), and racial tensions between the Anglo and Chinese migrants flared into violence at several times during this period. The gold rush saw the end of transportation to the Eastern states, with the last convicts arriving in Western Australia in 1868. These first 90 years of European colonisation were catastrophic for Indigenous Australians, whose population was decimated through disease, frontier wars and massacres by European colonists keen to claim land as their own (see, e.g. Blainey, 1980; Jupp, 2018: Chap. 5).
The Australian colonies federated and gained formal independence from Britain on the 1st of January 1901. While technically an independent nation, Australia demurred to the United Kingdom on matters of foreign policy, and the majority of Australians continued to look to the United Kingdom as the “mother country”. In order to ensure that this state of affairs remained – and with an eye on the race riots seen in the gold rush – the new parliament moved quickly to enact the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, more commonly known as the White Australia Policy. The act allowed for the exclusion of “undesirable” migrants from Australia by stipulating that any non-European migrant seeking entry to Australia could be asked by an immigration officer to pass a dictation test in a European language chosen by the officer. It should be stressed that the dictation test was a means to give this exclusionary policy a fig leaf of acceptability rather than being an objective language test. On the rare occasions that non-European (or other undesirables) attempted to enter the country, officers were instructed to engage them first in conversation to try to ascertain the languages that they spoke so that they could then present the migrant with a test in an unknown language (McNamara, 2009).
The end of World War II saw the beginning of a very different phase in migration to Australia. Under the slogan populate or perish, Australia embarked on a mass immigration program with the target of attracting 2 million migrants over the next 20 years. This required a rethink of previous immigration restrictions. While migrants from Britain were still sought after, the doors were initially opened to displaced persons from Northwestern Europe and later to those from Italy, Greece, what was then Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Turkey (Martin, 1978:30–31) before the last vestiges of the White Australia policy were repealed in 1975. In marketing the idea of mass immigration to a sceptical Australian public, the government of the day reassured the population that migrants would be strongly encouraged to assimilate into Australian life and culture and established the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) to provide free classes to help new arrivals achieve this end (Ozolins, 1993). While the AMEP continue...

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