Monday, 4 January 2016

Features of and Attitudes Towards Australian English

This essay was written as part of my year 12 school assessed coursework for my linguistics class. The acctural assessed peice was hand written under test conditions. What you see below is a draft that I prepared in advance. Paragraphs were colour coded as to make it easer for myself to memorise he the basic structure and key points of my essay. Language is a fascinating phenomenon and I hope you get something out of this essay.

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English is a language that has been the world's dominant lingua franca for over a century. As English has been so widely spoken throughout the world, it has become a prime example of a pluricentric language, meaning that, although it is technically one language, it has a broad spectrum of varieties. These varieties or multiple English's include Canadian English, New Zealand English, American English and the vast varieties of British English. One of the newest of these varieties is Australian English, which is at the most only 300 years old approximately. It has distinctive features but at the same time, clear similarities to its mother language. Australian English, as does any variety of English, has a standard variety that is preached in all formal institutions and rapidly changing informal varieties, distinctive features that are influenced by regional and cultural factors and attitudes towards Australian English, contributing to Australia's national identity.

Formally, the language of Australia is standard Australian English. It is what is promoted in schools to both foreign and domestic students, broadcasters are expected to use it on television and radio and language books such as grammar guides and dictionaries foster it. Standard Australian English is used, and thus promoted, in almost all of Australia's institutions. English of informal register is also used in Australia, much of which comes from the linguistic diversity that immigrants have brought to the Australian lexicon. Australian English originated from the London - Central Midland region (Burridge, de Laps, Clyne; 2011). These are the roots of Standard and Non-Standard Australian English. As we know it today, Australian English could have been very different if other cities in England had the same non-linguistic advantages such as social, economic and  political advantages. History and geography have been the main influences as to how Standard Australian English has developed. Further development of Australian English came with the role of immigrants and as mentioned earlier, Standard but Non Standard Australian English predominantly, is changing continuously. It can be seen in vocabulary differences (eg: "pizza" has been added to the Australian lexicon), and pronunciation differences, such as placing an "a" before "l" instead of a "e" before "l", as in 'Melbourne'. This contributes to change in Australia's national identity. In the words of David Crystal: "language shows we 'belong', providing natural badges, or symbol[s], of public or private identity."

Versions of English all have differences within themselves. Generally, the most obvious factor influencing linguistic variation is geographical location (Burridge, et al; 2011). For example, a speaker in the city of York in the UK will have different linguistic patterns to a speaker in London. A speaker that uses the  American dialect in Washington DC sound will different from someone in San Fransisco. A speaker in Brisbane will have different linguistic patterns to someone in Melbourne because those living in Brisbane have to interact with a very different geographical, and to an extent, cultural environment. and so on. The various countries colonised by Britain have their own distinctive regional dialects of English and as listed above, their own regional accents. However, although regional variation is not inexistent, Australia has very little variation over vast geographical distances for a country of it's size. An American speaker in Chicago (Northern USA) will most likely sound much fairer than a speaker in Montgomery (Southern USA). In Australia, the difference in much less noticeable. Although an Australian speaker in Townsville will sound different to a speaker in Ballarat, they will sound very much the same to the untrained ear (Burridge, et al; 2011). Regional variation is present in Australia, however, when compared to other English speaking nations such as America and the United Kingdom, Australia's regional variations are minor. For example; most Australians allegedly call the guttering along the roof "gutters". Victorians and Tasmanians however, call it a "spouting". There are few variations like this in Australia (Burridge, de Laps, Clyne; 2011).

Social variations are what most linguists would consider to be the most obvious reasons for accent differences in Australia. In terms of accent, Australian English is generally classified into three overall varieties - Broad, General and Cultivated. Groups of low socioeconomic status are commonly associated with the Broad Australian accent. The Broad Australian accent was widely used as a means of differentiating themselves from the British by many Australians. However, as Broad Australian has historically been considered to be unintelligible, predominantly by non-Australians, it has largely fallen out of favour in Australia. The second accent, General Australian, is what most Australians actually speak, as opposed to what they have historically pretended to speak - Broad. Hence, the General accent is dominant in Australia. Last is the prestigious Cultivated accent. Thought to have originated from British Received Pronunciation, cultivated Australian is spoken by the educated, wealthy class. These are the 3 main traditional variations of Australian English (Burridge, et al; 2011).

In the second half of the 20th century, there were many new factors that would add new dimensions to Australian English. One of these dimensions was ethnicity. After the Second World War, Australia received large quantities of European immigrants, particularly from countries such as Italy and Greece. Immigrant groups such as the the Italians and Greeks were seeking to assert their identities with their own ethnic varieties of English, becoming a means of signalling group boundaries. # Lexical items are transferred from the original languages of immigrant communities into the Australian community. Many of these lexical items are often nouns within the semantic fields such as family, religion and foods like "Spaghetti" and "Lasagna". Multicultural varieties of Australian English have notably impacted on the mainstream generational sociolects of young Australians, particularly in the playground. Using language variation to signal group boundaries has also been used by Aboriginal people. # To clearly signify their group boundaries, Indigenous peoples have changed their use of pluralisations. For instance, Indigenous people might say "That my Daddy car" instead of "That is my Dads car". Ethnically diverse groups such as immigrant populations in Australia are now considerable forces for change in Australian English.

Another notable dimension that influences variety in Australian English is gender. Gender specific linguistic behaviours is a growing area of sociolinguistic research. Such research has shown that women use innovative forms more often than men, especially when women are the leaders of linguistic change. Often woman have significant roles in norm setting and the redefining of status norms. This may be partially due to the belief that women are more likely to be aware of prestigious or stigmatised forms than men (Labov; 2001:367).

The age of speakers in any linguistic group will also play a large part in linguistic variation and in particular, lexical choice. The lexical choice/features used by older and younger generations often differs greatly. Expressions that are weakening and are "on their way out", are used by older generations who are generally more conservative (Burridge, et al; 2011). Younger generations seem to have a more informal and flexible approaches to language. For example, to mean "good", young people's lexical choice often consist of words such as "wicked", "sick" and "mad", changing the connotations of such words from positive to negative. Young people are often the instigators of language change whilst older aged people tend to preserve older forms of language (Burridge, et al; 2011).

English is often considered to be a factor that unites people under a common language. Australians have the advantage of being able to communicate with millions around the world without having to learn a second language. Despite such vast similarities with other countries own versions of English, Australian English does have features that are completely original. One primary area of the uniqueness of Australian English lies in the Australian lexicon. Many commonly known words that are deeply engrained in Australian English came from Aboriginal languages (Leitner and Sieloff 1998, Leitner 2004: pp 169-170, Wilkes 1978, Johansen 1988). Although Indigenous languages have made small quantitive contributions to modern Australia's lexicon, the contributions made have been of great significance. Borrowed lexemes from indigenous languages include boomerang, kookaburra, kangaroo, koala, dingo and billabong. Some of these words have, in addition to being borrowed by English speakers, had semantic extensions (Leitner, et al; 1998). "Boomerang" is an obvious example of this. "Boomerangs" semantic extensional the change in the word referring to an indigenous hunting weapon to also meaning that something such as a plan has "backfired". Place names in Australia are very diverse in genesis. Many town names in Victoria come from Britain, whilst many retained their indigenous names. Kyneton is a town of British lexical heritage. Kyneton was named after the English village of Kineton in Warwickshire. Other places like Ballarat have little known indigenous lexical heritages. Ballarat means "resting place" and Echuca means "the meeting place of waters".

Australian English also has very unique grammatical features. Australian English shows an overwhelming preference for objective personal pronouns over subjective pronouns. For example, many Australians today tend to say 'me' instead of 'I'. This preference also correlates with the preceding  of the 'ng'  sound/phonogram. Many Australians, notably Broad in accent, will often say "He was mad at me for scoring a goal", as opposed to the technically correct wording; " He was angry at my scoring a goal".  (Pawley 2004).

Speakers from Australia and New Zealand have a unique tendency to be frequent users of -ing progressive, and use ing far more extensively than British and American speakers over the last few decades (eg: I am enjoying the course of this study). Australian speakers show preference to using past tense as in "Then she's broken her leg" (Ritz and Engel 2008).

Australians are known for their very interesting discourse features. Discourse particles such as "you know", "well" and "yeah-no", which serves the purpose leaving options open whilst maintaining a friendly rapport. The "yeah-no" formula can also be seen elsewhere. Negative interrogative tags such as "your going home soon, aren't you?". The yes-no sort of question can also be detected via the rising of intonation, as in "So, you want to become a benthos geologist?" (Burridge, et al; 2011)

Australian English has a common tendency to disregard many consonants, notably "t". This phenomenon is known as flapping. Often the "t" sound is replaced with the "d" sound. "Bit" is pronounced as "bid". This can be explained by looking a places of articulation. The organs (tongue and alveolar ridge) of speech come together, but they don't part to make the little explosion that characterises the stopped consonant. Vowels are also pronounced in ways that are distinctive to Australia. The word "hat" can sometimes be heard as "hæt". This sound might well be attributed to influence from Irish English. Victorians in particular tend to pronounce the states capital city as Malbourne instead of Melbourne. The "A" sound is placed before the "L" sound, where as the "E" sound in many other lexicons. This phenomena is currently being researched by linguists at the University of Melbourne (Wellmaxx; 2010).

Prosodic features in Australia are very distinctive. Sentences often finish with rising intonation. This is sometimes known as "Uptalk". Uptalk is often used in interrogative sentences as a way of indirectly asking questions. This sort of questioning is not found in North America and Britain. Because of this, Uptalk has been stereotyped and often stigmatised as a distinctive pattern of Australian English since the early 1960s when people first became aware of it (Horvath 2004: 639).

Australian English has many distinctive features which contribute to attitudes towards it and other English varieties. Australian English has historically been viewed as inferior to many speakers of English, including Australians themselves. The varieties of British English and American English have always been considered to be superior as those versions of the language in question have been dominant for non - linguistic reasons. Britain dominated the world politically, socially and technologically for centuries until America took the platform as the worlds superpower in the middle of the 20th century. In accordance with what seems to be pluricentric tradition, speakers of dominant varieties tend to have opinionated and rigid attitudes to non-dominant ones. For instance, speakers of dominant national varieties are often unable to differentiate other non - dominant varieties such as Australian English and New Zealand English, believe that diversity is restricted to spoken language and believe that their variety, whether it be American or British, is the absolute standard. Dominant varieties of English are also common in the media. Many movies, television programs, and video games have characters with American accents. Characteristics of American English for example such as certain lexemes, distinctive grammatical features and syntactic patterning are sometimes picked up Australian youth as they are led to believe it is in some way better than their native version of English. This can be described as an example of cultural cringe (Clyne 1992: 459-62).

For the majority of Australia's comparatively short history, British English (also known sometimes as the "mother tongue") was the standard language used in Australia's institutions, including primary and secondary schools. It was only about 40 to 30 years ago that Australian English dictionaries and grammar guides were first published. Debatably this could be a reflection of when the Australian society was mature and confident enough to promote its own expression of the English Language. It was around this time that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) began to use the Australian accent on television. Before this, the ABC would either recruit people from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) who spoke the then perceived 'cleaner' and 'proper' English, or higher Australians who had received their educations from British universities such as Cambridge and Oxford. This shows progress in Australian English and that the 'cultural cringe' gradually deteriorated.

Australian English is a relatively new variety of the English Language. It is both formal and informal in register. It has its own distinctive features that are brought about by its regional and cultural influences. Based on these multifactorial influences, the attitudes towards Australian English have changed and will continue to change in generations to come.
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