Sociolinguistic variation in present-day Australian English

Minna Korhonen (Helsinki)

As Newbrook (2001: 114) points out, Australian English (AusE) has, until recently, largely taken its linguistic norms from British English (BrE) and, therefore, it resembles BrE in many respects. However, American English (AmE) linguistic norms are also becoming more common. According to Leitner (2004: 213), Americanisms tend to be found most often in the informal style and are more easily picked up by young people. This indicates that there are differences in the use of AmE features between age groups. Recent studies on AusE have, however, also shown that AusE does not necessarily follow either of the "main" varieties of English, but makes independent choices instead (e.g. Peters 1992 and 2001).

The topic of my PhD study is social variation in and speaker attitudes towards AusE. I will concentrate on a variety of lexical, orthographic, phonological and syntactic features in which there are differences between BrE and AmE. The aim of my study is to examine to what degree AusE follows either BrE or AmE; how it has changed during the last three generations; and to what direction AusE is possibly developing. In addition, the speakers' attitudes towards AusE will also be examined.

In the present paper, I discuss the results of a pilot study on variation in the use of certain lexical, orthographic, phonological and syntactic features in AusE. The material for the study was collected by using an Internet questionnaire comprising an elicitation test. In this test, the informants were being asked to choose which of the alternative test sentences they were most likely to use in their informal speech. The study included features from areas such as marginal modals, verb morphology, pronunciation and spelling. Additional material will be drawn from interviews that were conducted in a small town of Blayney in New South Wales, Australia in November 2005. Both sources of material include informants in three different age groups (three generations).


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Leitner, Gerhard. 2004. Australia's Many Voices. Australian English - The National Language . Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Newbrook, Mark. 2001. "Syntactic features and norms in Australian English". In Blair, David and Peter Collins (eds), 113-132.

Peters, Pam. 1992. "American and British English in Australian usage". In Peters, Pam (ed.), Style on the Move , Proceedings of Style Council 94 . Sydney: Macquarie University, The Dictionary Research Centre. 20-30.

Peters, Pam. 2001. "Corpus evidence on Australian style and usage". In Blair, David and Peter Collins (eds), 163-178.