Our Chief Editor on the influence of other Englishes on Australian English

Feb 13, 2019

Recently, The Daily Telegraph published an article discussing the rise in Aussie kids picking up US slang and pronunciations from games and streaming services. Among other examples, it pointed out:

More kids are choosing to say zee instead of zed for the last letter of the alphabet, pronounce offence and defence with the emphasis on the first syllable, and change the “yew” sound in words such as due, duplicate and attitude.

Also taking over are trendy new words from YouTube stars such as “tea” for scandalous gossip, “lit” to describe something amazing, or “shade” to trash someone while “bathroom” has largely replaced “toilet” and “butt” is preferred to “bum”.

Here in Australia, we have always taken up words and expressions from other English-speaking parts of the world. There’s no denying that US English has become the greatest overseas influence on Australian English, probably since World War II. That influence has grown exponentially in recent years, first with films and TV, and then with the internet (social media, YouTube) and computer games.

The US is being exposed to Australian English as well, through our films and TV, and the internet (think selfie, budgie smugglers), but there is obviously a huge discrepancy between the amount of US material we are exposed to and the amount of Australian content the Americans see.

Although it sometimes seems that Australians, especially the younger demographic, are unquestioningly adopting US English, there is actually some selectiveness going on. We still wear thongs on our feet (as well as elsewhere, it’s true), go up the street to buy a BBQ chook, take an esky to the footy, have buck’s parties. We still have lounge rooms and drive utes and light the barbie.

We’re still bogans. And bludgers. And dags. We still take sickies.

If the other kids muck up, we might dob on them. In an Australian accent.

I have great faith in the resilience of Australian English. It will continue to adopt bits and pieces from other Englishes, but I’m sure it will retain its unique identity.

Join the discussion!


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Bob - Feb. 28, 2019, 9:22 p.m.

Many people get quite worked up about the displacement of Australian expressions with Americanisms through ignorance. In the Daily Telegraph article you cite Port Macquarie mother decries her children's use of "juice box" instead of the quaint New South Welshism "poppa". I don't know what they're called in America but I do know that after living in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia I'd never heard them called anything else until a Sydney-raised colleague started talking about poppas and no-one had any idea what he was on about. Another example of cultural ignorance is Bernard Salt who in on of his books (The Big Tilt????) complains about traditional Australian products being replaced by generic foreign ones. The example he used was apples like Jonathan and Granny Smith being displaced by Pink Ladies. It wouldn't have taken him much effort to discover that the Pink Lady was bred by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and is in fact an Australian success story, displacing traditional varieties in many overseas countries with an Australian one. Anyway, I've always maintained that one of the great strengths of English its ability to assimilate words from other languages like French, Spanish, Hindi etc, so why should American be any different?

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Macquarie Dictionary Admin - March 1, 2019, 8:40 a.m.

Thank you for your interesting insights and feedback, Bob!
Macquarie Dictionary

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Bradley - July 18, 2019, 2:07 p.m.

The impact of other Englishes, specifically US sources, on Australian usage has been a continual dinner-table conversation killer. The discussion of regional-dialect variations needs to recognise the urbanisation of the Australian community away from our more colourful colloquialisms. As well as the perceived "cool" factor of social media has been the US ownership of spell-checkers within word processors prioritising the Websters linguistic decisions. However, little recognition is given to the role of Australian educators, especially by the media commentators, in the maintenance of particularly Australian usage and spelling choices. Perhaps this influence is fading as younger, social media-involved colleagues claim the profession from my generation.

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