Blair, David, and Peter Collins, ed. (2001) English in Australia.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, hardback ISBN 1-55619-729-2,
vi+357pp, $114.00, Varieties of English Around the World 26
Anne Fabricius, English Section, Department of Languages
and Culture, Roskilde University, Denmark.
Book announcement on LinguistList:
Blair and Collins' edited volume on Australian English
(the second of its type after Collins and Blair 1989)
contains eighteen papers plus an editors' introduction.
This introduction initially focusses on an overarching
relationship between the forms of Australian English and
an exclusively Australian national identity. This is a
preoccupation with a long pedigree. Feelings of pride in
or approval of 'Australianness' as a separate identity,
apart from a blossoming around the time of Australian
Federation in 1901, have only relatively recently
emerged in mainstream society. Alongside this,
acceptance of Australian English as a variety in its own
right has also had a troubled past. This socio-
historical context, elaborated in several papers in the
volume, has had consequences for the forms of Australian
English in several ways.
The introduction also frames the papers that follow by
discussing them under several headings. These include
the lexicon, "arguably, the most transparent reflection
of speakers' attitudes, values and self-perception"
(p.3), syntax and morphology, phonology, regional and
social variation, and dialect and ethnicity. The English
language, transplanted in the antipodes, has now been
transformed to become a badge of "Australian-
ness increasingly recognizable to speakers of other
Englishes around the world" (p11).
The first section of the book, entitled "English in
Australia: structure", contains papers on phonology,
morphology, syntax and the lexicon. The phonology
subsection begins with a paper by Felicity Cox and
Sallyanne Palethorpe, "The changing face of Australian
English vowels". It refers to an acoustic study of
Australian vowel quality, simultaneously synchronic and
diachronic, comparing data from male speakers collected
in the 1960s with data from the 1990s. Cox and
Palethorpe's acoustic analysis of word list samples
shows several fine-grained ongoing trends, such as a
lowering of the onset of /eI/ (Wells' (1982) FACE vowel)
in male and female speakers, and, for females alone,
lowering and fronting of /U/ (the FOOT vowel), and
lowering of /a/ (START vowel). Since changes in both
monophthong and diphthong qualities are observed here,
the paper notes that the changes in diphthongs observed
in the data suggest more emphasis could be placed on
examining the trajectory of the diphthong rather than
the simple targets. The discussion finds both points of
agreement and disagreement with Labov's (1994) model of
universal vowel change.
Laura Tollfree's paper "Variation and Change in
Australian English Consonants: Reduction of /t/"
describes the variant behaviour of the alveolar stop in
Australian English. Tollfree provides a detailed
phonetic account of possible variants of /t/, ranging
from the plosive to voiced taps, fricated and
glottalised forms. The paper also reports on an
empirical analysis of the English of speakers in
Victoria. Conversational and word list data were
analysed auditorily with acoustic analysis as
confirmation. The data reveal a high rate of lenition of
various kinds, where tapped and glottalised forms were
particularly prevalent, while fricated and fricative
forms of /t/ appear to be becoming obsolete.
The final paper in the Phonology section is Toni
Borowsky's "The vocalization of dark l in Australian
English". This contribution reports on a variable rule
analysis of l-vocalisation in data from cities and large
towns around Australia. It reports on the variable
conditioning factors which involve the height of
adjacent vowels and the nature of surrounding
consonants. Borowsky's paper is the only one to consider
phonological modeling: a bi-gestural model of l is
proposed in the discussion.
The single morphology paper is Jane Simpson's
"Hypocoristics of pace-names in Australian English".
This paper presents a wide range of data on shortened or
abbreviated words (here focusing on place names) endemic
to Australian English. "Tassie" as a hypocoristic for
the state name Tasmania, for example, is just one
template pattern among many. She also comments on
emerging regionally-based trends, notably the o form
which seems to be restricted to Sydney (e.g. Paddo for
Paddington). Simpson concentrates on morphological form
in this paper, leaving aside speculation as to meanings.
Mark Newbrook's "Syntactic features and norms in
Australian English" describes the variety as
syntactically very "mainstream", a fact he attributes to
Australian English's relatively recent history and
levelling processes at the time of settlement.
Nonetheless, Newbrook's contribution points to some
minor differences which seem to separate Australian
English from other varieties. These include both
singular and plural concord in sports team names: "North
Melbourne is/are playing well" both being attested.
Another feature is an Australian tendency not to conform
to sequence of tenses or backshifting, so that "Kim said
she has a bad cold" is reported to be preferred by
Australian students over "Kim said she had a bad cold".
The final subsection of section A presents three papers
on the lexicon. Bruce Moore's paper is entitled
"Australian English and Indigenous voices", and presents
a range of lexical items whose entry into or semantic
development within Australian English can be tied to
different periods of the history of interactions between
the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations of
Australia. Words representing significant cultural
developments such as Mabo (a significant land rights
decision), the stolen generations, and Sorry Day, among
many others, are discussed in their cultural and
Susan Butler's paper "Australian English: an identity
crisis" returns explicitly to the theme of the
introduction, and provides an overview of the
relationship between Australian culture and the language
which bears and shapes it. Butler tackles lexical change
and borrowing, which in urban areas tends to be
predominantly from American English. She notes however
that, despite public expressions of fear that American
English will come to dominate the native variety, there
does seem to be an Australian filter at work, in that
not all current American terms make it across the
Pacific. Butler describes this process in Australian
English as a combination of "accommodation and
Pam Peters' paper, with the title "Corpus evidence on
Australian style and usage" gives a useful overview of
work on corpora of Australian English, presenting a
range of findings giving evidence for stylistic
differences between Australian English and Englishes
elsewhere. Several results point to Peters' overarching
conclusion that Australian stylistic practice points to
an ongoing process of repositioning and
standardization. Features such as contracted forms of be
and have, which elsewhere in the English-speaking world
are restricted within formal written styles, are in
Australia becoming more widespread in such contexts.
Peters attributes this to a "negative orientation to
formality" and a preference for informality among
Australians, a part of the egalitarian ideology of
Section B on variation begins with a paper by Anna
Shnukal on "Torres Strait English" where the author
gives a survey of a number of structural features of
TSE, itself a "spectrum of varieties of Aus[tralian]
E[nglish]". The data come from a long period of
observation, as well a sample of writing from Torres
Strait Islander school students collected in 1996. The
features mentioned include a wide range of phenomena
through all levels of the variety, a result of
simplication and overgeneralisation processes and
influence from the indigenous languages of the area.
Shnukal also includes an evaluation of the implications
of TSE features for literacy and literacy teaching.
Ian Malcolm's paper, "Aboriginal English: Adopted code
of a surviving culture" treats Aboriginal English at a
more macro level, choosing to concentrate on historical
developments, including an evocative account of the
circumstances surrounding the earliest contacts between
Aboriginal people and the British arrivals. Malcolm also
brings in the concept of Aboriginal language ecology
Michael Clyne, Edina Eisikovits and Laura Tollfree's
paper "Ethnic varieties of Australian English' opens the
next subsection. This paper reports on a long and rich
tradition of research on immigrant families and their
languages in Australia over generations. Aspects of the
topic covered here include demography, the notion of
ethnolects, and the influence of ethnic varieties on the
national language. It also provides an account of
methodological problems in the study of ethnolects.
Greek and Yiddish Australian English are presented as
brief case studies.
Continuing the theme of ethnic varieties, Scott Fabius
Kiesling's "Australian English and recent migrant
groups" presents a detailed phonetic study of a range of
speakers from different migrant groups in Sydney. Based
on interview data, the study explores different ethnic
groups in terms of their productions of the (ow)
(MOUTH) and (ay) PRICE diphthongs, as the qualities of
these two diphthongs are important markers of Australian
English. The results show female speakers of ethnic
origins as significantly more different from each other
than their male counterparts, and moreover that female
speakers have more standard (ow) diphthongs, but more
vernacular (ay) diphthongs. Kiesling suggests a range of
factors such as speaker networks and ethnolinguistic
vitality as possible explanations.
The subsection which follows, diachronical and
generational variation, begins with Jane M. Curtain's
paper, "The acquisition of colloquialisms by non-native
speakers", reports on some of the results from a survey
of knowledge of colloquial expressions by new arrivals'
(from Malaysia). Curtain reports that speakers' age, as
well as time spent in the country, were, not
surprisingly, factors in successful acquisition.
Moreover, certain individual colloquialisms were
identified as being particularly opaque to newcomers, a
finding with implications for ESL teaching.
"Changing attitudes to Australian English", by David and
Maya Bradley, reports on both popularly expressed
attitudes to Australian English and survey data from
subjective reaction tests carried out regularly from
1984 to 1998, as well as a real-time panel study of a
group of speakers in Melbourne, 27 of the original 40
from 1980 being reinterviewed in 1995. This wealth of
data point to a population who during the period have
come to express more and more positive attitudes to
their native variety. Moreover, it is the middle
variety, General Australian, which has the greatest
appeal, not, as the authors point out, the most
distinctively Australian variety, Broad Australian
(using the terms coined by Mitchell and Delbridge 1965).
A. G. Mitchell is also the focus of the next chapter, by
Colin Yallop, entitled "A. G. Mitchell and the
development of Australian pronunciation", where Yallop
reports on Mitchell's extensive historical research on
the origins of the different varieties of Australian
English, which will result in a posthumous publication.
This is an account of the varying sociolinguistic forces
at play at different periods. Mitchell distinguishes the
levelling and accommodation of London varieties which
produced Broad Australian, probably by 1830, from the
mass immigrations from Britain in the 1870s which
brought about General Australian, and from the
'external' variety Cultivated Australian, a response to
the development of RP in Britain after 1870.
Arthur Delbridge's paper, "Lexicography and National
Identity" provides an overview of the development of
Australian English on the lexicographical front, with
the publications of both the Macquarie Dictionary (3rd
edition 1997) and the Australian National Dictionary
(1988). As well as comparing and contrasting these two,
Delbridge also argues for the uniqueness of the
Australian lexicon, using the example of the concept
'elitism', which in Australia is an inherently negative
one. Delbridge also reflects on the history of attitudes
to Australian English, and the notion of a standard in
the Australian context, bringing sociolinguistic
concerns into play.
Brian Taylor's contribution, "Australian English in
interaction with other Englishes" delves in detail into
the history of contact with other varieties of English
from first settlement to today. It begins with the
earliest interactions in the period 1788-1820, and then
discusses the mass immigrations of the middle of the
19th century, including the influence of Irish English.
It sketches a gradual shift from dominant British
influence to dominant American influence, citing studies
done in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally Taylor brings in
issues of increased global mobility, television and the
internet and their possible influence on Australian
Finally, on the subject of regional variation, the
collection ends with Barbara and Ronald J. Horvath's "A
Geolinguistics of short A in Australian English". The
title refers to variation in Well's (1982) BATH set of
words, which can be pronounced with either a TRAP or
START vowel, where Short A represents the TRAP variant.
The authors report on a pilot survey in Sydney and an
Australia-wide survey of variability in short A across
just six words. In the latter, patterns are identified
which differentiate the six cities and towns surveyed,
so that for example Hobart and Sydney showed short A
usage in the words grasp and giraffe which was absent
from other areas. Social class was also predictive of
short A, the TRAP variant being more frequently used by
working class speakers. The results also show that short
A is stable in Australia, and not a change in progress.
This volume will undoubtedly contribute to bringing
research on Australian English to a worldwide audience.
It provides an extremely sociolinguistically-aware
account of many facets of past and present-day
Australian English. It is ambitious and ranges widely,
covering both the traditional structuralist areas of
language study (albeit with a good dose of
sociolinguistic methodology throughout) and the range of
variation which Australian English offers, in terms of
Aboriginal, ethnic immigrant and diachronic aspects.
The papers do not all take up Collins and Blair's
introductory theme of Australian identity explicitly,
but it lies there below the surface in those
contributions which do not. I found the historically-
focussed chapters in the latter part of the book
especially fascinating because of the wealth of
sociolinguistic detail they provided in presenting the
historical context. It should also be noted that the
wealth of further work on Australian English which the
individual authors refer to indicates a dynamism in the
field, an Australian English linguistics come of age.
In terms of editing and production generally, I detected
only a few errors. The time-lapse between writing and
publishing is evident in Peters' article, where on p.
166 she refers incongruously to ICE corpora which "are
to be published on CD_Rom in 1999". One confusing error
was found in Malcolm's description of the spread of
early Aboriginal English through the continent, where
the variety is described as moving 'east' from
Queensland to the Northern Territory, and 'east' from
the Northern Territory to the Kimberly, when the correct
direction is west in both cases (second paragraph,
p.213). More seriously, I discovered that Huddleston
1988 was missing from Newbrook's bibliography. But these
problems (although there may be others I missed) should
not detract from the overall impression of the book,
which is of a highly professional collection of works on
this important variety of English from the southern
Collins, P and D. Blair. 1989. Australian English:
The Language of a new Society. St. Lucia:
University of Queensland Press.
Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change,
Vol 1 Internal factors. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. 3 vols.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Anne Fabricius is an Assistant Professor of English
Language at Roskilde University, Denmark. Her research
and teaching interests are primarily sociolinguistic and
sociophonetic, and encompass varieties of British
English, and, by birth, Australian English. Her Ph.D.
thesis in 2000 dealt with variation and change in modern
RP, focusing on the ongoing destigmatisation of
previously stigmatized glottal stop for t.