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Learn English: Six facts about the Australian accent

Chart of Australia by Matthew Flinders (1814-22)
Despite the large land area, there is little difference in the accent spoken in different parts of Australia.

Supplied: National Library of Australia

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How did the Australian accent 'start'? Is the Australian accent influenced by American media? Does the Australian accent in Perth sound different to the Australian accent in Sydney? Here are six surprising facts about the Australian accent.

Australia is approximately 4000 kilometres wide. Yet, despite this significance distance between the east and west coast, there is little regional difference in the Australian accent. This is unusual because in other English speaking countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, there are significant regional differences in their spoken accent.
Two Australian academics, Professor John Hajeck from the University of Melbourne and Dr Lauren Gawne from La Trobe University, spoke to RN Drive about the Australian accent.

The Australian accent sounds the same in different regions

"I think we sound impressively consistent given how large this country is and how much space there is between capital cities and regional towns," Dr Gawne says.

According to Professor Hajeck, there are a number of reasons for this:

"We’re relatively recently settled by Europeans, around 200 years, whereas the UK obviously thousands of years. The US and Canada have long been settled well before the British arrived in Australia to implant English here.

Professor Hajeck also says that mass university education and national media play a role in the Australian accent sounding consistently the same in different regions.

Differences in the Australian accent are due to class, rather than geography

"The traditional way of categorising accents in Australia, is to think about to think about them not in terms of geography, as in terms of class," argues Dr Gawne.

There are different variations of the Australian accent. Dr Gawne describes one variation as the "broad accent...[which is] your good, Aussie, ocker accents." Another variation is the "general accent, which is actually the majority of Australian English speakers."

Close up shot of a nose, mouth and chin
The Australian accent is recognisable but the origins of it are uncertain.

Pixabay CC: Giulia Marotta 

Australians can change their accent, depending on who they are speaking to

"Australians are fantastic accommodators - according to who they’re listening to. So if you’re speaking to a Brit, my accent certainly shifts to become more British," says Professor Hajeck.

There are different views on where the Australian accent has come from

"It’s a mystery lost to time. It’s from the incredible diversity of migrants that we had to this country," argues Dr Gawne.

Ethnic and cultural groups can have their own version of the Australian accent

An ethnolect is a version of an accent that is particular to an ethnic or cultural group.
Lauren says that there is research on Lebanese and Vietnamese Australians, who are second or third generation Australian English speakers.

Cinema with audience members looking at a brightly lit screen in a darkened room.
Australians enjoy American films but this does not mean that the American accent has influenced the Australian accent.

Unsplash CC: Jake Hills

The Australian accent is not heavily influenced by American media

A large number of Australians enjoy watching American movies and television shows, and listening to American music. However, this does not mean that the American accent has changed or influenced the Australian accent.

For language learners, Dr Gawne says that this demonstrates that you learn language skills from "the community in which you speak". Rather than just relying on media as a form of "stimuli", it's important to know that "conversation and interaction" are essential for language learning.

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