Australians have a way of speaking that is very distinct from Americans, Brits, Canadians, and even nearby Kiwis (New Zealanders). It’s not just their intonation and pronunciation, either. The Australian accent uses unique slang and shortened words that you wouldn’t hear in any other form of English.
So, how exactly do Australians speak? How does the Australian accent differ from other accents in English? Finally, what techniques can you use to learn how to do an Australian accent?
We will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the origins of the Australian accent:
Where Did the Australian Accent Originate?
The Australian accent, as we know it today, first began when European settlers landed in Australia in 1788.
There are various theories as to how the accent became so distinctive, but the prevailing theory is that the settlers had too many varied accents. They needed to pair them all down in order to communicate. This, combined with influences from the Aboriginals’ language, led to a completely new type of English.
As the Australian population grew and the country expanded, international influences took hold, changing the language forever.
The elocution movement of the late 19th century pushed to standardize English. The proponents of the movement wanted to make Received Pronunciation (the accent of southern England) the standard by which people could measure all other forms of English. This led to fractures and variations in the Australian accent.
Prior to this change, the “Middle Australian” was the prevailing accent in the country. However, by the mid-20th century, three distinct accents replaced Middle Australian: broad, general, and cultivated.
Broad Australian English is the accent that is most familiar to people outside of Australia. This strong Australian accent is characterized by slower speech, a more nasal tone, and longer diphthongs.
While it is the most recognizable accent for foreigners, Broad Australian English is not the most common accent in Australia. The majority of speakers live in rural, remote areas of the country.
General Australian English is the most common accent in Australia. You will hear this accent in most suburban areas of the country. Additionally, General Australian English is the standard accent for most Australian media, television, and film.
This accent is not as strong as Broad Australian, though it can still be characterized by nasality and distinct pronunciations.
In many ways, Cultivated Australian English resembles the Received Pronunciation of England. However, it still retains some qualities unique to the Australian dialect.
Though not widely used throughout the country, Cultivated Australian English developed from the elocution movement in an attempt to conform with the Standard British English. People most often associate Cultivated Australian English with higher social classes.
Australian Accent Pronunciation
While there are three distinct types of Australian accents, most linguists recognize that they exist on a spectrum, with Broad Australian on one end and Cultivated Australian on the other.
As one moves closer to the Broad Australian side, the pronunciations become more distinctly “Australian,” while the pronunciations on the Cultivated Australian end lie closer to British or American English.
Since General Australian is the most common accent and represents a kind of “middle ground” between Broad and Cultivated Australian, we will examine how different letters and sounds are pronounced with this type of accent:
- The Letter “R” – By and large, the consonants are pronounced the same in the Australian accent as they are in American English. However, there are some exceptions. For example, much like British English, Australian English is (generally) a non-rhotic language. This means that if a word has the letter “R” in the last syllable, it is usually silent. (Example – “car” becomes “cah”)
- The Letter “T” – In Australian English, the letter “T” sounds softer, making it more like an American “D.” On the “Cultivated” end of the Australian accent spectrum, the letter “T” is sharper and more pronounced. Alternatively, in General Australian, and even more so in Broad Australian, the letter “T” is softened or omitted entirely. For example, in Broad or General Australian, the word “matter” might sound more like “mehdduh.”
Australian Vowels and Tone
- Diphthongs – As the Australian accent broadens, the vowels become longer. In fact, Broad Australian has longer vowels than just about any other form of English. This is most noticeable with diphthongs (the combination of two vowel sounds). In Australian English, the first sound is generally much longer than the second one.
- The Letter “U” – Australian pronunciation starts with the vowels, and the most unique vowel in Australian English is the letter U. When “U” follows a consonant, it is preceded by a “Y” sound, like in the word yes. For example, the word dune becomes “dyune,” while music becomes “myusic.”
- Nasality – Though you wouldn’t think that nasality has much to do with pronunciation, it has a huge impact on how words ultimately sound. In Australian English, words have greater nasal resonance (as opposed to oral resonance). For example, the word “right” sounds different in American English and Australian English. This is due to the fact that the sound vibrations mostly occur in the nasal passages.
How to Sound Like an Australian
So, how can a non-Australian sound like an Australian? Once you understand the basic differences in tonality and pronunciation, you could imitate the sounds. However, it is an extremely difficult accent to master. Even experienced American and British actors have difficulty imitating an Australian accent with complete accuracy.
That said, with enough practice, you can speak with an Australian accent. The key is to listen to the Australian way of speaking and mimic oral positions, tone, and pronunciations.
If you need some examples of the Australian accent, we can help you out. There are actually hundreds of Youtube channels hosted by native Australians, but here are a few of the best for non-Australian English speakers:
- Aussie English
- Australian Speaking Tips
- Australian and General English Lessons
- Learn Australian Slang
We hope you found this guide helpful! With enough practice, you’ll be speaking like a local Aussie in no time!
If you’d like to learn more about how to speak with an Australian accent, visit Magoosh Speaking today!