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British English vs Australian English: the differences expats should know about

Language has the remarkable ability to evolve and adapt as it travels across continents and encounters diverse cultures. One such example is the fascinating journey of the English language, which has given rise to numerous dialects worldwide. British English and Australian English are two such variants that have developed distinct characteristics over time. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into the similarities, differences and unique features of these two vibrant and captivating languages.

Historical Background

According to Professor Felicity Cox and Dr Sallyanne Palethorpe from Macquarie University’s Linguistics Department, Australian English developed as a result of contact between people who spoke different, mutually intelligible, varieties of English.

The earliest form of Australian English would have been first spoken by the children of the colonists born into the early colony in Sydney, and this very first peer group would have spoken in deliberately similar ways to help bind the peer group and express their group membership. 

With exposure to a wide range of different dialects from all over England – and particularly London – a unique dialect emerged as the language blended with the influence of different languages, accents and slang. 

Despite its origins in British English, Australian English has undergone significant transformations and has developed its own distinct lexicon and pronunciation.

Australian English vs British English

From vocabulary to pronunciation, here’s everything you need to know. Especially if you’re starting a job in Australia.

Vocabulary and Expressions

The first thing that strikes newcomers to Australian English is its rich vocabulary and unique expressions. Australians have a penchant for abbreviating words and phrases, adding “-o” or “-ie” to the end, resulting in colourful terms like “barbie” (barbecue), “brekkie” (breakfast), and “arvo” (afternoon). These colloquialisms are an integral part of the Australian vernacular and reflect the laid-back and informal nature of the culture.

In contrast, British English leans towards more traditional vocabulary and expressions. While British English also has its fair share of slang and colloquialisms, it tends to retain a more formal tone compared to its Australian counterpart. Phrases like “cheerio” (goodbye), “loo” (bathroom), and “blimey” (an exclamation of surprise) are emblematic of the British lexicon.

British English vs Australian English

Pronunciation and Accent

The distinctive accents of British and Australian English are often a subject of fascination and delight for language enthusiasts. British English is known for its Received Pronunciation (RP), often associated with the “Queen’s English” and characterised by its crisp enunciation and vowel sounds. However, it’s worth noting that regional accents within the United Kingdom can vary significantly, adding further diversity to British English.

On the other hand, Australian English is characterised by its unique vowel sounds and intonation patterns. The accent has been influenced by the broader Australian dialect, featuring a distinctive drawl and a tendency to shorten certain words. For instance, the classic Australian pronunciation of “day” often sounds closer to “die” or “doy.”

Spelling and Grammar

When it comes to spelling, British English and Australian English largely align with each other, thanks to their shared historical roots. Both variants typically follow the British spelling conventions, utilising the “-our” endings (colour, favour) and employing the “s” instead of the “z” in words like “realise” and “organise.”

Grammar-wise, British and Australian English have more similarities than differences. However, Australian English tends to exhibit a more relaxed approach to grammar rules, embracing a degree of informality in everyday communication. This flexibility can be seen in the omission of articles (e.g., “going to beach”) and the use of double negatives (e.g., “I don’t know nothing”).

British vs Australian Words

In addition to their distinct accents and expressions, British English and Australian English also have differences in vocabulary. Let’s explore some common words that vary between these two dialects:

Slang and Informal Terms

British English words:

  • “Bloke” – a man.
  • “Chap” – A term used for a gentleman.
  • “Geezer” – Slang for a man, often used in the East End of London.
  • “Quid” – Slang for a British pound.

Australian English words:

  • “Mate” – A term used to address a friend.
  • “Sheila” – Slang for a woman.
  • “Bogan” – a person who is considered uncultured.
  • “Dollars” or “Bucks” – Slang for Australian currency.

Transportation

British English words:

  • “Motorway” – A major road for high-speed traffic.
  • “Underground” or “Tube” – The subway system in London.

Australian English words:

  • “Freeway” – A major road for high-speed traffic.
  • “Subway” – an underground pedestrian walkway.

Clothing

British English words:

  • “Trainers” – Athletic shoes.
  • “Waistcoat” – A sleeveless garment worn over a shirt.

Australian English words:

  • “Runners” – Athletic shoes.
  • “Vest” – The term used for what Americans call a “waistcoat.”

While these examples highlight some of the differences in vocabulary between British English and Australian English, it’s important to note that language is fluid and constantly evolving. There is considerable overlap and influence between the two dialects, with some words being shared or adopted over time.

Embracing the linguistic diversity of British and Australian English adds depth and dimension to our interactions and helps us to understand the cultural contexts in which they thrive. So whether you’re heading out in your “runners” or chatting with a reet “geezer,” revel in the linguistic richness of these vibrant dialects.

Conclusion

British English and Australian English showcase the remarkable diversity and adaptability of the English language. While they share a common historical lineage, each variant has developed its own unique identity over time. 

The vocabulary, expressions, pronunciation, and even the grammar of British English and Australian English reflect the distinct cultural contexts in which they evolved. Exploring the nuances and differences between these dialects not only deepens our understanding of the English language and allows us to appreciate the rich tapestry of human expression and linguistic variation across the globe. 

So whether you find yourself sipping tea in London or enjoying a barbie on a sunny Sydney day, embrace the linguistic journey and relish the beauty of British English and Australian English.

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