chapter  7
20 Pages

English in Australia

ByKate Burridge

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the population of the British Isles was around 15 million. As many as one-third of the people spoke their own Celtic languages and little or no English. Regional diversity thrived and those who spoke English often spoke, not the standard language, but their own dialects – and linguistic differences at this time could be striking. This is roughly the linguistic situation, when exploration southwards established the first English-speaking settlers in the Antipodes. For Australia, the date coincides with the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 and the establishment in 1788 of the first British penal colony in Sydney (New South Wales). Isolated coastal settlements then sprang up in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. The individual histories of these early colonies were all very different, and there were constant fluctuations and changes; nonetheless, Table 7.1 gives some idea of the population mix in one colony in these early times (Yallop 2003: 131). The evolution of Australian English (AusE) can best be explained through the process

of koinéization. When the contact dialects from the British Isles came together in those early years, the blending of features produced a new compromise dialect. The original mix comprised varieties from south-east England, Ireland and Scotland (in order of strength of input), with London English standing out as dominant (cf. Yallop 2003 on the distribution of convict origins). Trudgill (2004) identifies a number of stages in the dialect’s formation: Stage I (the speech of the first settlers, showing rudimentary levelling and elimination of minority features); Stage II (the speech of first generation of native-born settlers, characterized by considerable inter-and intra-speaker variability) and Stage III (the speech of second generation of native-born settlers, with mixing, levelling, unmarking and reallocation producing an identifiable stable new dialect). Schneider (2007) also proposes that there is a shared underlying process driving the formation of the postcolonial Englishes. He identifies a sequence of five stages that characterize the

development of transplanted varieties such as AusE: Phase 1 (foundation – dialect mixture and koinéization); Phase 2 (exonormative stabilization – a ‘British-plus’ identity for the English-speaking residents); Phase 3 (nativization – the emergence of local patterns); Phase 4 (endonormative stabilization – ‘Australian self-confidence’ and codification) and Phase 5 (differentiation – the birth of new dialects). (See Burridge in press for a discussion of the early processes that created AusE, particularly the survival techniques of those linguistic features that went on to thrive in the new variety.) AusE is remarkably homogeneous for a country that is some thirty times the size of

Britain. Its unity is the result of the original dialect mixing and levelling, and the transience of the settlers in those early years. The mobility of the population was surprisingly high given the remoteness and distance of the settlements. With New South Wales as the point of departure, travel was largely by sea, and the swift spread kept the language uniform. Moreover, rapid pastoral expansion and numerous gold rushes all around the continent meant that any emerging regional distinctiveness was soon diluted by floods of new arrivals. However, as identified in the final phase of Schneider’s model, fragmentation typically follows the period of uniformity and stability. Later in this chapter, we look at Indigenous variation (present in earlier phases) and also the emerging regional and ethnic dialects of AusE.