Lexical Features of Australian English, Compared to the Rest of the World

September 13, 2021grusha

Summary: This article compares the lexicon of Australian English to other varieties of English around the world. It focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on standard features.  

This article focuses on the lexical difference between Australian and other Englishes around the world, and will also discuss some of the values that Australian lexicon can demonstrate (both standard and non-standard terms). 

Lexicon Australian English, as distinct from other Englishes (focused on the standard) 

As a keen cook, I have learnt that what we call various food items is different to what other countries do. For example, what we (and the Americans) call zucchinis and eggplants, are known as courgettes and aubergines respectively in the United Kingdom. Similarly, butternut pumpkin here, is butternut squash in the United Kingdom and the United States, and what we call capsicum is called a bell pepper in the United States and a pepper in the United Kingdom. 

Rather than going into further details, here is a very useful website that gives an extensive comparison of food names (this is good for essays where the distinctiveness of Australian English is important) (language - Translating cooking terms between US / UK / AU / CA / NZ - Seasoned Advice (stackexchange.com)). 

Furthermore, other well-known examples include thongs (flip flops in the UK and US, jandals in NZ), eskies (chilly bins in NZ, coolers in the US, and cool boxes in the UK), what us and the UK call a car boot, the US calls a trunk, and what we call a freeway, the UK and the US call a motorway. 

In addition, I am also a law student who has observed differences in the jargon used in the American and Australian legal systems (I will not go into the details of the actual differences between the systems operationally). These main differences are in criminal law. What we call the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Americans call the District Attorney, and what we call summary and indictable offences, the Americans call them misdemeanours and felonies respectively. Outside of criminal law, what Americans call a restraining order, Australians call them an intervention order.  

Something non-standard that popped up after I initially wrote this, but felt I had to include

Australians also have quite a high tolerance for taboo language. Swearing is tolerated significantly more than it is in other countries (see the offence caused overseas a few years ago with Tourism Australia’s, “Where the Bloody Hell are you,” campaign). 

The contemporary example that has made me insert this brief paragraph is the shadow minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten (who is also the former leader of the opposition), who described the national vaccine roll out as being a, “s**t show,” first on the ABC, before repeating himself on the Today Show (Bill Shorten claims PM has ‘gone missing’ during sluggish vaccine rollout | Today Show Australia - YouTube). 

The fact that this has been used by a politician (who helpfully discussed this a little bit) helps to show that Australians value their society as one that is classless (not lacking class, but without social classes), laidback, casual, and honest. 

Values reflected through Australian lexicon (standard and non-standard)

The above mainly discusses differences, helping to dispel any myths that Australian English is not distinct. However, Australian English (obviously) plays a crucial role in showing characteristics of Australian identity (attitudes and values). For example, the phrases, “tall poppy,” and, “tall poppy syndrome,” which relate to a person who excels in something in a way that promotes jealousy or derision. This attitude clearly reflects the value of egalitarianism (the idea that everyone should have identical opportunities), which is something that Australians tend to value deeply. 

Similarly, the positive connotations that noun, “battler,” carries also demonstrates this value and helps to promote identity. 

Moreover, Australians also value community spirit. For example, the term, “wet blanket,” which is used to describe a person who is dampening the enthusiasm of those around them is negatively connoted, showing that Australians value community spirit and mutual encouragement. In addition, the negative connotations attached the word bludger also shows that Australians value hard work.   

Anyway, I hope that this article has helped you, and I will have another article for you next month. 

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