Australian English phonology

Australian English phonology

Australian English is a non-rhotic variety of English spoken by most native-born Australians. Phonologically, it is one of the most regionally homogeneous language varieties in the world. As with most dialects of English, it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology.


Australian English vowels are divided into two categories: long, which includes long monophthongs and diphthongs, and short, all of which are monophthongs. A number of vowels differ only by the length.

There are two families of phonemic transcriptions of Australian English: revised ones, which attempt to more accurately represent the phonetic sounds of Australian English; and the Mitchell-Delbridge system, which is minimally distinct from Jones’ original transcription of RP. This page uses a revised transcription based on Durie and Hajek (1994) and Harrington, Cox and Evans (1997) but also shows the Mitchell-Delbridge equivalents as this system is commonly used for example in the Macquarie Dictionary and much literature, even recent.

Long vowels

Australian English long vowels mostly correspond to the tense vowels used in analyses of Received Pronunciation (RP) as well as its centralising diphthongs.



Australian English consonants are similar to those of other non-rhotic varieties of English. In comparison to other varieties, it has a flapped variant of IPA|/t/ and IPA|/d/ in similar environments as in American English. Many speakers have also coalesced IPA|/tj/ and IPA|/dj/ into IPA|/tʃ/ and IPA|/dʒ/, with pronunciations such as IPA|/tʃʉːn/ being standard. IPA|/sj/, IPA|/zj/ and IPA|/lj/ merged with IPA|/s/, IPA|/z/ and IPA|/l/ word initially; other cases of IPA|/sj/ and IPA|/zj/ are often pronounced as IPA| [ʃ] and IPA| [ʒ] . Remaining cases of IPA|/lj/ are often pronounced simply as IPA| [j] in colloquial speech, though this is stigmatised particularly in the case of the word "Australia", so it is often pronounced as four syllables to avoid the IPA|/lj/. IPA|/nj/, and other common sequences of consonant+IPA|/j/, are retained. Some speakers use a glottal stop as an allophone of IPA|/t/ in final position, for example "trait", "habit"; or in medial position, such as a IPA|/t/ followed by a syllabic IPA|/n/ is often replaced by a glottal stop, for example "button" or "fatten". Alveolar pronunciations nevertheless predominate. Linking- and intrusive-R are also features of Australian English.

A table containing the consonant phonemes is given below.

Relationship to other varieties

Australian English pronunciation is most similar to that of New Zealand English: many people from other parts of the world often cannot distinguish them but there are differences. New Zealand English has centralised IPA|/ɪ/ and the other short front vowels are higher. New Zealand English more strongly maintains the diphthongal quality of the NEAR and SQUARE vowels, although they are usually merged as IPA| [iə] . New Zealand English does not have the bad-lad split, but like Victoria has merged IPA|/e/ with IPA|/æ/ in pre-lateral environments. It is also similar to the South African English dialect.

Australian English pronunciation is also similar to dialects from the South-East of Britain, particularly Cockney and Received Pronunciation. Like these, it is non-rhotic, and has the trap-bath split although, as indicated above, there is some variation in particular words that are usually pronounced with the bath-vowel in England. Historically Australian English also had the same lengthening of IPA|/ɔ/ before unvoiced fricatives, but, like the English accents, this has since been reversed. Australian English lacks some innovations in Cockney since the settling of Australia, such as the use of a glottal stop in some places where a IPA|/t/ would be found, th-fronting, h-dropping, and l-vocalisation.




* Harvard reference
first= B. J.
title='Short a' in Melbourne English
journal=Journal of the International Phonetic Association

* Harvard reference
last = Crystal
first= D.
year = 1995
title = Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
publisher = Cambridge University Press

* Harvard reference
last= Cox
year = 2006
url =
title = The acoustic characteristics of IPA|/hVd/ vowels in the speech of some Australian teenagers
journal = Australian Journal of Linguistics

* Harvard reference
last= Cox
last2= Palethorpe
title = The border effect: Vowel differences across the NSW–Victorian Border
journal=Proceedings of the 2003 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society

*Harvard reference
title=Australian English
journal=Journal of the International Phonetic Association

* cite journal
title=A revised standard phonemic orthography for Australian English vowels
journal=Australian Journal of Linguistics

* Harvard reference
title=An acoustic phonetic study of broad, general, and cultivated Australian English vowels
journal=Australian Journal of Linguistics

* Palethorpe, S. and Cox, F. M. (2003) [ Vowel Modification in Pre-lateral Environments] . Poster presented at the International Seminar on Speech Production, December 2003, Sydney.

External links

* [ Macquarie University - Australian English phonetics]

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