Australian English phonology

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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.


The vowels of Australian English can be divided according to length. The long vowels, which include monophthongs and diphthongs, mostly correspond to the tense vowels used in analyses of Received Pronunciation (RP) as well as its centring diphthongs. The short vowels, consisting only of monophthongs, correspond to the RP lax vowels. There exist pairs of long and short vowels with overlapping vowel quality giving Australian English phonemic length distinction, which is unusual amongst the various dialects of English.[1] As with General American and New Zealand English, the weak-vowel merger is nearly complete in Australian English: unstressed /ɪ/ (sometimes transcribed as /ɨ/) is merged with /ə/ (schwa) except before a following velar.[2]

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.

Diphthongs Monophthongs
Australian English diphthong chart.svg
Australian English vowel chart.svg
Direction of second target
to unrounded to rounded
Starting close  
Starting mid əʉ
Starting open æɪ  ɑe æɔ
Long monophthongs
  Front Central Back
Close ʉː  
Mid ɜː~ɵː
Open æː  
Short monophthongs
  Front Central Back
Close ɪ   ʊ
Mid e ə ɔ
Open æ a  
Notes and examples
for example strut, bud, hud. (M.-D. /ʌ/.)
for example bath, palm, start, bard, hard. (M.-D. /a/.). The trap-bath split largely in effect.
/ɑe/, /ɑi/ 
for example price, bite, hide. (M.-D. /aɪ/.) The first element may be raised and rounded in broad accents. The vowel in "high" may be [ɑɪ] for those with the Broad accent, so "buy" might sound like "boy" in the foreign ear. This is a direct influence from the Cockney accent.[citation needed] This feature is also present in the New York accent.
for example trap, lad, had. (M.-D. /æ/.) The trap-bath split and bad-lad split both largely in effect.
for example bad, tan. (M.-D. /æ/.) This sound is traditionally transcribed and analysed the same as the short /æ/, but minimal pairs exist in at least some Australians’ speech (Blake, 1985; Durie & Hajek, 1994). It is found in the adjectives bad, mad, glad and sad, before the /ɡ/ sound (for example, hag, rag, bag) and also in content words before /m/ and /n/ in the same syllable (for example, ham, tan, plant).[3] In some speakers, especially those with the Broad accent, /æː/ and /æ/ will be shifted toward [ɛ].[4] There is æ-tensing before a nasal consonant. The nasal sounds create changes in preceding vowels because air can flow into the nose during the vowel. Nasal consonants can also affect the articulation of a vowel. So for several speakers, the /æː/ vowel in words like "jam", "man", "dam" and "hand" will be shifted towards [e].[5]
for example face, bait, hade. (M.-D. /eɪ/.) Includes a significantly lower first element [a̠ɪ] than in many other dialects of English.
for example mouth, bowed, how’d. (M.-D. /aʊ/.) The first element may be raised in broad accents. For many speakers, the vowel in words like "town" and "now" is [æʊ].
for example dress, bed, head. (M.-D. /ɛ/.) For some Victorian speakers this phoneme has merged with /æ/ in pre-lateral environments, and thus the words celery and salary are pronounced alike (Cox & Palethorpe, 2003). See salary-celery merger.
for example square, bared, haired. (M.-D. /ɛə/.)
for example nurse, bird, heard. (M.-D. /ɜ/.) This sound is pronounced at least as high as /eː/, and is often pronounced rounded (Cox, 2006; Durie & Hajek, 1994). This glyph is used — rather than /ɘː/ or /ɵː/ — as most revisions of the phonemic orthography for Australian English predate the 1996 modifications to the International Phonetic Alphabet. At the time, [ɜ] was suitable for any mid-central vowel, rounded or unrounded.
for example about, winter. (M.-D. /ə/.) As in most varieties of English, this phoneme is used only in unstressed syllables.
for example goat, bode, hoed. (M.-D. /oʊ/.) The onset factually begins somewhere between /ə/ and /a/: [ɜʉ̯~ɐʉ̯]. There is significant allophonic variation in this vowel, particularly a backed one [ɔʊ] before /l/.
for example kit, bid, hid. (M.-D. /ɪ/.) The target for this vowel tends to be tenser than in other varieties of English—[ɪ̝]—and may sometimes sound like it has shifted to /i/ to speakers of other dialects or languages.[6] Thus, words like bin and sin may sound almost the same as bean and seen to non-English speakers. The final vowel in words like happy and city, which is typically /i/, is lengthened to an /iː/ sound, so that these words sound like happee and citee, respectively.[7] Some of these aforementioned features are present in Chicano English.
for example near, beard, hear. (M.-D. /ɪə/.) This sound is traditionally transcribed with a diphthongal glyph; however, it is usually pronounced as a diphthong (or disyllabically) only in open syllables; in closed syllables, it is distinguished from /ɪ/ primarily by length (Cox, 2006; Durie & Hajek, 1994). It is primarily distinguished from /iː/ by the significant onset in the latter.
for example fleece, bead, heat. (M.-D. /i/.) Includes an onset to the high front vowel [ɪi̯], except before laterals (Palethorpe & Cox, 2003). /iː/ may be [əi~ɐi], so that beat is [bəiʔ] for some speakers.
for example thought, north, sure, board, hoard, poor. (M.-D. /ɔ/.) Many cases of RP /ʊə/ correspond to this phoneme in Australian English, but unlike in some British accents there is no general merger between /oː/ and /ʊə/.
for example choice, boy. (M-D. /ɔɪ/.)
for example lot, cloth, body, hot. (M-D. /ɒ/.) This vowel is in the same position as the first part of the diphthong [ɔʊ] (gold, hold, pole, etc.), though remains distinct from [ɔ] before l in words such as [pɔɫ] "poll" (dehorned cattle) and so on.
for example goose, boo, who’d. (M.-D. /u/.) In some parts of Australia, a fully backed allophone, transcribed [ʊː] is common before /l/ (Durie & Hajek, 1994). The usual allophone is further forward in New South Wales than Victoria. It is moving further forwards, however, in both regions at a similar rate (Cox & Palethorpe, 2003). Many cases of RP /ʊə/ correspond to the sequence /ʉː.ə/ in Australian English.
for example foot, hood. (M.-D. /ʊ/.)
for example tour. (M.-D. /ʊə/). A rare, almost extinct phoneme. Most speakers consistently use [ʉː.ə] or [ʉː] (before /r/) instead.


Australian English consonants are similar to those of other non-rhotic varieties of English. A table containing the consonant phonemes is given below.

Consonant phonemes of Australian English[8]
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal   m           n           ŋ    
Plosive p b         t d         k ɡ    
Fricative     f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ         h  
Approximant               r       j   w    
Lateral               l                
  • Australian English is non-rhotic; in other words, the r sound does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. A final -er is pronounced as lowered [ɐ] in most speakers, or [ə] for some. So the words butter [bɐɾə], here [hɪɐ] and park [paːk] will not contain the /r/ sound.[9]
Linking and intrusive /r/
  • The /r/ sound can occur when a word that has a final <r> in the spelling comes before another word that starts with a vowel. For example, in car alarm the sound /r/ can occur in car because here it comes before another word beginning with a vowel. The words far, far more and farm do not contain an /r/ but far out will contain the linking /r/ sound because the next word starts with a vowel sound.
  • An intrusive /r/ may be inserted before a vowel in words that do not have <r> in the spelling. For example, drawing will sound like "draw-ring", saw it will sound like "sore it", the tuner is and the tuna is will both be [ðətʃʉːnərɪz].
Intervocalic alveolar flapping
  • Intervocalic /t/ (and for some speakers /d/) undergo voicing and flapping to the alveolar tap [ɾ] after the stressed syllable and before unstressed vowels (as in butter, party) and syllabic /l/, though not before syllabic /n/ (bottle vs button [batn]), as well as at the end of a word or morpheme before any vowel (what else, whatever). For those speakers where /d/ also undergoes the change, there will be homophony, for example, metal and petal will sound like medal and pedal. In formal speech /t/ is retained. When coating becomes coatin' , the t remains voiceless, thus [ˈkəʉtn]. [t] in the cluster [nt] can elide. As a result, in quick speech, words like winner and winter can become homophonous. This is a quality that Australian English shares most notably with North American English.
T glottalisation
  • Some speakers use a glottal stop as an allophone of /t/ in final position, for example trait, habit; or in medial position, such as a /t/ followed by a syllabic /n/ is often replaced by a glottal stop, for example button or fatten. Alveolar pronunciations nevertheless predominate.
Velarised alveolar lateral approximant
Yod-dropping and coalescence
  • Many speakers have coalesced /tj/ and /dj/ into /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ respectively. Pronunciations such as /tʃʉːn/ and /dʒʉːn/ (exactly like June) for tune and dune respectively being standard. This palatalisation can lead to additional homophony where dew, due and Jew come to be pronounced identically. /t/ and /d/ in the clusters /tr/-/tw/ and /dr/-/dw/ are similarly palatalised.
  • Word initial /sj/ and /zj/ have merged with /s/ and /z/ respectively. Other cases of /sj/ and /zj/ are often pronounced respectively [ʃ] and [ʒ].
  • Similarly /lj/ has merged with /l/ word initially. Remaining cases of /lj/ are often pronounced simply as [j] in colloquial speech, though this is stigmatised particularly in the case of the word Australia,[citation needed] so it is often pronounced as four syllables to avoid the /lj/.
  • /rj/ has merged with /r/.[citation needed]
  • /nj/ and other common sequences of consonant plus /j/, are retained.

High rising intonation[edit]

In English, upward inflexion (a rise in the pitch of the voice at the end of an utterance) typically signals a question. Some Australian English speakers commonly use a form of upward inflexion in their speech that is not associated with asking questions. Some speakers use upward inflexion as a way of including their conversational partner in the dialogue.[10] This is also common in Californian English.

Relationship to other varieties[edit]

Correspondence between the IPA help key and Australian English vowels
Help key Australian Examples
/ɪ/ /ɪ/ bid, pit
/iː/ /iː/ bead, peat
/ɛ/ /e/ bed, pet
/æ/ /æ, æː/ pat, bad
/ɑː/ /aː, ɐː/ balm, father, pa
/ɒ/ /ɔ/ bod, pot, cot
/ɔː/ /oː/ bawd, paw, caught
/ʊ/ /ʊ/ good, foot, put
/uː/ /ʉː/ booed, food
/ʌ/ /a/ bud, putt
/aɪ/ /ɑe/ buy, high, ride, write
/eɪ/ /æɪ/ bay, hey, fate
/aʊ/ /æɔ/ bough, how, pout
/oʊ/ /əʉ/ beau, hoe, poke
/ɔɪ/ /oɪ/ boy, hoy
/juː/ /jʉː/ beauty, hue, pew, new
Vowels followed by <r>
/ɪr/ /ɪr/ mirror
/ɪər/ /ɪə/ beer, mere
/ɛr/ /er/ berry, merry
/ɛər/ /eː/ bear, mare
/ær/ /ær/ barrow, marry
/ɑr/ /aː/ bar, mar
/ɒr/ /ɔr/ moral, forage
/ɔr/ /oː/ born, for
/ɔər/ boar, four, more, moor
/ʊər/ /ʊə/ tour
/ʌr/ /ar/ hurry, Murray
/ɜr/ (ɝ) /ɜː/ bird, herd, furry
Reduced vowels
/ɨ/ /ə/ roses, business
/ə/ Rosa's, cuppa
/ər/ (ɚ) runner

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 /ɪ/ and the other short front vowels are higher. New Zealand English more strongly maintains the diphthongal quality of the NEAR and SQUARE vowels and they can be merged as something around [iə]. New Zealand English does not have the bad-lad split, but like Victoria has merged /e/ with /æ/ in pre-lateral environments.[citation needed]

Both New Zealand English and Australian English are also similar to South African English, so that they have even been grouped together under the common label "southern hemisphere Englishes".[11] Like the other two varieties in that group, Australian English pronunciation bears some similarities to dialects from the South-East of Britain;[12][13][14][15] Thus, it is non-rhotic and has the trap-bath split although, as indicated above, this split was not completed in Australia as it was in England, so many words that have the bath vowel in England retain the trap vowel in Australia.

Historically, the Australian English also had the same lengthening of /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 many places where a /t/ would be found, th-fronting, and h-dropping. The intervocalic alveolar-flapping, which Australian English has instead, is a feature found in similar environments in American English.

The Australian English vowels /ɪ/, /e/, /æ/, /ɜː/, /ə/ and /oː/ are noticeably closer (higher tongue position) and flatter than their RP (British Received Pronunciation) equivalents. The centring diphthongs are likewise also closer in AusE than RP. Most of the British accents use the back /ɑː/ sound where Australian English has /aː/.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Mannell (2009-08-14). "Australian English – Impressionistic Phonetic Studies". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  2. ^ Wells (1982:601)
  3. ^ Robert Mannell and Felicity Cox (2009-08-01). "Phonemic (Broad) Transcription of Australian English (MD)". Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  4. ^ Robert Mannell and Felicity Cox (2009-08-01). "Phonemic (Broad) Transcription of Australian English (HCE)". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  5. ^ "further study | Australian Voices". 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  6. ^ "Distinctive Features". Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Cox & Palethorpe (2007:343)
  9. ^ "studying speech | Australian Voices". 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  10. ^ "audio illustrations | Australian Voices". 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  11. ^ Gordon, Elizabeth and Andrea Sudbury. 2002. The history of southern hemisphere Englishes. In: Richard J. Watts and Peter Trudgill. Alternative Histories of English. P.67
  12. ^ Gordon, Elizabeth and Andrea Sudbury. 2002. The history of southern hemisphere Englishes. In: Richard J. Watts and Peter Trudgill. Alternative Histories of English. P.79
  13. ^ Wells (1982:595)
  14. ^ Gordon, Elizabeth. New Zealand English: its origins and evolution. 2004. P.82
  15. ^ Hammarström, Göran. 1980. Australian English: its origin and status. passim
  16. ^ Robert Mannell and Jonathan Harrington (2009-08-01). "IPA Vowel Symbols". Retrieved 2011-07-26. 


  • Blake, B. J. (1985), "'Short a' in Melbourne English", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 15: 6–20, doi:10.1017/S0025100300002899 
  • Crystal, D. (1995), Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge University Press 
  • Cox, Felicity (2006), "The acoustic characteristics of /hVd/ vowels in the speech of some Australian teenagers", Australian Journal of Linguistics 26: 147–179 
  • Cox, Felicity; Palethorpe, Sallyanne (2003), "The border effect: Vowel differences across the NSW–Victorian Border", Proceedings of the 2003 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society: 1–14 
  • Cox, Felicity; Palethorpe, Sallyanne (2007), "Australian English", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37 (3): 341–350, doi:10.1017/S0025100307003192 
  • Durie, M.; Hajek, J (1994), "A revised standard phonemic orthography for Australian English vowels", Australian Journal of Linguistics 14: 93–107, doi:10.1080/07268609408599503. 
  • Harrington, J.; Cox, Felicity; Evans, Z. (1997), "An acoustic phonetic study of broad, general, and cultivated Australian English vowels", Australian Journal of Linguistics 17: 155–84, doi:10.1080/07268609708599550 
  • 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.
  • Wells, John C. (1982), Accents of English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 

External links[edit]