May 30, 2018

Where Did the Australian Accent Come From?

2 minute read

The official language of Australia is English, but you may have noticed that the Australian accent is very different to any accent you would hear in the United Kingdom. In this blog post, I’ll explain how that happened.

Today, many British people are desperate to move to sunny Australia, but in the 18th Century, when Britain invaded it and made it part of the British Empire, the government found it hard to persuade people to go. For a long time, they had to force people to move to Australia - many people who were found guilty of committing a crime in Britain were sent to Australia instead of prison!

Most of these people were from southeast England, but there were others from all over Britain. Even though the UK is small, it has many, completely different accents depending on which part you are from. When people from all these different places ended up in Australia, they would naturally have tried to change the way they spoke a little bit, to make it easy to understand each other.

Then, of course, these people had children. Children develop an accent when they learn to speak, and so their accent comes from the world around them. With so many different ones, they picked up lots of different parts of different accents. The more time they spent together, the more similar to each other their speech became, too.

Very quickly, all the different accents that had arrived in Australia merged into one accent. At first, English people thought the new Australian accent was great. Unlike some of the strong accents and dialects used back in England, the Australian accent was clear and easy to understand, because it was developed by people trying to understand each other!

Then, something changed. A new accent became popular among rich and powerful people in England. This was called Received Pronunciation (RP), and if you’ve ever heard the Queen speak, that’s what it sounds like!

RP is very different to any other accents that exist in the UK, and people who spoke with an RP accent back then really looked down on people who didn’t speak like that.

All of a sudden, the Australian accent was considered very rough, people who were rich and highly educated tried hard to change the way they spoke to sound more RP. Even after Australia became independent of the British Empire in 1901, many people were keen to reduce their Australian accents and sound more posh and English. Private Schools in Australia taught students to use RP pronunciation as much as possible.

Today, this means that there are three types of Australian accent. Some people speak with a “general” accent, which is more or less the way it has been for centuries. Other people speak with an accent that is closer to RP English. The third group of people have a “broad” Australian accent. These are mostly people who live in small communities in the countryside, where they weren’t influenced by other accents or by the popularity of RP English. Instead of their accent becoming “less” Australian, it has become “more” Australian, exaggerating the parts of the pronunciation that are unique to the Australian accent.

In short, the way people speak in Australia today is influenced by many different accents you can hear in England today, but these have been blended together to create something completely new!

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