Further study

Further study


Characteristics of Australian English

The dialects of English are different from each as a result of:

  • differences in their vowel and consonant systems
  • how these vowels and consonants are put together to make up words and phrases
  • the intonation and stress patterns that they use
  • the voice quality characteristics of the speakers.

It is not the individual features that are important but the constellation of co-occurring characteristics that differentiate dialects.

You will notice that discussion of the individual speech sounds in the text below makes use of the forward slash convention (e.g. /r/). This informs the reader that the symbol enclosed in the slashes should be interpreted as a phoneme in the language.


  Bilabial Labio-dental Dental Alveolar Post-alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p b    t d    k g  
Affricate      ʧ ʤ    
Nasal m    n    ŋ  
Fricative   f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ    h
Approximant     r   j w  

Table 1.1 Consonants that are present in Australian English to create words.

For more information go to:www.ling.mq.edu.au/speech/phonetics/transcription/broad_transcription/broad_transcription.html

The first sound in each of the following words illustrates the consonants in this chart (note that for /ŋ/ it is the last sound in the word because English words cannot begin with this sound).

























Linking /r/

1. Australian English is non-rhotic which means that it does not allow /r/ sounds before pauses or before other consonants. So the words “car” and “card” do not contain the /r/ sound. However, 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. This is called a linking /r/. 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.

"far more"



"far out"

Intrusive /r/

2. Australian English speakers may also use intrusive or epenthetic /r/. This is when an /r/ may be inserted before a vowel in words that do not have “r” in the spelling, For example, compare “draw” with no /r/ sound and “drawing”, “Tina Arena” which both contain intrusive /r/ sounds.



"tina arena"


3. The sound /j/ occurs in Australian English at the beginning of words like "yellow" and "yes" and it also occurs in words like "new" and "tube". Palatalisation also typically occurs now in young speakers where /tj/, /dj/, /sj/ and /zj/ become single affricate or fricative sounds: For example in "tube", and  "tune", the /tj/ sound becomes the affricate "ch". An affricate also occurs in "dune".



/tj/ in "tune" typically sounds the same as "choon"

/dj/ in "dune" typically sounds the same as "june"


4. There are a number of different /t/ sounds in Australian English. In unstressed syllables and at the ends of words, /t/ is quite weak and before pauses is often not released; but there is a lot of variation.  In the following examples you can hear a number of different versions of /t/ at the end of the word "light" from  different male and female speakers.

"light" - female, unreleased

"light" - female, glottalised

"light" - female, aspirated

"light" - female, heavily aspirated

"light" - female, spirantised

"light" - male, unreleased

"light" - male, glottalised

"light" - male, aspirated

"light" - male, heavily aspirated


"light" - male, spirantised

/t/ between vowels is also quite variable. Listen to the different types of /t/ that occur in the word water (examples below). The second type of /t/ here is called a flap and this can occur when /t/ or /d/ are found between two vowels within words before an unstressed vowel (as in  “water”, “cheddar”)


"water" - flap


Flaps can also occur for /t/ before a syllabic /l/ and /m/


Glottal stops occur in some contexts, for example


"light rain"

"not now"


/l/ has a range of variants. Clear /l/ (with the tip of the tongue behind the top teeth) occurs at the beginning of syllables and dark (velarised)  /l/ (with the back of the tongue raised) occurs at the end of syllables. For example “leash” and “heel”.



For some speakers vocalisation of /l/ may occur in certain contexts. This is where the /l/ becomes more like a vowel.


Here are some more examples of vocalised /l/ in “milk", "ball" and "hall".




To compare velarised (dark /l/) with vocalized /l/ listen to the following:



Vocalisation reduces the contrast between certain words so “howl” sounds like “how” and both can sound like “hal”.  There is also a regionally distributed pattern for this variant with proportionately more speakers from South Australia using vocalised /l/. Compare /l/ vocalization in “howl" vs. “how” vs. ”hal” which makes each of these words homophones.





Vowels are very important in differentiating between dialects. The following are some characteristics of Australian English vowel sounds.

Monophthong vs diphthong

There are 18 Australian English stressed vowels, that is those vowels that can occur in isolated words. These can be divided into monophthongs and diphthongs. Monophthongs are sounds that can be made without dynamic movement of the tongue, lips, jaw whereas diphthongs are dynamic sounds and require movement of some articulators.

The following table shows the symbols that can be used to represent the Australian English vowels.

Harrington, Cox & Evans (1997) Mitchell (1946) Example word Soundbite
i bead

ɪ ɪ bid

e ɛ bed

æ æ bad

ɐː a hard

ɐ ʌ bud

ɔ ɒ pod

ɔ board

ʊ ʊ good

ʉː u booed

ɜː ɜ bird

æɪ bayed

ɑe bide

æɔ bowed/loud

əʉ bode

ɔɪ Boyd

ɪə ɪə beard

ɛə bared/cared

For more information go to http://clas.mq.edu.au/speech/phonetics/transcription/broad_transcription/systems.html

Centring diphthong

Australian English is a non-rhotic dialect. Dialects like this do not have /r/ sounds in words before consonants or pauses. So the words "fear" and "feared" which are spelled with "r" do not contain the sound /r/. Instead of /r/, these words have a vowel called a centring diphthong which is used in place of the vowel + /r/. There are two main centring diphthongs in Australian English. These are the vowels that occur in words like "air" and "ear". The way these vowels are produced is quite variable in Australia. Sometimes they are monophthongs and sometimes they are diphthongs. Sometimes they are made as two separate vowels; the disyllabic type that can occur at the end of a phrase. There appears to be some regional variation in the production of these diphthongs.

Monophthong: "hair"

Monophthong: "fear"

Diphthong: "hair"

Diphthong: "fear"

Disyllabic: "hair"

Disyllabic: "fear"

Most young Australian English speakers do not use the centring diphthong that used to occur in words like “pure” and “sure”. Instead they use the vowel in “saw” for words like “sure” and the disyllabic sequence of two vowels in words like “pure”.

Compare the old way of saying “sure”

With the new "sure"

and "pure"


the unstressed vowel
Another vowel that occurs in Australian English which is not discussed above is the unstressed vowel schwa. This is the first sound in words like “ahead”. It is the most common vowel. The schwa vowel occurs 3 times in the word “photographer”. In Australian English, schwa that occurs at the end of a word particularly before a pause is often similar to the vowel in “cut”. Listen to the examples "ever" and "cheddar".




Australian English is one of the dialects of English that has a long vowel in words like “bath”, “grass” and “laugh”. This is called the TRAP-BATH split which means that words like TRAP have a short vowel (the vowel in “dad”) and those like BATH have a long vowel (as in “hard”).

Listen to “bath oil”



"In Australian English, words like "chance, plant, branch, sample" (and words containing the suffix "-mand", e.g.,  "demand") usually have an /æ/ vowel as in "cat" but there are also many speakers who use the vowel in "cart" for these words, particularly in South Australia, which had a different settlement chronology and type than other parts of the country."

Listen to "France" short

and "France" long


A long /æ/ sound is found in the adjectives “bad, mad, glad and sad”, before the sound /g/ (for example, “hag, rag, bag”) and also in content words before /m/ and /n/ in the same syllable (for example, “ham, tan, plant”). The long vowel is retained when suffixes are added such as in madder.

Listen to "bad"

and "pad"

Happy tensing

Happy tensing occurs where the final vowel in words like “happy” and “city” is the long vowel /i:/.



Schwa merger

Unstressed /ɪ/ and schwa have merged in Australian English so that the last vowel in all the following words contains schwa.  “Sandra’s” vs “sandwiches”.  “rosa’s” and “roses” are identical.





Before l

In words containing a long high vowel or diphthong, an unstressed schwa vowel will often be inserted before /l/.

For example “heel”

and “hail”

The vowel sound in “coat” is strongly affected by a following /l/ sound so that if this vowel occurs in words like “coal” it sounds quite different from the vowel in “coat” which does not have a following /l/ sound. The vowel before /l/ sounds more like the vowel in “pot”. Compare “dole” and “doll”. These vowels differ mainly by length.





The vowel sound in “who” and “food” is also significantly affected by a following /l/. For many speakers, this vowel changes from the vowel in “who” to one that is more like the vowel in “hood” when an /l/ follows (“pool” and “pull” are quite similar). For example listen to the two types of vowel in “school”.There is also a regional variation for this vowel.

"school" old

"school" new


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. For some speakers words like "land" and "hand" will contain a vowel that sounds similar to a long /e/ vowel, that is the vowel in "head". Listen to a speaker whose vowel is changed markedly by the “n” sound and one whose vowel is not changed much by the "n" sound.

"bad" low

"ban" low

"ban" raised

Further reading


For more information about Australian English phonetics see:

Bernard J (1970) Towards the acoustic specification of Australian English, Zeitschrift fur Phonetik 2/3: 113-128.

Cox, F. (1998) The Bernard Data Revisited, Australian Journal of Linguistics, 18, 29-55.

Cox, F. (1999) Sound Change in Australian English, Phonetica, 56, 1-27.

Cox, F. & Palethorpe, S. (2001) The changing face of Australian English vowels. In Blair, D.B. & Collins, P (eds). Varieties of English Around the World: English in Australia: John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam, 17-44.

Cox, F. & Palethorpe, S. (2007) An illustration of the IPA: Australian English. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 37, 341-350.

Cox, F. (2008) Vowel transcription systems: An Australian perspective. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 10, 327-333.

Fletcher, J. & Harrington, J. (2001) High-rising terminals and fall-rise tunes in Australian English. Phonetica, 58, 215-229

Fletcher, J., Grabe, E. & Warren, P. (2004) Intonational variation in four dialects of English: The high rising tune. In Sun-Ah Jun (ed.), Prosodic typology. The Phonology of Intonation and Phrasing. Oxford: OUP.

Fletcher, J., Stirling, L. Wales, R. & Mushin, I. (2002) Rising intonation and dialogue acts in Australian English,  Language and Speech, 45, 229-254.

Harrington, J., Cox, F. and Evans, Z. (1997) An acoustic phonetic study of broad, general, and cultivated Australian English vowels. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 17, 155-184.

Horvath, B. (1985) Variation in Australian English: The Sociolects of Sydney. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Horvath, B. (2004) Australian English: Phonology, in Schneider et al (eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English, Vol. 1 Phonology, Mouton, Berlin. pp 625-644.

Ingram, J. (1989) Connected speech processes in Australian English. In Bradley, D., Sussex, R. D. & Scott, G. K. (eds.), Studies in Australian English, 21–49. Bundoora: Department of Linguistics, La Trobe University Victoria for the Australian Linguistic Society.

McGregor, J. & Palethorpe, S. (2008) High Rising Tunes in Australian English: The Communicative Function of L* And H* Pitch Accent Onsets. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 28, 171-193.

Mitchell, A. & Delbridge, A. (1965) The Speech of Australian Adolescents, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.

Tollfree, L. (2001) Variation and change in Australian English consonants. In Blair, D. & Collins, P. (eds.), Varieties of English around the World: English in Australia, 45–67. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

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