you're reading...
2003-03, 337, Australiana, Brian Taylor, Language


Australian English grammar

There are even fewer collectible monographs on the grammar of Australian English than there are on pronunciation. Although Horvath’s Variation in Australian English touches on grammar at some points, the only book that focuses down on an area of Australian English grammar is the 1976 published version of a doctoral thesis from the University of Freiburg, Germany, Morphology of Australian English (Munich: Wilhelm Fink; 72 pp.) by Roswitha Dabke (who later, under my malign influence, went on to publish about swearing in Australian Rules Football), where she looks at, amongst other things, the way we add endings like y/ie (surfy/surfie) and–o, often after truncation back to one syllable (milko < milkman).

There are, however, other books that are more general grammars and use Australian texts as their sources for examples and so have some relevance, such as Robert D. Eagleson, Terry Threadgold and Peter C. Collins’s 1983 Grammar: its nature and terminology (Carlton, Vic.: Pitman Publishing Ltd; [iv] + 101 pp.) and Alex Jones’s recent (2001)australian english grammar (Glebe, NSW: Book House, a division of Wild & Woolley Pty Ltd; vi + 236 pp.; lower case title intentional(Illustration 1) . Not to be ignored though is The little grammar people (Sydney/London: Angus & Robertson, 1942; [vi] + 104 pp.; d/w), a charming book by Nuri Mass (Illustration 2) which aims to teach the concepts of traditional grammar to small children through a series of chapters such as “Miss Noun”, “Sir Pronoun”, “Madam Adjective”, “Wee Baby Conjunction” etc., with fairytalelike illustrations by Celeste Mass. (My copy has the inscription “Jilly with best love and all good wishes from Auntie/1943”.) If anything, it tries to roll back “broader” Australian English tendencies by telling children not to drop their h’s and g’s (also adding k, e.g. p.87: “Ah, the poor K’s!

Illustration 1


Illustration 2

Title page

How often does a G get dropped from a word and a K picked up in its stead! How many times does ‘thing’ become ‘think’…”). So even that sort of thing (sorry, no pun meant) will indicate to later generations how kids tended to speak Australian English in the 1940s.

General works and anthologies focused on Australian English.

Readily collectible are general integrated works on Australian English and anthologies focused on language in Australia and containing chapters by different authors on various aspects of Australian English. The foremost early example of the former is, of course, S.J. Baker’s Australian language of 1945, and it, as I indicated earlier, remains virtually the only significant example of the integrated type. There is the 1966 book by George W. Turner, then Reader in English at the University of Adelaide, The English language in Australia and New Zealand (London: Longman; 2nd ed. 1972), which with its nearly two and a half hundred pages is not so very far behind Baker, but it attempts to deal with both Antipodean varieties between its covers.1

Much more is available in a number of significant focused multiauthored anthologies, and I will list some of these with their contents to show the range of topics dealt with.

Illustration 3


The earliest is the 1970 English transported: essays on Australasian English (Canberra: Australian National University Press; xii + 243; d/w), (Illustration 3) edited by W.S. Ramson and containing the following contributions: A.G. Delbridge, “The recent study of spoken Australian English”; E.H. Flint, “A comparison of spoken and written English”; J.S. Gunn, “Twentieth-century Australian idiom”; G.K.W. Johnston, “The language of Australian literature”; A.G. Mitchell, “The Australian accent”; and W.S. Ramson, “Nineteenth-century Australian English”. It was published simultaneously in a clothbound and a paperbound edition.

In 1972 followed Good Australian English (on the d/w, but on the title page and half title is added in a smaller typeface and good New Zealand English) (Artarmon, NSW: Reed Educational; 317 pp.; d/w), edited by G.W. Turner with eleven chapters (Illustration 4), and in 1976, edited by Australia’s expert on multiligualism, Michael Clyne, Australia talks: essays on the sociology of Australian immigrant and Aboriginal languages (Canberra: Australian National University Press = Pacific Linguistics, series D, no. 23; viii + 266 +14 pp. – these last listing the various Pacific Linguistics publication series) (Illustration 5) , where “immigrant languages” includes English (hence Stephen Muecke’s and my essays referred to earlier).

Illustration 4

Title page and facing page

Illustration 5

Title page

Then came a festschrift. Festschrift is a German word that can be loosely translated as ‘celebratory publication’, and such publications containing contributions from former students and former and current colleagues are traditionally handed over in Germanspeaking countries at a ceremony celebrating the 60th birthday of the august professor who is the dedicatee, though there may be further festschriften (the German plural) for subsequent “big O” (or, as the Germans call them, “round”) birthdays – 70th, 80th – too. (I believe I even noticed recently one for a French Germanist’s 100th birthday!) This practice has insinuated itself to some extent into the Anglo-Saxon world, which accounts for the publication in 1985 of The cultivated Australian. Festschrift for Arthur Delbridge (Hamburg, Ger.: Buske), edited by John Clarke, another escapee from Sydney to Macquarie, and containing: J.R.L. Bernard, “Some local effects of post-vocalic [l]”; D.B. Blair and P. Kreuiter, “Computation in the Macquarie dictionary”; D. and M. Bradley, “The phonetic realisation of a morpheme boundary in Australian English”; A.G. Delbridge, “The making of The Macquarie(prefaced by J.R.L. Bernard); C. Fernando, “Australian idiom”; J.S. Gunn, “Going bush”; G. Hammarström, “On the origin of Australian English”; B.M. Horvath and S. Harrison, “Postvocalic(r) in a non-rhotic dialect of English”; P.H. Peters, “Between Empire and Anzus: orthographic adjustments in Australia”; W.S. Ramson,“ The Australian national dictionary: A preview of the letter B ”; H.L. Rogers, “A note ondarg”; and R.D. Sussex, “Linguistic evidence of the Americanization of Australian English: preliminary report”. I hope the reader can see the nice pun in the title of this festschrift (what were the three varieties of Australian English according to Mitchell and Delbridge?), and anyone acquainted with the personality and the speech of Arthur Delbridge will know that it fits him to a T. (Or is it a tee? Or tea?)

Peter Collins and David Blair edited and published in 1989 a much larger collection under the title Australian English: the language of a new society (St Lucia, Qld: Queensland University Press; xiv + 358 pp.) containing: P. Ball, C. Gallois and V. Callan, “Language attitudes: a perspective from social psychology”; J.R.L. Bernard, “Quantitative aspects of the sounds of Australian English” and “Regional variation in Australian English: a survey”, and with A.L. Lloyd, “The indeterminate vowel in Sydney and Rockhampton English”; D.B. Blair, “The development and current state of Australian English: a survey”; D. Bradley, “Regional dialects in Australian English phonology”; P. Bryant, “Regional variation in the AustralianEnglish lexicon”; J.E. Clark, “Some proposals for a revised phonetic transcription of Australian English”; G.R. Cochrane, “Origins and development of the Australian accent”; P.C. Collins, “Divided and debatable usage in Australian English” and “Sociolinguistics in Australia: a survey”; R.D. Eagleson, “Popular and professional attitudes to prestige dialects”; E. Eisikovits, “Girltalk/ boy-talk: sex differences in adolescent speech”; K.J. Eltis, “Pupils’ speech style and teacher reaction”; J.S. Gunn, “The shearing shed society”; G.R. Guy and J.P. Vonwiller, “The high rising tone in Australian English”; B.M. Horvath, “Shifting patterns in Sydney phonology”; H. Oasa, “Phonology of current Adelaide English”; P.H. Peters and A.G. Delbridge, “Standardisation in Australian English”; C. Poynton, “Terms of address in Australian English”; J. Reeve, “Community attitudes to Australian English”; A. Shnukal, “Variable subject relative pronoun absence in Australian English”; R.D. Sussex, “The Americanization of Australian English: prestige models in the media”; B.A. Taylor, “American, British and other foreign influences on Australian English since World War II”; and G.W. Turner, “Some problems in Australian English etymology”. Two years later, in 1991, came the volume Language in Australia (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) edited by the British linguist Suzanne Romaine and with the following contributions of direct interest to us: P. Bryant, “A survey of regional usage in the lexicon of Australian English”; J. Corson, “Social class differences in the lexicon”; B.M. Horvath, “Finding a place in Sydney: migrants and language change”; and A.F. Pauwels, “Gender differences in Australian English”.

And most recently, as vol. 26 in the series Varieties of English around the World, Blair and Collins edited and published in 2000 English in Australia (Amsterdam, Neth./ Philadelphia, USA: John Benjamins; vi + 366) with the following contributions: T. Borowsky, “The vocalisation of dark l in Australian English”; D. and M. Bradley, “Changing attitudes to Australian English”; S. Butler, “Australian English – an identity crisis”; P.C. Collins and D.B. Blair, “Language and identity in Australia”; F. Cox and S. Palethorpe, “Vowel change: synchronic and diachronic evidence”; A.G. Delbridge, “Lexicography and national identity: the Australian experience”; B.M. and R.J. Horvath, “Short A in Australian English: a geolinguistic study”; B. Moore, “Australian English and indigenous voices”; M. Newbrook, “Syntactic features and norms in Australian English”; P.H. Peters, “Corpus evidence on Australian style and usage”; J. Simpson, “Hypocoristics of place-names”; B. Taylor, “Australian English in interaction with other Englishes”; L. Tollfree, “Variation and change in Australian consonants: reduction of /t/”; and C. Yallop, “A.G. Mitchell and the development of Australian pronunciation”.

I suppose few readers have bothered to read through the large number of contribution titles above lest they be bored witless by the exercise, but anyone who does do so will appreciate the wide range of studies on Australian English – many by recurring names that by this point will have become quite familiar -, including a lot of articles that answer John Gunn’s plea for regional studies of English in Australia.

As in the case of J.D. Pringle’s Australian accent, there are titles that may mislead here too. The Englishman David Holbrook’s 1973 book English in Australia now is really all about the subject English, specifically teaching English literature, in Australia and has nothing to say about the language here. And the local journal called English in Australia does have occasional relevant articles, but is concerned with the teaching of the subject English and more often than not publishes articles about teaching literature. WhileThe languages of Australia (Canberra: Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1993; = Occasional Papers no. 14; x + 166 pp.), edited by Gerhard Schulz, does contain papers relevant to Australian English, the identically titled The languages of Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980; xxii + 547 pp.), written by R.M.W. Dixon, is entirely about Australian Aboriginal languages and so not relevant.

Journals and unfocused anthologies

Clearly a huge amount of material on Australian English will be found in journals. Unfortunately, we in Australia have no regular journal broadly devoted to our variety of English, unlike our sisters and brothers in New Zealand, who, though somewhat late in coming to investigate their own variety of English in a systematic way, have now left us in Australia “for dead” in the intensity and scope of their investigations and in having had from 1986 the annual New Zealand English Newsletter , which has since developed into The New Zealand English Journal. There is still on this side of the Tasman Sea nothing of comparable breadth and focus that one could call the Australian English Newsletter, much less Journal.

There are, however, a few serial publications that are exclusively concerned with narrower aspects of AusE, especially vocabulary, and so can be readily seen as collectibles. Cases in point are The Macquarie Dictionary Society newsletter (Illustration 6) , which ran from October 1982 (vol. 1, no. 1) till July 1989 (vol. 5, issue 3/4) (the numbers after vol. 1 being referred to as issues).

Illustration 6

It dealt with aspects of vocabulary and enjoyed a lot of community input, as does still Ozwords. A newsletter from the Australian National Dictionary Centre (Illustration 7) , which from January 1994 for a time appeared three times per year, but now appears twice yearly.

Illustration 7

Supported by Oxford University Press, it can be obtained free by emailing one’s name and postal details to Ozwords@oup.com.au or writing to: Ozwords Subscription Manager, GPO Box 2784Y, Melbourne VIC 3001.

In broader matters of style, there are – from Macquarie University, of course, and under the overall editorship of Associate Professor Pam Peters – Australian Style. A National Bulletin. Issues in Australian Style and the Use of English in Australia published by the Dictionary Research Centre along with The National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia, and the annual Proceedings of Style Council 94 etc., also edited by Pam Peters and published by The National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia for the Dictionary Research Centre, Macquarie University. And while on the subject of Pam Peters and style, it would be wrong not to mention her epoch-making reference book The Cambridge Australian English style guide (Cambridge/New York/Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1995; xiii + 848 pp.; d/w), which guides on the basis of what the bulk of Australians actually say and write rather than what some people think they ought to. Perhaps she is the one who bids fair to outpublish S.J. Baker on aspects of Australian English, at least in quantity if not breadth.

Of relevance also is Australian Language Matters. A Newsletter of Language and Literacy Issues produced by Language Australia, Language Australia being the business name of the National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia. It is of rather large dimensions (280 x 430 mm), appears four times per year and can be subscribed to for $33 per year (plus $22 for postage overseas) or single issues can be obtained for $8.25 by writing to Victorian Office of Language Australia, GPO Box 372F, Melbourne Vic 3001 or emailing davet@la.ames.vic.edu.au.

As we saw earlier, the Linguistics Society of Australia published annually for some years its journal Talanya (from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘tongue’), which contained articles on Australian English mingled in with articles on Aboriginal and other languages. But if one wanted an AusE article one had to take the whole issue that it was in. After the Society, at the suggestion of the abovementioned Professor R.M.W. Dixon, a prominent Australianist then at the Australian National University, changed its name to the Australian Linguistic Society (ALS, the former abbreviation LSA already being used for the Linguistic Society of America), it also began to publish a new, biannual journal, the Australian Journal of Linguistics, beginning in June 1981. It too sometimes has articles on Australian English, but since authors now receive twenty five copies of their article in the form of offprints which they tend to distribute to colleagues and friends, it is quite possible for these single items to find their way to collectors sooner or later. The Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, published by the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia, also contains occasional articles of relevance. Naturally articles on AusE are also published in overseas journals such as English World-Wide. A journal of varieties of English (Amsterdam, Neth.: John Benjamins Publishing Company) and World Englishes. Journal of English as an international and intranational language (Oxford, UK/ Cambridge, USA: Blackwell Publishers), and these can similarly turn up as offprints.

Australian publishers of books, i.e. anthologies, do not usually provide authors of chapters with offprints, usually only a copy or two of the book, as was the case with Collins and Blair’s 1989 book Australian English from Queensland University Presss, but continental publishers especially are more generous in this respect (but charge much more for their books) and provide numerous offprints, as was the case with Blair and Collins’s 2000 book English in Australia from Benjamins (Illustration 8).13 But both of these books are not really a collector’s problem as in each case the whole volume deals with AusE.

Illustration 8

Overseas festschriften can be more of a problem, since there may be only one or just a few relevant contributions, and one hardly wants to buy the whole expensive thing just for those. This was the case with the 1997 festschrift Language in time and space (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner) for the Bamberg professor of English Wolfgang Viereck (for whom I have, since 1986, given more lectures on Australian English than for anyone else) containing my paper “The inner-city working class English of Sydney, Australia, around 1900: a linguistic critique of Louis Stone’s novel Jonah”, and with the large two-volume, slightly oddly subtitled, Language and civilization. A concerted profusion of essays and studies in honour of Otto Hietsch edited by Claudia Blank (Frankfurt-on-Main/ Berne/ New York/ Paris: Peter Lang Publishers, 1992; xxxvi + 687 and xiii + 833; d/w). Tucked away in this huge number of pages were my colleague Alex McAndrew’s contribution “ Hosties and garbos: a look behind diminutives and pejoratives in Australian speech” and my own on a partly similar theme “Otto 988 to Ocker 1988: the morphological treatment of personal names in Old High German and colloquial Australian English”. Any collectors who may one day covet these articles for their collection could have cause to be grateful that there may be an offprint (German: Sonderdruck) (Illustration 9 and 10) choice is not that of purchasing the hugely expensive, and now probably impossible to get, volumes.And offprints of various kinds do turn up in secondhand bookshops, I’ve noticed.

Collectible as offprints too would be reviews of relevant books in academic journals, if collectors want to extend to reviews and provided this or that journal furnishes its reviewers with offprints, as most respectable journals still do – though there are signs that the photocopier and publishers’ financial straits may put this practice under threat. Some journals supply a few offprints and if reviewers want more they have to pay for them, or in some cases all offprints have to be applied for in advance and the publisher paid in advance or on receipt. This may lead to there being few or no offprints of a particular item in existence.

Illustration 9

Illustration 10

In conclusion.

I hope I have demonstrated with this long three part article that there is plenty of material around for those who might care to collect in this neglected area of Australiana. And I have certainly not by any means listed all the items – let alone other related areas that might be collected in, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Englishes, migrant Englishes and migrant languages affected by Australian English, Auslan, Norfolk Island English, onomastics, etc. If you want to know more of what is available, then you are just going to have to save up and buy our CD-ROM when it comes out, aren’t you?

NBnot possible to start footnotes at any number other than one. In an endeavour to overcome this foible we had left the original numbers at the beginning of each footnote. Ed.


1 My German colleague, Professor Gerhard Leitner, the inspirer of our bibliography mentioned in Part 1, has recently sent me for perusal and comment the fiorst draft of his book Australia’s many voices: a study in the transformation of a language habitatAt nearly 500 pages of small typeface in length, it bids fair to be the newest and by far the longest of these integrated studies.

2 The 1989 QUP book cost, if my memory serves me correctly, something towards $30, whereas the 2000 Benjamins book costs, when Euro are converted to Australian dollars, well over $200.

3 My article, with the Old High German part omitted, has since been published as “Ocker, Richo and the other Aussie Dunny. Mucking about with people’s names in Australian English: what is the code?”, in Australia Folkore. A yearly jounal of folklore studies 8 (1993), 112-137 where it should be more accessible. The journal is, incidentally, edited by BCSA member and oftentimes contributor to Biblionews Professo John Ryan.

4 The Bibliography will also be available online. An advertisement for it is “forthcoming” has appeared in Mouton de Gruyter’s latest (2002/2003) linguistics and communication studies catalogue (p. 91), but as yet without a price. At the time the present Biblionews is being readied for the printer, the publishers of the Bibliography are, I am told, still dealing with the problems of the software—a generic template—that they need to produce this and other linguistics bibliographies in digital electronic form. Publication of ours may thus still be some way



Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: