Exploring variation in Australian English: A perceptual approach

Date & time

3.30–5pm 29 September 2017


Australian National University, Canberra


Sydney Kingstone


Ksenia Gnevheva

Presented by Sydney Kingstone as part of the ANU Linguistics Seminar Series


This thesis looks at folk perceptions and reported usage of regional variation in Australian English. Australian English is a variety of English that has been regarded as having very limited forms of regional variation (Bernard 1970). Bryant (1992) was the first to explore regional variation through a traditional dialectology approach of the Australian English lexicon, and found overwhelming evidence of lexical regional variation across Australia. Phoneticians have also debunked this claim of dialect homogeny, finding regional variation in l-vocalization (Borowsky and Horvath 1997) and phonetic differences (see Billington 2011).

Perceptual dialectology is an interdisciplinary field which examines lay (folk) perceptions of language through a combination of methods from linguistic anthropology, cultural geography, sociolinguistics, dialectology and social psychology of language (Preston 1999). Folk perceptions explore cultural beliefs about individuals and social groups, and reveal correlations between intergroup stereotypes and linguistic factors in order to provide a richer understanding of speech communities.

Data were collected through two online surveys: one survey examining perceptions of sociocultural and regional variation in Australian English, and the other survey collecting reported usage of regional lexical items and pronunciations. By adapting both perceptual dialectology and traditional dialectology methods to online platforms, nearly 2000 respondents took part in the surveys. The findings indicate that respondents' perceptions of regional variation do not align with their regional perceptions of accent difference, status, or solidarity. However, respondents' perceptions of regional variation do correspond with their perceptions of linguistic features usage and comparisons to other English varieties. By looking at the difference in reported usage of terms by age groups, there is actively occurring change over time across Australia, with respondents from NSW, VIC, QLD, and SA retaining regional distinctiveness, while respondents from TAS, WA, NT, and ACT are replacing some local regionalisms with more widely used terms. 

This thesis examines native Australian speakers’ folk linguistic ideologies and compares them to reported usage of regional variation to better understand how Australians report and perceive variation across Australia. The thesis introduces a new methodology to Australian English linguistic study, enhances research of native Australian English speaker attitudes, and furthers the study of dialectology in Australia.


Bernard J 1989 ‘Regional variation in Australian English: a survey’ in P Collins & D Blair (eds) Australian English: the language of a new society St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. pp. 255-259.

Billington R 2011 ‘Location, Location, Location! Regional characteristics and national patterns of change in the vowels of Melbourne adolescents’ Australian Journal of Linguistics 31/3: 275-303.

Borowsky T and B Horvath 1997 ‘L-vocalization in Australian English’ in L Wetzels, R van Hout & F Hinskens (eds) Variation, Change and Phonological Theory Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. pp. 101-123.

Bryant P 1992 Regional variation in the lexicon of Australian English Unpublished PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Preston D 1999 ‘Introduction’ in D Preston (ed) Handbook of Perceptual Dialectology Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. pp. xxiii-xl.

Panel: Jane Simpson, Evan Kidd, Jennifer Hendriks

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