This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky!
Dear Conversation people, why do Aussies have a different accent to Canadians, Americans, the British, New Zealanders, etc? Thank you in advance – Kiana, 11, Switzerland.
This is a great question, Kiana. The short answer is that the accent you have depends on the people you grew up with and the history of the place that you live in. If you grew up in Australia, your accent is shaped by the history of Australia’s European settlement; if you grew up in New Zealand, your accent is shaped by a different history, so it sounds different.
It’s automatic for us to talk in a similar way to the people around us and this feature is really strong in kids. Friends have the biggest influence on accent. Sharing an accent helps to show that you are connected to your friends – that you belong to the group. This is also how new accents begin. Kids are very important in creating new accents.
The Aussie accent started with kids
It’s important to remember that the Aboriginal people had been using their own languages for thousands of years before the Europeans came to Australia so English was a foreign language to them.
The Aussie accent, as we know it today, started more than 200 years ago with the children of the convicts, soldiers and other European arrivals. The parents spoke with all different kinds of English accents because they came from many places in England.
But their children born in Australia formed friendship groups and started to talk in ways that were more like each other and less like their parents.
Over the years the children’s accent was carried on by each generation and became the main accent of English across Australia.
There are lots of different kinds of Aussie accents
In 1965, two linguists named A.G. Mitchell and Arthur Delbridge wrote that there were three distinct accent types in Australia: broad (think Steve Irwin), general (think the hosts of an Australian morning TV show like Sunrise, for example) and cultivated (a bit more British-sounding, like Cate Blanchett).
But it’s actually a lot more complex than that.
The Aussie accent has been changing gradually for over 200 years as the Australian society and people have changed, and now there are lots of different types of Aussie accents.
There are Aussie accents from the city, from the country, from older and younger people, from different places in Australia, from Indigenous Australians, from people whose families came from Lebanon, Greece, Italy, Vietnam, China, India and lots more too.
These different Aussie accents are all Australian.
But the Australian accents are different from the accents of America, or Canada, or New Zealand because those accents were created from kids growing up in those places with different communities and histories.
Accents are all about the people we spend time with when we are young. People who grow up in Australia usually spend lots of time with other Australians and that’s why they speak with Aussie accents and not American, Canadian or New Zealand accents.
The different kinds of Aussie accents also help Australians to feel connected to Australia. Accents help to give people a sense of belonging and a feeling of home.
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