The beauty we find in language reaches beyond our ability to effectively communicate. However, the “global conversation” matters and English has been firmly positioned as an international communication tool through the spread of technological progress, driven primarily by the United States. Although, its roots stem, of course, from England. The language initially took hold in many other regions from the US to India and as far as Australia due to British colonialism during the 17-18th centuries.
Each world language is steeped in its own rich history, echoing the culture of the region. English may well be the language of the masses, taking a front seat in commerce, technology, business and even more so in world politics. It would be logical to assume that this lingua franca has one ‘true’ form, a universal version that’s fully recognisable throughout all native speaking regions. In fact, this complex language has evolved in rather different ways in the varying countries for whom English is their mother tongue. This means that many English-speaking countries have developed their own unique variant, reflecting their individual histories and cultural nuances.
One of the most noticeable examples of this, is Australian English. While British English remains the most linguistically challenging of the major variants, with its more complex grammatical rules and notable French influence, Australian English has broken away from British English in a number of significant ways, giving itself an egalitarian tone, as well as humour and softening of the rules to allow for smoother integration with the affectionately embraced Aboriginal language connections.
While both spelling and grammar in British and Australian English are largely the same, both countries tend to use British spellings over the simpler (yet arguably easier to understand) US English, while pronunciation can vary greatly depending on where you are. Even between areas of Australia, there are significant differences in how words are spoken.
A Love of Diminutives
All Aussies (Australians) share something of a penchant for using words in a diminutive form. Common examples of this would be the change from ‘afternoon’ in the UK to ‘arvo’ in Australia, ‘muso’ referring to a musician and even ‘firies’ for firemen. While this has the added benefit of creating a more casual, less socially strict tone for conversing, the reasons for the use of these diminutive words is relatively unclear. Having said that, there is a view that suggests that these new diminutives create a more melodic sound that more seamlessly blends with the Aboriginal words that have been incorporated into Australian English. This is particularly the case in more rural areas.
Interestingly, both forms of English have used variations of Cockney rhyming slang in their past. This is a primarily rhyming-based slang in which alternative rhyming words are used in place of the intended word, i.e. ‘brown bread’ in place of ‘dead’ or ‘Adam and Eve’ for ‘believe’. The assumption is that, due to Australia’s particularly large ‘convict’ population, a predominant class of people developed in this region that were familiar with the creative uses of slang and fond of inventing new and novel ways in which to communicate, often sarcastically or secretively. Such slang could be quite useful and, while it has since died out in Australia (although you can still find widespread use of this style of slang in parts of London), Australian English has retained some of its creativity in much of the slang used today. ‘She’ll be apples’ just means ‘she’ll be OK’, while ‘Bloody Oath!’ means ‘That’s the truth!’
It should go without saying that in British English, the preference is firmly in favour of more formal language, without the utterance of expletives of any kind in an official or dignified setting. Not only is swearing much more common in Australian English, in what could be the biggest divergence so far from its predecessor, Australian English actually places a value on the use of swear words, as a reflection of the speaker’s commitment to a more equal society in which no class or person considers themselves ‘better’ than their neighbour. Even politicians and government officials have been known to let slip the occasional four-letter word in public. This is not met with the same recoiling in horror and scandalised expressions of the higher echelons of British society!
No-one can ever take away from the British the honour of creating English. While Australian English may only vary slightly from its source tongue in terms of grammar and spelling, it’s safe to say that the prevailing cultural differences between these two unique locales has had a considerable effect on the tone and nuance of their individual variants. We may well be able to understand both without paying too much attention to these differences; but to do so, would be to do a disservice to what makes language beautiful, namely how we use it.