A new interactive website launched this Australia Day (Jan.26) traces the evolution of the Australian accent over a century.
Australian Voices was developed by Macquarie University speech scientists Dr Felicity Cox and Dr Sallyanne Palethorpe as part of an ongoing study of the way Australians speak.
Visitors to the site can listen to audio files and compare accents and dialects belonging to different cultural, social and regional groups, and can even participate in the research by submitting audio files of their own speech or that of family members.
A person's accent can vary depending on their age and gender, as well as their social, cultural and regional history or affiliation. Until recently, researchers classified speakers of Australian English - those born in Australia or raised here from a young age - into one of three categories - either broad (colloquially described as 'ocker'), cultivated (a more British sounding accent type) or general (the accent spoken by the majority of Australian English speakers).
To more accurately define Australian English as it stands today, Cox and Palethorpe have broadened the definition of Australian English by identifying three different dialect sub-groups - Standard Australian English, Australian Aboriginal English and various Ethnocultural Australian English varieties - and say this new classification system is more inclusive of the variation that is present amongst Australian English speakers.
Accents are always changing, and Australian English today is very different from that which was spoken 100 years ago. Milestone events in Australia's history have been paralleled by linguistic change, and so even speakers of general Australian English sound very different today than they did in the past.
"The way we speak is closely tied to identity, social dynamics and social cohesiveness," Cox said. "It's an instinctive thing - we find ourselves slotting into the speech patterns of the people we spend the most time with and this is particularly true of children and adolescents who are the initiators of accent change."
The website invites users to explore accent change through the extensive use of audio files, which take listeners on a linguistic journey spanning 100 years.
"People are often reminded of their grandparents when they listen to our early audio clips," Cox said. "Many factors have played a part in shaping the way we speak, from the dialect mix that was present in the early days of the colony, to social change during World War I, the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, and the increasing linguistic diversity resulting from Multiculturalism."
Ultimately, Cox says, the website is about offering a resource to Australians that will allow them to explore and celebrate what makes us sound the way we do.