Perhaps you’re struggling to understand it, have a fascination with it or, for whatever reason, you just have a desire to replicate the Australian accent.
Whatever the case is, getting to know the linguistics behind the Australian accent is the best place to start.
The Australian accent has been propelled into the media in recent years, with Australian actors becoming regulars on Hollywood movie screens. One perception of the general public is that the Aussie accent has no real variation. In some ways, this is true.
Unlike some European and early-settled countries like the USA, the Australian accent is made up of just three different variations: broad, general, and cultivated. These variations are not as easy to pick up on as, say, the cockney, geordie, and southern accents of England, but the subtleties are there. The reason why the differences aren’t as strong is likely down to the fact that Australia has yet to be shaped by thousands of years of history.
The three variations
As a good frame or reference, the ‘broad’ Australian accent is best exemplified by the late Steve Irwin. The broad accent is associated with a strong, nasal voice, and is often considered a ‘working class’ accent.
The broader an Australian accent is, the more the diphthong in words such as ‘kite’, ‘ride’, and ‘nice’ moves towards the sounds ‘koite’, ‘roide’ and ‘noice’. In words like ‘loud’ and ‘out’, the ‘o’ sound is more like an ‘e’ as heard in the word ‘dress’. If you’re still confused, look for an American movie in which an American takes on an Aussie accent. Their likely over-exaggerated tone of voice is another good example of a broad Australian accent.
A ‘general’ accent is that which is spoken by most Australians, similar to what you would hear from former prime minister Julia Gillard. Hugh Jackman is another example of someone who speaks with a general Australian accent. The general accent is not as nasal as the broad accent, yet still not as demure as the cultivated accent.
The ‘cultivated’ accent can be exemplified by stars such as Cate Blanchett, with her somewhat “British-sounding” accent. A cultivated accent can be the result of strong influences either from family, environment, or time spent abroad.
Mimicking the accent
If mimicking the Australian accent is your goal, you are best off attempting to replicate the broad Australian accent. To do this, you will need to use your tongue, cheeks, and lips to almost ‘chew’ your words as you say them. The ‘chewing’ is a result of Australians’ hurried speech and mumbled approach to talking.
Your main focus should be on the vowels, as they are paid particular attention to by Australians. Try to elongate the vowel sound in a word, for example the word ‘mate’ would be pronounced as ‘maaayt’. You can also try switching the ‘o’ sound to an ‘ew’ sound, turning words such as ‘shoot’ into ‘shewt’.
Endings play another important role, with the last letters of a word being cut short in an Australian accent. An example of this is the word ‘catching’, which would be pronounced more like ‘catchn’. Words ending in ‘ay’ are sometimes spoken as though they end in ‘ie’, for example ‘todie’ rather than ‘today’.
As well adapting these sounds and speaking quickly, you should end your sentences with an upward intonation, almost as though every statement is a question.
As for Aussie slang, one sure fire way to get into the spirit of things is to add an ‘o’ to the end of abbreviated words. Service station, for example, can be referred to as ‘servo’, or afternoon changed to “arvo”. Names are almost always tampered with, for example Ben becoming ‘Benno’, Shane becoming ‘Shano’, Sharon becoming ‘Shazza’.
Some other words to get familiar with include:
Bottlo: Bottle shop
Drongo: Stupid person
Fair dinkum: Honest/genuine
Stubby: Bottle of beer
Gander: To take a look at
Nick off: Go away
Ranga: Person with red hair
Servo: Petrol station
Smoko: B reak from work
Tinnie: Can of beer
Woop woop: Middle of nowhere
Yobbo: Uncultivated person