Australian English is famous for its distinctive vocabulary, but there is more to the Australian lexicon than throwing a shrimp on the barbie – the words used by English speakers in Australia can tell us a lot about the history of the language, and the diverse influences that have contributed to it over the last 200 years. There are also lots of differences in which words people use, and how – for example, there are regional differences for some words (do you say ‘potato cake’ or ‘potato scallop’?), and words which might have a different meaning for some groups of speakers (if something is ‘deadly’ in Aboriginal English, it’s pretty good!). People who make dictionaries are interested in recording which words are used by speakers of a language, and what they mean – and this includes new words, like ‘selfie’, which may have originated in Australia before taking the world by storm.
Maps of words around Australia
As part of the Linguistics Roadshow, we put together a short survey on some Australian English vocabulary. We invited people to fill it in and tell us which words they prefer for particular things, like potato cakes/scallops/fritters. The responses are fed directly into a map, so that we can see of there are any interesting differences depending on where people come from (and of course there are!). Check out the interactive maps and explore the differences!
Macquarie Dictionary word map: “Do you wear your cossie, swimmers or togs when you go to the beach? And when you’re there, do you eat an icy pole, an iceblock or a by jingo? Do you say peanut butter or peanut paste?” Check out the Macquarie Dictionary’s Australian Word Map to find out a bit about regional variation in vocabulary. You can also stay up-to-date on new and changing words via their blog.
Resource packs: The Australian National Dictionary Centre has lots of online materials useful for students and teachers, including:
- A list of meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms
- Information about some of the major sources for Australian words, and historical events that have shaped the language, including various British English influences, borrowings from Indigenous languages, and vocabulary during the convict era, gold rush and wartime.
- A full resource pack for teachers, students and researchers on the gold rushes and Australian English
- A detailed glossary of slang and terminology used by Australian soldiers fighting in the Middle East and Europe between 1921-1924.
Quiz and class guide: The National Museum of Australia has online classroom resources including Aussie English for the Beginner, with a guide and quiz (viewable as interactive Flash, or HTML). These were part of a previous exhibition called Nation: Symbols of Australia.
Classroom reading: Do you think something ‘deadly’ is bad? Think again – in Aboriginal English, this means ‘awesome’. The Creative Spirits website has teacher and student resources on Aboriginal culture, including an article on Aboriginal English words and their Standard Australian English translations, and some examples of words that Australian English has borrowed from Aboriginal languages.
Quiz: How good is your Australian English? Try this quiz on Aussie slang, from the Oxford Dictionaries blog.
Class activities: The Australian National Dictionary Centre has a set of fun classroom exercises using dictionaries to delve into the history and meaning of Australian English words. They also have a teacher’s guide to running the How to Make Your Own Dictionary project.
Dictionary blog: For more updates on Australian words and and how they’re used, including Word of the Month, have a look at Ozwords, a blog by the Australian National Dictionary Centre. Ozwords is also the name of their newsletter, which includes feature articles and research updates – you can access the pdf versions on this page.