AUSTRALASIAN ENGLISH

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AUSTRALASIAN ENGLISH, sometimes Antipodean English, Austral English. AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH and NEW ZEALAND ENGLISH taken together; all three terms have been popular in the past as a reflection of the similarities between the two varieties, but have fallen into disuse. Similar histories led to near-identity of the varieties: both are non-rhotic and based on late 18c southern BrE, and the lexicon of each has been heavily influenced by immigration from rural Britain. It is arguable that elements of ScoE are evident in New Zealand, as are elements of IrE in Australia, but the differences between two countries were never substantial enough to distinguish speakers with any certainty. As late as 1970, Australians could only volunteer that the speech of New Zealanders was more ‘English’, while some New Zealanders saw AusE as more ‘broad’. Speakers of BrE and AmE could normally do no more than distinguish the two from the English of South Africa. Linguists commonly treated the varieties together in the same publications, under such headings as ‘Australia and New Zealand’.

Since c.1970, however, AusE and NZE have begun to show a publicly noted divergence in phonology almost entirely due to a shift in the NZ short front vowels, which have been raised and retracted. One effect of this shift has been the merging of /ɪ/ with /ə/. Australians now characterize New Zealanders as eating ‘fush and chups’, while New Zealanders return the compliment by hearing Australian ‘feesh and cheeps’. Phonologically inspired graffiti near Bondi Beach in Sydney run: NEW ZEALAND SUCKS, AUSTRALIA SEVEN. The merging of /ɪ + ə/ with /ɛ + ə/ in most speakers, so that ear and air become homophones, further reduces the phonemic inventory of NZE. The rapidity of these changes has produced a distinctive age-grading in NZE phonology. Speakers over 50 cannot often be identified as New Zealanders or Australians, except by a degree of /ɪ/ retraction. Those under 30, however, show that the notion of a uniform spoken ‘Australasian English’ is out of date. Observations suggest that some Australians may be following the NZ lead in the vowel shift, but the pattern appears to be increasing divergence from the old near-identity. Younger speakers of AusE and NZE appear on the whole to respond readily to the opposing linguistic stereotypes.

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