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How did Australians get their accent?

The Australian accent is distinctive and immediately recognizable around the world. But how did Australians get their unique way of speaking? The development of the Australian accent has its roots in the country’s colonial history and evolution over the past two centuries.

The Early Colonial Accent

When British colonists began arriving in Australia in the late 1800s, they spoke with British accents familiar to Londoners of that era. The early colonists in Sydney Cove spoke with Cockney, British regional, or upper-class London accents. Convicts sent to Australia also included large numbers of Irish people, particularly from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who spoke with Irish accents.

In the early colonial period, Australian English adopted many slang words and phrases from these British and Irish dialects. This included rhyming slang originally used by Cockneys and London criminals, as well as words from Gaelic and Hiberno-English spoken by the Irish. The hot Australian climate and unique flora and fauna also led to the development of new slang words to describe the environment.

The Influence of Immigration

The Australian gold rushes between 1851 and the 1860s brought new waves of migrants from across the British Isles, including significant numbers of Scots and Welsh people. These migrants introduced Celtic language features and accents which mixed with the earlier Cockney and Irish influences.

Subsequent migrations during the 19th and early 20th centuries brought people from all over Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Germans, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Lebanese, Indians, and many other nationalities migrated to Australia, leaving their mark on the evolving national accent.

Broad, General and Cultivated Accents

By the early 20th century, Australian English had diversified into three main accent groups:

  • Broad accents which retained more working-class British features.
  • General accents which were more mainstream Australian.
  • Cultivated accents used by the upper classes which imitated British Received Pronunciation (RP).

The typical Australian accent as we know it today developed from the General Australian group, which was the most commonly spoken. Broad and Cultivated accents were at the ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.

The Strine Controversy

In the postwar period some Australians became sensitive about how their accents sounded compared to British English. This led to the idea that broad Australian accents sounded lazy or uneducated.

In the 1960s, satirists began to exaggerate the broad accent for comic effect. They used spellings like “Orstroylian” and words like “mate” and “sheila.” This caricature accent was nicknamed “Strine.”

Many Australians disliked Strine, considering it a mocking insult to the average Australian’s way of speaking. But Strine ended up bringing Australian accents into mainstream awareness through comedy.

Acceptance of the Accent

By the 1970s, the General Australian accent had gained more acceptance as a marker of national identity. This was helped by:

  • Growth of Australian popular culture and locally-made media.
  • Greater Aboriginal visibility and revival of Indigenous languages.
  • Multiculturalism and acceptance of diversity.

Young Australians increasingly embraced their accents as representing solidarity and egalitarianism in contrast to British class distinctions.

Modern Features of the Australian Accent

Today the Australian accent is defined by these key features compared to other English accents:


  • Short front vowels – Words like “man” and “hand” have vowels sounding like “meh” and “hehnd” to other English speakers.
  • Dipthongs – Words like “mouth”, “height” and “toy” sound like “mah-uth”, “hah-eet” and “toi-ee”.
  • “i” to “oi” – Australians tend to turn “i” into “oi”, pronouncing words like “fish” as “foish”.


  • “t” glottalization – The “t” sounds in words like “mate” and “better” get replaced with a glottal stop.
  • T-dropping – Australians tend to drop “t” and “d” sounds in words like “football” (“fooball”) and “hand” (“han”).
  • “l” vocalization – The “l” gets turned into a vowel sound, so “hill” sounds like “heow”.


  • Question intonation – Australian questions have a rising inflection at the end.
  • Mouth shape – More open mouth and lip positions give a fuller vowel sound.
  • Nasal voice – The voice is used more nasally than other Anglo accents.

Where is the Australian Accent Headed?

The Australian accent continues gradually evolving. Some changes currently developing include:

  • The vowel “e” as in “yes” shifting towards “i” as in “kit”.
  • Vowel movements towards more General American pronunciation.
  • Influence from migrant accents and languages.

But the overall accent remains cohesive and recognizable. New generations of Australians continue to speak with an accent marking their national identity, shaped by the nation’s ongoing multicultural evolution.


The Australian accent arose from the nation’s origins as a British penal colony in the late 18th century. Immigrants from across the UK and around the world influenced its development over time. By the 1970s, Australians had embraced their distinctive accent as a marker of solidarity and egalitarian values. Key features include vowel sounds, consonant dropping or replacement, and nasal, rising prosody. The accent continues gradually evolving with Australian society.