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Contrastive Dialects: Australian English versus American English

The accents of four Australian English speech consultants were analyzed both subjectively via listening and objectively according to spectographic data of all four consultants. The consultants were from four different cities in Australia, though they were all concentrated in the south east quadrant of  the continent known as New South Wales. Despite the speakers’ closeness in proximity, some dynamics of their accents, primarily the consonants  differed. Their vowels were a bit more unified though. The consultant’s speech will be analyzed on how their pronunciation differs from American English and from each other.

1.0 Australian Accent Consultants

The consultant’s speech files and biography information were retrieved from the Speech Accent Archive. http://www.accent.gmu.edu. The speakers used as consultants were English 48, English 230, English 294, and English 298. All were male except English 294. The males were ages 45, 35, and 22 respectively. The female was the youngest, age 19. All had acquired English as their native language. English 84 spoke tok pisin in addition to English. English 294 spoke Indonesian French as an L2. English 230 and 298 spoke no other languages besides English.

2.0 Consonants

2.1 Devoicing

Like most speakers of any language, decvoicing of obstruents seems to occur primarily word finally due to the sonority curve of syllables, allowing obstruents that  are syllable initial to be more sonorous than the same obstruent syllable finally. In the data, all consultants devoice, some more so than others. Right from the start, we have devoicing occurring in two of the four speakers in “Please” /pliz/, where the word final /z/ is devoiced to [s] for English 230 and 298, and again in “these” /ðiz/ of line 2, English 230 and English 298 devoice word final /z/ to [s]. In the third line, English 294 devoices /z/ to [s] in “spoons” /spunz/. All four accent consultants devoice word final /v/ to [f] in “five” /fajv/ of line 4. All four consultants also devoice final /b/ of “Bob” /bɑb/ to [p]. In line 7, English 298 devoices word final /g/ to [k] in “frog” /fɹɑg/. English 230 and English 294 both devoice the alveolar plosive /d/ in “kids” /kɪdz/ to [t], causing the normally voiced alveolar fricative /z/ to become devoiced as well. English 298 was the only accent consultant to devoice final /z/ in “things” /θiŋz/ of line 8 to [s]. All four accent consultants devoice word final /z/ to [s] in “bags” /bægz/ of line 8.

Devoicing of final obstruents is occurring with [+Dorsal] and [+Labial] obstruents. However, more often than not, it’s the word final alveolar fricatives that seem to vary most in voicing among consultants. This is probably due to English’s using the alveolar fricative to be the sound that most ends words because of its use as plural, possession, and third-person singular.

Devoicing word initially is rarer linguistically, and definitely rarer in the speech of these four Australian accent consultants. It occurs once in the word “big” /bɪg/ for English 230 and English 294, devoicing word initial /b/ to [p].

2.2 Voicing

Voicing of obstruents is rarer linguistically than devoicing them due to the low sonority rank of these sounds, however, voicing still occurred a few times with these consultants’ speech. In “five” /fajv/ of line 4, English 230 voices word initial labiodental fricative /f/ to [v].

Word medial voicing is rare unless the obstruent is intervocalic. There’s only one instance of word medial voicing with two consultants, but they both do the same thing which could constitute the word medial voicing as word initial voicing. In the phrase “six spoons” /sɪks spunz/ both English 84 and 298 delete word initial /s/ of “spoons” since “six” ends in a voiceless alveolar fricative, and instead of aspirating the now word inital /p/, both consultants voice /p/.

2.3 Flapping

Flapping in Australian English occurs in a similar context as in American English, which is between a stressed and unstressed vowels. In Australian English, it can just occur between two unstressed vowels. The first doesn’t have to be stressed. It can be, but it isn’t a necessity to allow alveolar plosive flapping. In line 2, English 84, 230, and 298 all flap /t/ in “to” /tu/ of the phrase “with her to the store” /wɪθ həɹ tu ðə stɔɹ/. Well, how can this be? It’s occuring between a retroflex liquid /ɹ/ and an unstressed syllable. Rogers (2000) states, rhotic consonants are missing entirely in Australian English pronunciation. I found data to contradict this statement, but Roger’s (2000) observance is certainly true of the rhotic consonant in “her.” More on retroflex liquid deletion can be found in section 2.4. Accent consultants English 84, English 230, and English 298 all delete the retroflex liquid /ɹ/ in “her,” causing their /t/ in “to” to become flapped. English 294 has an apparent /ɹ/ when she speaks “her,” and she doesn’t flap her /t/ in “to.” Instead, she replaces the /t/ with an alveolar nasal /n/. Nasals have an interesting way of replacing alveolar plosives and interdental fricatives in Australian English. More on this replacement in section 2.5.

Flapping occurs again in line 6 with English 230, English 294, and English 298 with the final alveolar plosive /d/ of “need” in the phrase “need a small plastic snake.” In this instance, the flapping occurs after a stressed vowel and before an unstressed syllable. This environment is likely to flap /d/ in American English. Flapping again occurs with English 298 in line 7 with the word final alveolar plosive /d/ in “and” ænd/ in the phrase “and a toy frog” /ænd ə tʰɔj fɹɑg/. The consultant deletes the alveolar nasal, placing the alveolar plosive /t/ between two unstressed vowels. The last instance of flapping that occurs is English 84 with word final alveolar plosive /t/ in “meet” /mit/ in the phrase “go meet her wenesday” /go mit həɹ wɛnzdej/ The consultant deletes the glottal fricative /h/, placing /t/ between two vowels.

2.4 Retroflex Liquid Deletion

Contrary to what Rogers (2000) states, based on the pronunciation of these four consultants’ speech, Australian English is not a totally /ɹ/-less language. The retroflex does delete in one founded primary context: in function words. The only function words that contain a /ɹ/ are “for” and “her,” which occur multiple times throughout the data. This is not a universal phenomenon though, but does happen enough to mention. In line 2, every consultant deletes the retroflex liquid /ɹ/ in “her.” In line 5, English 294 deletes /ɹ/ on “for,” but keeps the liquid when saying “her,” which in line 2, she had previously deleted in the same word. Therefore the phrase “for her” /foɹ həɹ/ sounds like [fə həɹ]. Here, English 294 keeps the voiceless glottal fricative /h/ on “her.” The other three consultants actually delete the word “her” altogether in the phrase “for her” because of the similar sequence of sounds of “for” and “her.” We often do this reduction in American English, so it is not exclusive to just Australian English. To compensate for the “her” deletion, English 84 and English 298 lengthen their vowel, which in this case is /ə/. This reveals a careful pronunciation of the phrase “for her” by English 294. Recall from section 1.0, English 294 was the only female consultant. More on this in section 6.0. English 298 also deletes the retroflex liquid in line 2 in the function word “from,” while all the consultants keep it.

Most other content words that have the liquid in American English keep the sound. Content words where all four consultants keep the liquid sound include “bring” /bɹiŋ/ in line 2, “fresh” /fɹɛʃ/ in line 3, “brother” /bɹʌðəɹ/ in line 5, “frog” /fɹɑg/ in line 7, “three” /θɹi/ and “red” /ɹɛd/ in line 8, and “train” /tɹejn/ in line 9. The one content word where all four consultants delete the retroflex liquid, leaving a rhotic vowel word finally is “store” /stɔɹ/ in line 2. This could be due to the fact that /ɹ/ is word final. In no other content word is /ɹ/ word final except “brother” in line 5. There, all four consultants delete the retroflex liquid and leave a rhotic vowel, just like in “store.”

2.5 Nasal replacements of Interdental Fricatives

The replacement of interdental fricatives with nasal consonants is not universal and does not happen in the same places with every consultant. Really, we believe it is a result of rapid speech, since it happens in areas where the speakers are being particularly careless about the pace of their speech. Much of the time, the nasal replacement seems to be an assimilation process because the word initial replacement follows a word final nasal consonant. For example, English 84 replaces voiced interdental fricative /ð/ with alveolar nasal /n/ following word final velar nasal /ŋ/ in the phrase “bring these.” /bɹiŋ ðiz/ In this case, the only element assimilating is the manner of articulation since the place of the two nasal consonants are in two different areas of the mouth. In this environment, English 294 and English 298 do not replace the interdental with anything. English 230, however, replaces /ð/ with a dental /t/. There is one instance in line 2 where all replace /ð/ with a nasal, but not all the same nasal consonant or in the same environment. In the phrase, “from the store,” /fɹʌm ðə stɔɹ/ English 294 and English 298 both replace /ð/ with an alveolar nasal: [fɹəm nə stoʷ]. English 230 replaces the fricative with an alveolar nasal too, but doesn’t leave much of a vowel following it, therefore replacing the whole word with a syllabic /n/. English 84 does something a little more predictable. He replaces the voiced interdental fricative with a bilabial nasal /m/, a total progressive assimilation process, influenced by the word final /m/ in “from.” Nasal replacement of interdental fricatives occurs nowhere else in the data.

2.6 Other Consonantal Differences

In line 2, the word “with” differs in pronunciation among consultants. English 294 and English 298 both pronounce the coda consonant as a voiced interdental fricative. This differs from American English, since it’s voiceless in American English. English 84 pronounces the coda with an American English pronunciation, cutting off the voicing when the start of the pronunciation of the fricative begins. English 230 actually replaces the fricative with an unreleased voiced alveolar plosive /d/.

All male consultants (English 84, English 230, English 298) delete /s/ when preceded by /ʃ/ in line 3 of the phrase “fresh snow peas” /fɹɛʃ snoʷ piz/. English 294 has a much more careful pronunciation of this phrase and she keeps both the alveolar fricative and the palato-alveolar fricative. English 84 and English 298 both delete the initial /s/ of “spoons” /spunz/ in the phrase “six spoons,” /siks spunz/. Because “six” ends in a final alveolar fricative, both consultants delete it initially and voice the now word initail /p/ to [b]. English 230 also deletes word initial /s/, but instead of voicing /p/, he aspirates it since it is now word initial. English 294 is the only consultant to keep both /s/ sounds.

All the male consultants again do something else that English 294 does not do, something that is common of American English speech, they do not release a plosive when it is followed by another plosive, as evidenced in the phrase “big toy frog,” /bɪg tʰɔj fɹɑg/ of line 7. English 294 is the only consultant careful enough in her pronunciation to release the word final /g/ of “big” before the word inital /t/ of “toy.

English 230 in line 7, instead of ending the word “frog” with a voiced velar plosive /g/ like the orthography entails, he ends the word with a velar nasal /ŋ/. This is very interesting since there is no plausible assimilation process to account for this change, and all the other consultants correctly pronounce the word final plosive.

In line 10 with the word “can” in the phrase “she can scoop,” all four consultants do something differently, as shown in table 1.


She can scoop” /ʃi kən skup/
English 84 [ʃik skuwp]
English 230 [ʃi kə skup]
English 294 [ʃij kən skup]
English 298 [ʃəʔ skʊp]

English 84 simply keeps the word inital /k/ and deletes the nucleus and coda, attaching the velar plosive as the coda to the normally open syllable “she:” [ʃik skuwp]. English 230 only deletes the nasal coda: [ʃi kə skup]. English 294 says it exactly how it would be in narrow transcription, a careful pronunciation. English 298 actually deletes the entire word, probably replacing the velar plosive /k/ with the glottal stop [ʔ]. Also in line 8, English 84 and English 230 both reduce the word “into” /ɪntu/ to /nə/, deleting the initial vowel, and medial plosive /t/ and reducing the rounded back vowel /u/ to unstressed /ə/.

3.0 Vowels

3.1 Vowel Raising

The examples put forth in this section are classified as vowel raising. That is, a vowel in a word of one to all four of the accent consultants is inherently higher than a Standard American English vowel in the same position of the same word. Also, there will not be separate sections for diphthongization or monothongization, they will instead be included in sections 3.1 -3.2.

English 84 produces the same vowel as American English in “store” of line 2, while English 230, English 294, and English 298 produce a higher vowel /o/, [sto]. All four consultants produce /sɪks/ as [siks]. We will classify this as a higher vowel, even though the real distinction between /i/ and /ɪ/ is tenseness. All consultants produce a higher vowel in “fresh” /fɹɛʃ/ of line 2. English 84 produces /ɪ/, [fɹɪʃ], English 230 and English 298 produce a slightly higher vowel /e/, [fɹeʃ]. English 294 diphthongizes the slightly higher /e/, [fɹejʃ]. English 230 produces /æ/ in /snæk/ as a slightly higher /ɛ/, [snɛk]. English 84 realizes an even higher, diphthongized vowel in snack: /ej/ [snejk], which sounds very much like American English “snake.” However, all four consultants produce a low/back to high/front/ diphthong /aj/ for “snake” /snek/, [snajk].

Again, in Standard American speech the lax /ɪ/ is produced as tense /i/, as exemplified by the word “kids” /kɪdz/ in line 7, [kʰits] – as pronounced by English 84, English 230, and English 294. English 298 unstresses the vowel, [kəds]. There is one other case of tense/lax difference in “scoop” /skup/ of line 8. English 298 realizes [skʊp].

3.2 Vowel Lowering

English 84 pronounces “please” /pʰliz/ in line 1 as [pʰlejz]. He lowers and diphthongizes /i/ to /ej/. A word where all consultants produce a different vowel than American English is in “bring” /bɹiŋ/ in line 2. English 84, English 294, and English 298 produce a lower vowel /ɛ/, realizing “bring” as [bɹɛŋ]. English 230 just unstresses the /ɛ/ and produces [bɹəŋ]. All four consultants produce the same vowel in “cheese” /tʃiz/ of line 4. They all produce a lower diphthongized vowel /ej/, [tʃej(s/z)].

All four consultants realize “three” /θɹij/ with a lower diphthong /ej/ [θɹej]. English 84 creates a diphthong for the word “go” /go/ in line 9. He realizes the vowel as diphthong /aʊ/ [gaʊ].

4.0 Creaky Voice

There were only three instances of creaky voice in the data. The first is by English 294 who pronounces the /ɛ/ in “stella” /stɛlə/ of line 1 with creaky voice. The other two were produced by English 230 with the vowel /a/ in “call” from line 2 and /ɑ/ in “frog” from line 7.

5.0 Limitations

The limitations of this contrastive dialect research were three-fold. The first is that not all speakers were from the same city in Australia. They were, however, from the same region, though there still seemed to be quite a bit of variation in their speech. Second is the instrument. It is a good tool for all dialects of English and for speakers with an L1 that is not English to discover pronunciation errors and differences, but now that we’ve been able to identify some of the different linguistic features between American English and Australian English, a new instrument should be created to target more of these specific differences. If this instrument were spoken by a larger group of Australian English speakers, we might be able to perform more in-depth research on specific environments where these linguistic differences occur. The third and final limitation is the American English that was used to compare. The researcher relied on his native perception of how the sounds of American English come together, a more phonemic analysis. For a truly phonetic analysis, the speech of four speakers of American English should have been recorded, transcribed,. and analyzed using the same instrument.

6.0 Areas of Further Research

As stated in section 5.0, an instrument that catered more to the differences of American English and Australian English should be created and used to perform a more in-depth analysis, particularly more function words that contain the retroflex liquid and more content words that that have the liquid as a word final sound.

A second area for possible research would be to analyze and describe how speakers of all different dialects and L1s read the instrument, paying careful attention to the speakers’ pace, his or her intonation, how many times he or she pauses or corrects him or herself, etc. With this kind of analysis many kinds of speaker biography details can be analyzed and compared, such as the speakers gender, fluency, the means of acquistion, age, etc.

7.0 Conclusion

No steadfast conclusions were able to be drawn from this analysis due to the limitations and the fact that the speech of only four consultants were transcribed and considered. However, in short, Australian English differs from American English on a couple accounts. 1) Australian English speakers more readily delete the retroflex liquid /ɹ/ word finally and in function words. 2) Devoicing of word final obstruents is quite common, voicing is less common in Australian English. 3) The voiced and voiceless interdental fricatives are more prone to assimilation than any other fricative in Australian English. 4) Australian English speakers produced slightly higher and slightly more diphthongized vowels than American English Speakers.


Rogers, Henry. (2000). The sounds of language: An introduction to phonetics. Essex: Pearson

Education Limited

Speech Accent Archive: http://www.accent.gmu.edu


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