Australia and United Kingdom - two flags

Difference Between British and Australian Accent

In Blog by Rafael Morel

The English language is the dominant spoken language that has over 100 dialects. For now, let’s focus on two English accents – the one spoken in the Land Down Under and another one uttered by members of the Royal Family.

This blog aims to show you the nuances and contrasts that set British and Australian English apart. Take this linguistic journey with us to explore vowels and consonants play of the accents, articulation, and, finally, cultural differences setting these two dialects apart.

How Did It All Start?

We can’t jump to comparing the two diverse accents without discussing how they were developed in the first place.

English wasn’t brought to the island of Great Britain ready-made and up for borrowing. Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other settlers probably wanted a change from their native land and came to Britain to fulfill their dreams. Romans weren’t too happy about it, but without the support of other troops, they had to retreat to focus on their defense and fight for control of the western half of the empire.

Those barbarians who Romans couldn’t handle occupied the territory and brought a dialect now known as Old English. If you don’t know what Old English looks like, try reading Beowulf in the original version. How did that Germanic language become the English we speak today?

Old English was enriched with new vocabulary borrowed from Old Norse when Vikings invaded the country. Later, the Norman Conquest took place, placing Normans and Frenchmen as a ruling class. That’s when Old English remained a language of the working class, and the exquisite and melodic French was only heard and known by the elite.

Clearly, both classes had to be in touch, and therefore, servants had to learn French just like Normans had to acquire a bit of English. Not to mention the third language, Latin, that was used to hold sermons. This amalgamation of languages led to the acquisition of new words in Old English, forming it into a new dialect – Middle English.

After the invention of the printing press, Middle English was yet not unified, meaning one word could spell in many different ways. As a result, the King James Bible was published, setting rules and slowly transitioning from Middle English to Early Modern English. While the spelling remained more or less the same, the pronunciation changed drastically with the Great Vowel Shift.

Growing its power and spreading its culture, Britain colonized North America and later Australia. The settlers who arrived in Australia were mainly from London or Ireland, therefore, as you will notice, both British and Australian English are quite similar in spelling. However, the same cannot be said about pronunciation and vocabulary.

British and Australian English Pronunciation

When comparing the British accent with the Australian one, they follow the received pronunciation, or else known as RP. In addition, Australian English is not a rhotic variety. This means Aussie and British speakers drop the /r/ sound. The exception is only when the /r/ is not followed by vowel sounds. For example:

  • mar /mʌː/
  • marring /’mʌːrɪŋ/

Why, would you ask, does the American accent have a pronounced /r/, unlike other variants? This is because when British settlers occupied North America, they were mainly from the working class. In contrast, the Brits living in the UK imitated the elite’s way of speaking.

When it comes to vowels, you may notice that Australian English speakers tend to stretch vowel sounds. So, the word beard may sound like /bɪːd/.
The letter t is pronounced like in American or British English, depending on the particular Australian accent. Sometimes the /t/ sound is completely dropped, like in British English, and other times Australians pronounce it similarly to North American /d/.

Differences Between Australian and British Vocabulary and Spelling

Australian and British English words spell similarly now; however, back in the late 19th and 20th centuries, American spelling prevailed. That’s why the Australian Labor Party is spelled without the u letter.
British spelling was adopted after the introduction of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in the 1920s. Hence, the words are spelled with -ise, -yse, -ence, unlike the American variant of -ize, -yze, and -ense.
Australian English lexicon is unlike any other, rich in describing flora and fauna thanks to the vocabulary borrowed from indigenous Aborigines. According to the Australian National University, here are the examples of words that have been adopted from Aboriginal languages:

  • Kangaroo
  • Koala
  • Wombat
  • Boomerang
  • Numba

Indigenous languages weren’t the only ones to impact the accent. We can trace American and British English’s influence on the Australian variant through its vocabulary. For example, you can find zucchinis in both the US and Australia, along with eggplant. But if you shop in the UK and Australia, you will be pleasantly surprised to find cilantro and arugula.
The Down Under has expanded its lexicon with unique words that cannot be found in any other English accent:

  • Cobber – friend
  • Battler – a working-class person who is struggling to make ends meet
  • Bludger – a lazy person

More about Australian English slang words can be found down below.

Australian spellings British spellings American spellings
Centre Centre Center
Colour Colour Color
Organise Organise Organize
Travelled Travelled Traveled
Analogue Analogue Analog

As you can see, the Australian spelling is identical to the British one. Here is a bonus of fun vocabulary differences among the three languages:

Australian English British English American English
Arvo Afternoon Afternoon
Servo Petrol station Gas station
Lollies Sweets Candies
Mate Mate/pal Friend
Thongs Flip flops Flip flops
Footie Rugby Rugby
Undies Underwear Underpants
Hot chips French fries Chips
Snags Sausage Sausage

This table clearly indicates that Australians love to use words with the diminutive. You would be surprised to learn that there are a few thousands of diminutive words in the Australian lexicon.

Aussie Slang Words

Australian words are one of a kind, and before you travel there, you should know a few. Slang words have the power to show the culture from within, as they are not widespread and locally used. Here are some slangs that you’ve probably never heard of in American or British English.

Australian slang words Meaning 
Bloke Man, guy
Bottler Something excellent
Cozzier Swimming costume
Dag Funny person
Dunny Outside toilet
Fair dinkum True, genuine
Full Drunk
Good onya Good for you
Joey Baby kangaroo
Jumbuck Sheep
Larrikin Person who always enjoys themselves
Prezzy Gift
Sunnies Sunglasses
Tall poppies Successful people
Veg out Relax (e.g., in front of the TV)

Final Word

It may seem we all speak the same language, English, but when native English speakers gather, they often find themselves in a funny conversation, trying to figure out the meaning of some words. But language learners are the ones facing the struggle of choosing which English accent to speak.

Even though British, Aussie, and American languages don’t have major differences, they are all unique in their own way. As languages continue to develop and shift, we see many accents being actively used within the UK (British English is just a general term nowadays), the US, and Australia.

American, British, and Australian accents have a common history that branches off at some point and lets each language pave its own way forward.