School of
Information Technology and Electrical Engineering

Event host: 

ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

3 February 2020 6:30pm

The Edge Auditorium, State Library of Queensland. Southbank, QLD 4101


Monday, 3 February, 2020 - 18:00

Registration is Free
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Australian English has changed substantially over time. The way Australians pronounce their vowels used to differ more depending on social background, but today most Australians in urban centres have moved away from both ‘broad’ and ‘cultivated’ forms of speaking, to converge on ‘general’ pronunciations. There have also been changes in grammar. While people used to talk about what must be done, today we talk more about what needs to be done. And while we used to quote somebody with say or go, today’s young people use be like. At the same time, there has been a large amount of social change, and contemporary Australian society is much more educated and ethnically diverse than it was even just 40 years ago.

In this lecture, Professor Catherine Travis ties these linguistic and social realities together to consider some of the ways in which Australian English has changed over time and how these changes have spread across society. She presents an overview of research into patterns of variation and change in a large collection of spontaneous speech of over 200 Australians, recorded in two time periods: 1970s and 2010s. These speakers, born between the 1890s and the 1990s, represent four generations of Australians (Builders, Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials), and come from diverse ethnic backgrounds (Anglo, Italian, Greek and Chinese), allowing change to be tracked across a wide time span and social scale.

The variation and change observed serves to remind us that concerns about any loss of language purity are ill-founded – language variation, or different ways of speaking, is a fact of life, and language change is a natural process.

Professor Catherine Travis 

Catherine Travis is Professor of Modern European Languages in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University, and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. Her research addresses questions related to linguistic and social factors impacting on language variation and change, in particular in socially diverse communities. She has conducted large-scale research projects on Spanish spoken in Colombia, Spanish-English bilingualism in New Mexico, USA, and, currently, Australian English through the Sydney Speaks project.