Sydney Speaks Project

Sydney Speaks: Language variation and change in a diverse society

The Sydney Speaks project seeks to document and explore Australian English, as spoken in Australia’s largest and most ethnically and linguistically diverse city – Sydney. Based on spontaneous speech data collected from well-defined speech communities, we explore three questions of fundamental interest in sociolinguistics:

  • (how) Has Australian English changed over time, in particular in the past 40 years, a period which has seen enormous growth in ethnic diversity?
  • Does the Australian English spoken by different ethnic groups differ systematically, and can any differences be attributed to markers of identity?
  • What other social factors correlate with the way in which Australian English is spoken, such as age, gender, region and socio-economic status?

Australia’s demographics have changed enormously over the past 40 years. According to the 1981 census, almost 75% of the foreign-born population came from the UK and Europe, and just 15% from Asia, the Middle East and Africa; today (according to the 2011 census), just 40% come from the UK and Europe, and close to one half (44%) come from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. And while the most widely spoken community languages in the 1980s were Italian and Greek, in 2011 for the first time, Chinese took over as the most widely spoken language. In this project, we ask what impact, if any, this changing diversity has had on Australian English.

The research site is Australia’s largest and most ethnically diverse city—Sydney—where one half of the population have both parents born overseas, over one third were born overseas themselves, and over one third speak a language other than English at home. The communities to be studied are the largest and most well-established migrant communities, namely those of Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese heritage, as well as members from the long-established Anglo-Celtic community.

Chief Investigator: Catherine Travis, Australian National University

Funded by: ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University

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