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Seminar: Ethnicity in real time, Catherine Travis, 21 May

Catherine Travis, Evolution, Outreach

Date: 13 May 2021

Seminar: Ethnicity in real time: Understanding ethnic variation through its social context

Speaker: Catherine Travis

When: 21 May 2021, 3.15pm

Where: 407 Babel Building, University of Melbourne


This seminar will be hybrid and also available to attend via zoom.


Ethnicity has been a long-standing factor in the study of language variation, and there has been great interest in the role of ethnic minorities in language change. In Australia, we are in a unique position to address this thanks to seminal work conducted in the 1970s and 1980s by Barbara Horvath, on the English of Anglo-, Greek-, and Italian-Australians (e.g., Horvath 1985). Here, we present research deriving from the Sydney Speaks project in which we conduct a real-time test of the role of ethnicity by studying the sociolinguistic interview data collected by Horvath in conjunction with comparable recordings made in the 2010s with Anglo-, Chinese, and Italian-Australians.

We analyse the patterning over time of three variables in the speech of some 200 Australians—diphthongs, word-final (er), and quotatives. We find that in some instances, ethnic minorities lead in change, in others they lag, and in others they proceed in parallel with the majority Anglo community. We do not find strong correlations with ethnic orientation, but ethnic minorities do show sensitivity to social conditioning according to age, gender, and socioeconomic class. We propose that ethnic minorities may use variation patterns to mark, not their ethnic heritage, but their affiliations to the broader community, as a way of “sounding Australian” (Horvath 1985:176).

Horvath, Barbara. (1985). Variation in Australian English: The sociolects of Sydney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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