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Seminar: The role of ethnic minorities in variation and change: Vowels in Australian English, 24 May

Date: 10 May 2019

Seminar: The role of ethnic minorities in variation and change: Vowels in Australian English

Speakers: James Grama, Catherine Travis, Simon Gonzalez

When: 24 May, 3.30pm-5.30pm

Where: AD Hope Conference Room (#128), Level 1, AD Hope Building (#14), 14 Ellery Crescent, ANU


With increasing migration across the globe, there has been an upsurge of interest in “ethnolects”, varieties of speech used by ethnically diverse groups of young people in modern metropolises (e.g., Cheshire et al. 2011; Gross et al. 2016; Hoffman & Walker 2010; Wiese 2009). A key question that arises in such work concerns the role of ethnic communities in variation and change, including their participation in, and impact on, patterns in the wider speech community (Labov 2001: 245-260).

Here, we examine changes in realisations of the vowels fleece, face, goat, mouth and price in the speech of Anglo Australians and second-generation Italian and Chinese Australians living in Sydney. The data is drawn from the Sydney Speaks project, specifically, two socially stratified corpora of sociolinguistic interviews, one collected in the late 1970s (Horvath 1985), and another under compilation in the 2010s. The combined data comprise over half a million words of speech from 140 Australians including Anglo Australians and Italian Australians from both the 1970s and 2010s, and Chinese Australians from the 2010s. Younger and older speakers are captured in each corpus (with birthdates ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s), allowing for change to be tracked in real and apparent time.

Results from acoustic analyses of 20,000 tokens of these vowels indicate that, consistent with prior reports, this set of vowels is becoming less broad over time (Cox & Palethorpe 2012). Examination of patterns according to age, gender, socio-economic class and ethnicity indicate that migrant groups do indeed participate in changes characteristic of the broader society, and furthermore, may help to drive these changes forward.


Cheshire, Kerswill, Fox & Torgersen. 2011. Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English.Journal of Sociolinguistics 15(2): 151-196.

Cox & Palethorpe. 2012. Standard Australian English: The sociostylistic broadness continuum. In Hickey (ed), Standards of English: Codified varieties around the world, 294-317. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gross, Boyd, Leinonen & Walker. 2016. A tale of two cities (and one vowel): Sociolinguistic variation in Swedish. Language Variation and Change 28(2): 225-247.

Hoffman & Walker. 2010. Ethnolects and the city: Ethnic orientation and linguistic variation in Toronto English. Language Variation and Change 22(1): 37-67.

Horvath. 1985. Variation in Australian English: The sociolects of Sydney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Labov. 2001. Principles of linguistic change: Social factors, vol. 2, 3 vols. Oxford: Blackwell.

Wiese. 2009. Grammatical innovation in multiethnic urban Europe: New linguistic practices among adolescents. Lingua 119(5): 782-806.

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