The Sydney Speaks project works with recordings from today and the past in order to examine linguistic variation in Australian English and change over time. It brings together three sub-corpora of spontaneous speech (Sydney Speaks 2010s, Sydney Social Dialect Survey, NSW Bicentennial Oral History Collection), allowing for change to be studied in real and apparent time.

Sydney Speaks 2010s Corpus

The Sydney Speaks 2010s corpus is currently in preparation. It includes a cross-section of Sydney’s residents, consisting of recordings from older and younger adult males and females who are of varied socio-economic status, region within Sydney, and ethnic community. Participants are Anglo Australians whose parents and grandparents were born in Australia, and 2nd generation Australians of different ethnic communities. The focus for 2017-2018 is on Anglo, Italian and Chinese communities; Greek, Vietnamese and Lebanese communities are also of particular interest to the project.

Data is collected via sociolinguistic interviews, conducted by community Research Assistants with their extended network, providing long samples of natural speech for analysis and, at the same time, detailed information about participants’ demographic profile, their sociolinguistic history and their social network.

Sydney Social Dialect Survey

The Sydney Social Dialect Survey was compiled by Barbara Horvath between 1977 and 1980. The corpus comprises 177 sociolinguistic interviews, with adult and teenage Australians of Anglo, Greek and Italian descent (including 1st and 2nd generation), stratified according to gender and socio-economic status. In the 120 hours of recorded speech, among other topics, participants talk about schooling, childhood games, and attitudes to Australian English.

The Sydney Speaks project has digitised a subset of the Sydney Social Dialect Survey data, which serves as an invaluable benchmark from which to track change in contemporary Australian English. This subset consists of over 40 hours of speech (approximately 400,000 words) from 20 Anglo adults and 72 (2nd generation) teenagers, roughly evenly distributed across Anglo, Italian, and Greek communities.

We thank Barbara Horvath for making the recordings from the Sydney Social Dialect Survey available to us.

Selected publications using the Sydney Social Dialect Survey:

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

Horvath, Barbara. (1991). Finding a place in Sydney: Migrants and language change. In: S. Romaine (ed.), Language in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 304-317

Horvath, Barbara, & Sankoff, David. (1987). Delimiting the Sydney speech community. Language in Society 16(2):179-204.

Guy, Gregory R., Horvath, Barbara M., Vonwiller, Julia, Daisley, Elaine, & Rogers, Inge. (1986). An intonational change in progress in Australian English. Language in Society 15(1):23-52.

NSW Bicentennial Oral History Collection

The NSW Bicentennial Oral History Collection was produced in 1988 by the NSW Bicentennial Oral History Project, funded by a bicentennial grant to the NSW Council on the Ageing and the Oral History Association of Australia (NSW). The Collection includes two hundred recorded interviews with men and women born before 1910 who lived in NSW between 1900 and 1930. The interviews focus on everyday life in the early 20th Century, and speakers talk about topics such as education, health, employment, religion and courtship.

The Sydney Speaks project analyses the data from 31 speakers who were born and grew up in the Sydney area, and whose parents also did so (or at most have one parent born in the UK). Born around the turn of the 20th Century, these speakers give greater time depth to the changes examined.

The collection is available online via the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia. We thank the National Library of Australia for granting us extended access to this collection.

Selected publications using recordings from the Bicentennial Oral History Collection:

Cox, Felicity, & Palethorpe, Sallyanne. (2017). Open vowels in historical Australian English. In: R. Hickey (ed.), Listening to the Past. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 502-528.

Lonergan, John, & Cox, Felicity. (2010). Is there any evidence of rhoticity in historical Australian English? In: L. de Beuzeville & P. Peters (eds.), From the Southern hemisphere: Parameters of language variation, E-Proceedings of the 2008 Conference of the Australian Linguistics Society,

Trudgill, Peter, & Gordon, Elizabeth. (2006). Predicting the past: Dialect archaeology and Australian English rhoticity. English World-Wide 27(3):235–246.

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