Australia has no constitutionally designated official language, though the de facto official language is definitely English. Australian English grew out of British English but has since expanded into its own distinct (and super-fun) dialect. For example, you think you have a little child at your side? No. She’s an “ankle biter.” And if you take your little ankle biter to a “rip starter of a rage” (a rockin’ party) where the hosts have fired up the “barbie” (barbeque) you’ll probably try to get her to “bog in” (start eating) on some relatively healthy “tucker” (food)–maybe “chook” (chicken) and “vedgies” (vegetables)–before going to the dessert table for “chokkie” (chocolate), “ice blocks” (popsicles) and “lollies” (candy). You know she’ll “whinge” (complain), but you’re her “oldie” (parent) and you should stand your ground. You may feel “stuffed’ (tired) after having such a “blue” (fight) with your kid over food, but, if you’re so inclined, you may well end the evening, and your jaunt through the wild world of Australian slang, with a little “plonk” (cheap wine). (That’s not an endorsement of cheap wine. It is in an endorsement of words as great as “plonk.”)
AustralianEnglish1’s history of Australian English: “The history of Australian English starts with kangaroo (1770) and Captain James Cook’s glossary of local words used in negotiations with the Endeavour River tribes…..” | More background on Australian English from Australia Decoded | KoalaNet’s Australian slang dictionary, which doesn’t get a direct link here because it peppers some racy slang among the more mundane but for grown-ups is well worth a look, provided the terms above.
Modern Australia is functionally a nation of immigrants so one shouldn’t be surprised that almost 3 million out of Australia’s estimated 22 million speak a primary language at home other than English. Chinese languages are the most popular (several hundred thousand Australians speak them) but there are also sizable groups that speak Italian, Vietnamese, Greek, Arabic and other languages from many distant parts of the world. There is strident debate in Australia over the extent to which bi-lingual education should exist–should Australian youth learn only in English, or in a combination of English and other primary languages?–though these battles have much less to do with the non-English languages of immigrants than with the languages of indigenous Australians.
Before any immigrants arrived–Europeans or otherwise–the Aboriginal people who already lived on what we now know as the Australian continent spoke about 250 different languages. Today only about 50,000 Australians speak one of the only about fifteen
surviving Aboriginal languages. Linguists believe Australian Aboriginal languages were of different origins and belonged to several different language families but through contact over time between speakers of the languages they began to share mutual characteristics. Linguists call this a Sprachbund–a group of only distantly related or completely unrelated languages that developed similar features due to geographic proximity and contact. (Those in Tasmania and the people of the Torres Straits Islands developed language separately.)
See Ethnologue’s list of Australian languages including those that are or are close to extinction | Inside Story’s exploration of the ongoing bilingual education debates in the Northern Territory: “Learning in both worlds” | “The Closure of the Bilingual Education
Programs in Australia’s Northern Territory — What Is at Stake?”: “Many of the supporters of Indigenous bilingual education programs in Australia regard the current emphasis on a monolingual curriculum in English in Indigenous primary schools in the Northern Territory schools as a denial of the human rights of significant numbers of Aboriginal children.”
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