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Review of  Australia's Many Voices

Reviewer: Louisa Willoughby
Book Title: Australia's Many Voices
Book Author: Gerhard Leitner
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Documentation
Language Family(ies): Austro-Asiatic
Issue Number: 15.3240

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Date: Thu, 18 Nov 2004 16:54:47 +1000
From: Louisa Willoughby
Subject: Australia's Many Voices: Australian English - The National Language

AUTHOR: Leitner, Gerhard
TITLE: Australia's Many Voices
SUBTITLE: Australian English - The National Language
SERIES: Contributions to the Sociology of Language
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Louisa Willoughby, Language and Society Centre, Monash University


Gerhard Leitner's book, together with its companion volume Australia's
Many Voices: Ethnic Englishes, Indigenous and Migrant Language, Policy
and Education, provides what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive
survey of Australian English to date. This much anticipated series charts the
development of Australian English from settlement to the present day,
covering topics as varied as lexical borrowings from Aboriginal languages,
origins of the Australia accent and variations within it, the impact of the
Macquarie dictionary and other codification attempts and Ethnic and
Aboriginal varieties of Australian English (covered predominantly in volume
two). While some readers may already be familiar with much of the material
presented, Leitner is to be commended for the lucidity with which he draws
together numerous small-scale studies into a grand history of English in


The division of labour across Australia's Many Voices: Australian English -
the national language may strike some readers as slightly unusual, as
Chapter 3 comprises around two thirds of the book, with the remaining
three chapters essentially serving as introduction and coda to the main

Chapter one ''Australia's Language Habitat'' introduces the diversity of
Australia's language habitat, both past and present, and demonstrates the
difficulties of precisely defining both what (mainstream) Australian English
is, and what it's origins are. In order to answer these questions, Leitner
outlines the following key areas for investigation:

''1. what features of language are affected by contact and interaction?''
''2. what has happened to the old language habitat as people of different
language and cultural backgrounds started to interact?''
''3. what has changed in the lives of languages?'' and
''4. what was and is the role and impact of the society and of elite sections of
it?'' (p 13).

These questions, as well as Leitner's ensuing model of language
development in a new habitat (represented diagrammatically on p 21), give
the book a theoretical grounding much stronger than earlier surveys of
Australian English (such as Burridge and Mulder or Blair and Collins), and
provide theoretical food for thought for all linguists working on contact
languages. Indeed, many linguists may be interested in the book solely for
the strength of its contribution to the field of contact linguistics, and will no
doubt be pleased to hear that the theoretical underpinnings so thoroughly
developed in Chapter one are referred back to throughout the book. The
chapter concludes by drawing a distinction between mainstream Australian
English (the focus of this volume) and Aboriginal and Migrant varieties of
Australian English (the focus of volume two). While Leitner acknowledges
that the boundaries between the mainstream Australian English and other
varieties are highly permeable, for the purposes of this book he defines
mainstream Australian English as ''the nationally dominant ... [variety which]
now influences any variety, and indeed any indigenous and migrant LOTE
on the continent'' (p35).

Chapter two ''The Demography of Australian's Language Habitat'' provides
the background on Australia's chequered immigration history necessary to
understand the complex beast that is mainstream Australian English today.
The basic story of Chapter two should be familiar to most Australians or
those interested in Australian history, however the detail with which Leitner
explores immigration - particularly pre 1900 - makes it an interesting read
for all. Readers less familiar with Australian history and society will find this
chapter particularly useful, not least for it's analysis of subtle differences in
immigration patterns between the States and Territories and their
implications for language use in those areas today. In addition to profiles of
Anglo-Celtic, European and Asian migration patterns, Leitner provides a
brief overview of the Aboriginal situation since white settlement, which,
although more relevant to volume two in the series, is crucial to
understanding the linguistic situation Australia's Aboriginal communities
find themselves in today.

As mentioned previously, chapter three ''Australian English: the national
language'' advances the bulk of Leitner's argument and therefore warrants a
somewhat extended summary. The first section of chapter three deals with
attitudes towards mainstream Australian English both locally and overseas
over the past 200 years. Leitner sees pride in an Australian accent or way of
speech as arising in the late 19th century as the country moved towards
federation only to decline under the effects of colonial cringe (circa 1930-
70) before reasserting itself in recent history. This discussion leads
naturally into section two, which deals with the British English heritage of
mainstream Australian English, and through this the degree to which
mainstream Australian English has deviated from British norms over time.
The inventory of mainstream Australian English vowel phonemes, and
comparison with their RP equivalents will be a highlight for phoneticians
unfamiliar with the Australian accent, although as Leitner himself points
out, the phonemic status of some of these phones remains under dispute.
The subsections on lexis and grammar which follow the discussion on
accent are commendable in their attempts to synthesise numerous small
research projects on mainstream Australian English quirks in these areas,
although the emphasis on how these forms reflect a British English heritage
does become somewhat lost.

Section three moves the focus away from British influences to examine the
effect of contact with Indigenous and migrant languages, and other
varieties of English (American English, New Zealand English, Scots English
etc). Going through each variety in turn, Leitner first examines lexical
borrowings, (as this is where contact has had its most noticeable effect)
before discussing their impact on mainstream Australian English syntax
morphology and pronunciation, along the way providing attestations of
current usage from a wide variety of media sources.

Section four deals with the long-running question of whether there are
dialects within mainstream Australian English; approaching the question
from the point of view of both regional and class-based variation. On the
question of social stratification, Leitner concurs with Horvath (1985) in
distinguishing four accents of mainstream Australian English - Cultivated,
General, Broad and Ethnic Broad - and examines them from the point of
view of vowel variants, use of the High Rising Terminal and realisation of -
ing. At a dialect level he examines the continuum from formal mainstream
Australian English to slang, focussing

particularly on differences in lexis (primarily the love of swearing in
colloquial Australian English) and grammar (non­standard elements such as
clause final but). On the question of Regional varieties Leitner draws heavily
on the work of Pauline Bryant (particularly Bryant 1992) in order to develop
a rough map of dialect regions within Australian (presented on page 255.
While these areas have small differences in pronunciation and slightly larger
ones at the lexical level, Leitner ends the section with a general caution that
investigation into regional variation within Australian English is still in its
infancy, and thus the findings presented remain preliminary.

Sections five and six both take a somewhat historical view of mainstream
Australian English development - section five through looking at the
influence of various institutions and codification attempts, and section six
addressing the history directly. Section 5 begins with an extended look at
the role of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as linguistic gatekeeper
and self-appointed guardian of 'correct usage' over the past 70 years. It
then moves to a discussion of the impact of the Macquarie dictionary (first
published 1981), along the way giving a history of the project itself and an
overview of its inclusion policy. Thereafter follows short sections on the
impact of Government, style guides and PC language movements, with the
section concluding by foreshadowing discussion in volume two of the
influence of ESL education in Australia on norms and codification efforts.
Section six attempts to tie the chapter together by considering if and how
developments mentioned in earlier sections correlate with developments in
Australian history. Like chapter two, the historical data presented in this
chapter will be of most interest to those unfamiliar with Australian history,
but even those with sound historical knowledge are likely to find something
new in Leitner's overview of the interaction between Australia's 19th century
history and dialect development. Leitner then closes the chapter with a very
short 7th section on the language repertoire of the mainstream Australian
English speech community in which he highlights the high levels of
bilingualism in certain sections the Australian community and foreshadows
many of the issues which will be addressed in volume two.

Chapter 4 ''An Epi-Centre in the Asia-Pacific Region'' provides a brief
summation of the issues dealt with throughout the book. Within its eight
pages it does however touch on the new issue of the status of Australian
English within the Asia Pacific - essentially concluding that while still much
less widely used than either British or American norms Australian English is
gaining status and credence within the region due to the popularity of
Australia as a destination for study, and Australia's increased political
influence (and aid commitments) in the region. The book concludes with a
warning that current trends in the development of mainstream Australian
English point to it overwhelming other language varieties within Australia in
the near future, and as such provides a poignant lead into a discussion of
these varieties in volume two.


Australia's Many Voices: Australian English - the national language is the
result of years of careful scholarship, and as such presents by far the most
comprehensive overview of Australian English on the market. The detail of
Leitner's work may well frustrate those looking for a clear overview

of Australian English features, but those interested in unpacking the finer
points of mainstream Australian English will not be disappointed. Leitner is
to be particularly commended for the breadth of work synthesised within
this volume, and the bibliography alone is an invaluable resource for those
interested in most conceivable aspects of Australian English. That said, I feel
the denseness of Leitner's prose, and some small stylistic eccentricities can
make Australia's Many Voices: Australian English - the national language
heavy going at times. However, as the book is clearly divided into sub-
sections which comprehensively address their topic readers interested in
particular topics can easily navigate the book and skim over points not
directly relevant to their own interests. As Leitner himself points out,
elements of his analysis, such as the inventory of mainstream Australian
English monophthongs are the subject of some dispute and alternative
interpretation, and thus serious scholars should not accept all of Leitner's
without criticism and reflection. That said Leitner generally provides
convincing argumentation as to why his particular view should be adopted
and even though (as a native speaker of Australian English) I found myself
quibbling at times over definitions of 'typically Australian' words and the
degree to which examples reflect current mainstream usage (as oppose to
discourse, or occasionally region-specific quirks), I felt the quality of the
analysis to be largely exceptional.

Since Australia's Many Voices: Australian English - the national language is
after all volume one in a two-part series, it seems somewhat unfair to
critique it as a stand-alone volume. However, while one's understanding of
each volume is certainly enhanced by reading the other, it is more than
possible to read each on its own and still gain valuable insights. Although
Leitner's work is not for those in a hurry, it provides a comprehensive
overview of mainstream Australian English accessible and interesting to
native speakers and global scholars alike.


Blair, David and Peter Collins (eds). 2001. ''English in Australia''. Amsterdam:

Bryant, Pauline. 1993. Regional Variation in the Australian English Lexicon.
In ''Style on the Move: Proceedings of Style Council 92. ed Pamela Peters.
Macquarie University: Dictionary Research Centre. pp 31-42.

Burridge, Kate and Jean Mulder. 1998. ''English in Australia and New
Zealand. An introduction to its history structure and use''. Melbourne:
Oxford University Press.

Leitner, Gerhard. 2004. ''Australia's Many Voices: Ethnic Englishes,
Indigenous and Migrant Language, Policy and Education''. Berlin: Mouton de

Louisa Willoughby is a PhD student with the Language and Society at
Monash University, Clayton. Her doctoral research focuses on the
relationship between language and cultural maintenance and identity
construction among the teenage children of immigrants to Australia;
though she is interested in all aspects of the interaction between language
use and identity construction.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 3110181940
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: xv, 395
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