Language change in Australia is completely natural. Prescriptivists do need to chill.
As Charles Darwin writes (in ‘The Descent of Man’, 1889), ‘it is not only species that evolve, but so, too, do languages.’ And true, he was, as every living language on this planet has two things in common with the next; an ever-changing fluid vocabulary, and unavoidable phonetic, lexical, semantic, and syntactical changes due to changes in modern technological communications and foreign influences, and Australian English is no exception. Australian English is subject to a substantial amount of naturally-occurring lexical growth. Lexical growth is the term used to describe the introduction of borrowed and new lexemes, as well as semantic shift, broadening, and generalisation. This is evidenced by ‘How Language Works’ by David Crystal, in which he writes “less than a quarter of English’s word-stock actually reflects its Germanic origins.” The majority of the new additions to Australian English’s lexicon are borrowed from roughly 350 other languages, a practice which was very active in the 20th century, due to English-speaking nations’ contact with non-English speaking countries.
Most of these lexemes are direct borrowings, where the entire word and its meaning have been introduced to English, for example ‘poncho’ from Spain, or ‘poodle’ from German, but a small percentage come from a type of borrowing known as calque, in which words are not borrowed whole and parts are translated separately for a new lexeme to be formed, for example ‘masterpiece’ from Dutch or ‘Devil’s advocate’ from Latin. Compounded words (new lexemes formed by the combining of two existing lexemes) are also regularly used in Australian English, for example ‘blue-bomber’ is used to describe a parking inspector in the Adelaide region, and the Brisbane region’s ’emu-walk’ describing the observed human behaviour when picking litter up. A lexeme’s definition can also go under semantic broadening (the definition becomes larger to incorporate new meanings) or semantic shift (the definition is wholly changed from one thing to another, usually because the old definition has become obsolete (e.g.
‘silly’ which meant happy in the 14th century, and frivolous today)). All of these mechanisms, through which the vocabulary of the Australian English language has changed, happen naturally to accommodate for new feelings, inventions, or expressions, and none pose threats to the survival of Australian English. Furthermore, Australian English is also subject to lexical and semantic changes heavily influenced by the use of technology to communicate. The introduction of new text types such as SMS and online chat promote more elliptic, truncated ways of communicating and advances in modern technology influence morphological formations and semantic extensions and metaphors. “English is so diversified as a result of the internet,” states David Crystal, which is entirely correct when you observe the use of morphological neologisms in today’s spoken and written Australian language. DVD, RAM, infomercial, software, blog, e-banking, download (n.
), and google (v.) can all be commonly found in texts published since around the year 2000, because of the prominent use of technology in our everyday lives. Abbreviations, acronyms, blends, compounds, shortenings, affixations, conversions, and communisations, respectively, are normal parts of speech because of the need to create new words for brand-new concepts. Semantic extensions and metaphors (for example mouse, virus, and hibernate) are also common place. The introduction of alternative text types in the modern age (such as SMS and online chat) urge users to adopt trimmed-down ways of communicating in order to stay instant. ‘BRB’ informs the other parties that one will return in a short period of time, whilst ‘2’ is no longer just a numeral, it has now become an adverb and preposition (an example of a rebus). ‘Through’ is far too elaborate for the modern teenager and young adult to type, and so consequently it has been overthrown by its phonetic spelling ‘thru’. Changes like these mentioned are valuable to the Australian English language.
Whilst they tend to appear in a widespread manner faster than examples explored in the previous paragraph, technological-driven language change makes communication more efficient and gives us the ability to code-switch between more styles and varieties, besides, similar changes have been occurring for centuries (e.g. the switch from pantaloons to pants). Finally, the use of Americanisms in the Australian English language is not putting the ‘Aussie’ dialect at risk of extinction, but merely improving upon it. The Australian language is “… well known for its quirky, larrikin, idiosyncratic creativeness.” (Roland Sussex), it is identified by linguists by its diminutives (e.g. ‘arvo’ in lieu of ‘afternoon’), profanity (Kate Burridge describes the use of ‘bloody’ in everyday speech as friendly, laid-back, and conveying a value of mateship), first-syllable stresses, diphthongs, and creative regionalisms.
The influence of globalisation, international media, and the use of technology has lead to an increase in Americanisms used in Australia. A study from the Macquarie University, Sydney, found that the Australian accent is softening and losing its distinctive twang. In common settings, ‘elevator’ tends to replace ‘lift’, whilst ‘bloke’ and ‘mate’ (quintessential Australian slang) have given way to ‘dude’ and ‘bro’ (their American counterparts). We Australians have not ceased to create new, original slang – and ‘budgie-smugglers’ is living proof of such a statement. Americanisms give Australians the ability to communicate better with foreign people, and allow us a larger lexicon to choose from to convey the perfect meaning, therefore giving us no reason to dread the use of such language in Australia. The Australian English language is not a dead language, and all living languages change to accommodate for technological advances, simplicity, and to fit in with those we communicate with (which include Americans).
These changes are not ones to fear, as they solely occur to keep our dialect alive and modern.