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The Australian National University

British dialect

British dialects were an important source of Australian words in the nineteenth century. About 200 words, from a range of British dialects, lost their ‘dialect’ status in Australian and became part of mainstream Australian English. There are two interesting features about these dialect borrowings. First, most of the important borrowings occur in the second 60 years of settlement. Secondly, many of the words borrowed come from the dialects of northern England and Scotland.

Surprisingly, there are few borrowings from Ireland. The Irish made up the second largest group of immigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century. For example, in the period 1847–1872, 35 per cent of total assisted emigrants were Irish, and over the period 1840–1914, over 300,000 Irish emigrated to Australia (James Jupp, The Australian People, 1988: 58, 560). But on the available evidence, Irish is under-represented in Australian English. It is likely that it has much to do with social and religious factors: most of the Irish emigrants were Catholic, their levels of literacy were low, and there was significant prejudice against them from the convict period right through the nineteenth century (and beyond).

Many of the early terms have to do with agriculture, land settlement, and mining, and they may well not have been spread evenly through the language of colonial society. Indeed, most of the mining terms in the period would have been restricted to areas where there were Cornish miners, especially in South Australia. The significant borrowings from British dialect are concentrated in the second 60 years of settlement. They include:

nugget (1851)
fossick (1852)
lolly (sense 1b) (1854)
chook (1855)
mullock (1855)
skite (1857)
shanghai (noun) (1863)
eye (in phrase pick the eyes out of) (1865)
dag (1867)
larrikin (1868)
barrack (1878)
rouseabout (1881)
derry (in phrase have a derry on) (1883)
soursob (see soursop sense 2) (1885)
little house (1886)
kip (1887)
crib (noun 7) (1890)
cronk (1890)
gig, 5 (1891)
nark (1891)
bowyang (1893)
stoush (1893)
smoodge (1898)
wowser (1899)

Updated: 18 October 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher