Tracing the features and development of a society’s language is like holding a mirror up to that society. The changeable nature of language reflects shifts in values, records significant political, social and cultural influences, and often pinpoints revealing commonalities with other societies. Bruce Moore, Australia’s foremost lexicographer and Director of Australian National Dictionary Centre, provides a systematic but highly engrossing account of the development of Australian English.
He takes a detailed look at the influence of Indigenous languages on our vocabulary, illustrating patterns of contact and settlement. He also offers a well-supported argument for the way Australians would have spoken in the early days of settlement, an issue of much contention. Once the accent was firmly established, Australia began to expand and stabilise its core vocabulary. Moore charts alterations in the lexicon from the heady days of the gold rush, through the period of federation right up to the present.
An interest in one’s language is closely connected with national identity. Moore assures us Australian identity is firmly entrenched. After sixty years of inundation by American media, the Australian accent is completely unaffected, suggesting accent rather than vocabulary is the most important linguistic marker of identity.
Speaking our Language is not only an excellent reference book; it’s also a remarkably readable history of Australian English. Because Australian readers have particular insights into the language they speak, it’s possible to draw parallels with other languages, offering an opportunity to more clearly understand how they too may have diverged and shifted over time.