The country may not have dramatic regional accents, but variants in vocabulary abound.

Linguistically speaking, Australia is somewhat exceptional for its lack of dramatic regional accents. There are some subtle differences; for example, you might hear “France” or “dance” pronounced with a short “a” in some northern parts of the country, and a long “a” in the south. (Different accents can also be heard that have more to do with upbringing than location.)

But what the country may lack in geographic differences in pronunciation, it makes up for in  variant vocabulary. New maps from a crew of linguists at the University of Melbourne and the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language show a range of word choices for everyday things, many of which run along spatial lines.

Only in Melbourne, it appears, would you run to the “milk bar” for a newspaper and a pack of beer. In Perth you’re more likely to call it the “deli,” while In Brisbane it may be the “corner shop.” On Sydney playgrounds, kid drink water from “bubblers,” while the rest of the country seems to call those fountains anything but. Beachgoers in the west may call their swimwear “budgie smugglers,” while the northeast pulls on “togs.”

Not all of the maps show such strong geographic divides. It appears you’re just as likely to hear “ace,” “deadly,” or just plain “cool” to mean something good in Melbourne as you are in Perth. Same goes for “pash” or “make out”: Terms for kissing spread fairly evenly.

The maps aren’t exactly scientific. You can see that eastern Australia is represented in abundance, while western and northern parts are more sparse. The data come from the results of an informal online survey created by the Melbourne linguists, in which anyone can participate.

“It’s part of an outreach program called the ‘Linguistics Roadshow,’” one researcher, Rosey Billington, told the Guardian. “It teaches students that if we have an idea about language usage, or doing something different, we can collect data and test it and come up with a pattern.”

It’s not the first time the Australian lexicon has been mapped, if a little unscientifically: Macquarie Dictionary, a standard reference for Australian English, has charted regionalisms by polling online readers, and includes a comment section for each entry. One particularly fantastic remark on the subject of what Americans might call a “popsicle”:

In Townsville during the ‘60s and ‘70s we'd wait to hear the bell of the bi-jingo man's van. He'd drive around the streets in summer. He would happily sell a single bi-jingo, you didn't have to buy packets.

Pure poetry!

Check out the rest of the Linguistics Roadshow maps here.

What do you call a battered, deep-fried potato snack?
What do you call the object that you might drink water from in a park or school?
What do you call a barbecued sausage, served in a single slice of bread?
What do you call the place where you might buy lunch at school?
What do you call the small local shop that sells newspapers, lollies, drinks and basic groceries?
What do you call a frozen, water-based sweet treat?
Which of these would you use to describe kissing someone?

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of the First Pasadena State Bank building, designed by Texas modernist architects MacKie and Kamrath. It will be demolished on July 21.
    Design

    The Lonely Death of a South Texas Skyscraper

    The First Pasadena State Bank, a 12-story modernist tower inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, has dominated this small town near Houston since 1962.

  2. The legs of a crash-test dummy.
    Transportation

    A Clue to the Reason for Women’s Pervasive Car-Safety Problem

    Crash-test dummies are typically models of an average man. Women are 73 percent more likely to be injured in a car accident. These things are probably connected.

  3. A NASA rendering of a moon base with lunar rover from 1986.
    Life

    We Were Promised Moon Cities

    It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 put humans on the surface of the moon. Why didn’t we stay and build a more permanent lunar base? Lots of reasons.

  4. The Cincinnati skyline and river
    Life

    Maps Reveal Where the Creative Class Is Growing

    “The rise of the rest” may soon become a reality as once-lagging cities see growth of creative class employment.

  5. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

×