Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
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.
Check out the rest of the Linguistics Roadshow maps here.