Alternative Histories of English

By Richard Watts; Peter Trudgill | Go to book overview

4

The history of southernhemisphere Englishes

Elizabeth GordonandAndrea Sudbury

Between 1800 and 1876 there was a great outward movement of peoples from the British Isles. The official number was more than 4 million (Simpson 1997:7), but historians say that many more left whose departure was not recorded, with the true number perhaps being more than double that in the official statistics. This was part of a huge nineteenth century European diaspora involving around 50 million people (Belich 1996:278). For most of these emigrants it was a one-way journey, and they never returned to the home of their birth.

One of the results of this great movement of peoples was that the English language was transported by the emigrants to countries in the southern hemisphere - Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The Englishes spoken in these countries are much younger varieties than the older colonial varieties of English spoken in the West Indies, India and North America, and the beginning of the colonial period in Australia coincides almost exactly with the end of the colonial period in what were by then known as the United States of America.

The southern hemisphere destinations of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were not 'empty' countries. The Europeans who travelled there, however, did so on the assumption that these new lands provided greater opportunities for success than they could achieve at home, and they gave little thought to the fact that these countries were already occupied and that European success would be achieved only by the dispossession of indigenous people.

The stories of those early settlers involve adaptation and survival in countries very different from the places they had left behind. They also involve the adaptation and development of their language. As we will show, the circumstances and conditions in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were very different, and these differences are reflected in present-day Australian English (AusE), New Zealand English (NZE) and South African English (SAfE). At the same time the three varieties have remarkable similarities. Many a New Zealander travelling overseas will tell of being mistaken for an Australian, and occasionally for a South African. There are enough points in common in all three varieties for them to be described collectively as southern hemisphere Englishes.

-67-

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