Up close and personal: Ego-documents as evidence of an emerging dialect in the Colony of Western Australia

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

Abstract

What can two sisters born in Western Australia in the mid-19th century tell us about the evolution of Australian English (AusE)? Previous studies of written texts have yielded insights about early AusE (e.g., Burridge, 2010), but have searched without success for evidence of Irish influence in the early stages of dialect formation (Musgrave & Burridge, In press; Burridge & Musgrave, 2014) – an effect which linguists have long speculated must exist (e.g. Trudgill, 2006: 18-20; Mitchell, 2003: 112; Fritz, 2000; Trudgill, 1986). Meanwhile, corpus-based studies of AusE suggest that over the 19th and 20th centuries grammatical features such as modality and quasi-modals (Collins, 2014; Collins & Yao, 2014) and a set of forms including inflectional genitives and mandative subjunctives (Collins, 2015) have diverged from British English and are following the lead of American English. What remains to be understood is how local factors unique to specific geographic areas may have interacted with external influences.

In this study, I analyse two ego-documents (115,226 words) which may be understood to align temporally with Trudgill’s (2006) second stage of focusing and the exonormative stabilisation and nativisation phases of dialect formation proposed by Schneider (2007; 2003). The focus is on the colony of Western Australia, a location and temporal span rarely considered in sociolinguistic research. Using a ‘history from below’ approach, I examine two morpho-syntactic features (examples 1 and 2), two potential phonetic features (examples 3–5), and two lexical features (examples 6 and 7). Together, these features point to possible influences of Irish English and the presence of significant numbers of American whalers in the region, both prevalent factors in the local language ecology. I make a case to develop a new corpus of ego-documents authored by Australian-born speakers to enrich the growing resources available for historical sociolinguistic analysis of AusE.

Examples

NON-STANDARD PAST-TENSE CONSTRUCTION: DO + GERUND


(1) I done some weeding (EK/female/born 1861)

NON-STANDARD NUMBER EXPRESSION IN BE VERB PHRASES

(2) Our ears was open (BK/female/born1875)

PLURAL PRONOUN THEY

(3) the left Locks Iland but the never got paid for the trenching (BK/female/born1875)

VARIABLE SPELLING OF QUOKKA

(4) A very hot day no visitors caught no quakas (EK/female/born 1861)
(5) My brother B__ was out quacker shooting (BK/female/born1875)

VERB PHRASE RID UP

(6) got things rid up mended clothes &c. (EK/female/born 1861)

NOUN OPOSSUM

(7) when I was a Child I had pet Kangroo rats opossums Birds Cats (BK/female/born1875)


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022
EventAustralian Linguistic Society Conference 2022 - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 30 Nov 20232 Dec 2023

Conference

ConferenceAustralian Linguistic Society Conference 2022
Abbreviated titleALS 2022
Country/TerritoryAustralia
CityMelbourne
Period30/11/232/12/23

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