English Language

An ethnolect? What is an ethnolect!?

Lisa Tran

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One of the key areas studied by students in Unit 4 AOS 1 is ethnocultural varieties in Australia, otherwise known as 'ethnolects'. An ethnolect can be defined as a morphological blend of the terms 'ethnic + dialect', and is a variety of Australian English employed by many migrant speakers and subsequent generations of migrants.

There's a specific reason Australia has many ethnocultural varieties in existence - it's simply due to our value of multiculturalism. Entirely new forms of Australian language are emerging as our accent adapts to the growing value of multiculturalism, says Felicity Cox, a phonetician from Macquarie University in Sydney.

“Changes in accent parallel sociocultural changes, because accent is a fundamental marker of identity,” she says.

“Our dialect is still quite young by global standards but as it matures we can expect somemore regional variations and ethnocultural variations to come into the language.”

This would explain why Australia nowadays has a variety of ethnolects such as ‘Greek Australian English, ‘Chinese Australian English’ and so forth.

So what exactly is the purpose of an ethnolect?

Language is an incredibly important marker of identity - how we perceive ourselves and how we wish others to perceive us can collectively be reflected through our language usage. An ethnolect, therefore, allows migrant speakers or subsequent generations to reflect their ancestral heritage through their language.

Ethnic varieties can become potent markers of a group’s identity, especially in the face of language attrition (erosion)Speakers start to value ethnic features in their English, therefore accentuating ethnic differentiationLinguistic features (often from the first language) function much like ‘clique’ or in-group recognition devicesMany second-generation and later generations of non-English backgrounds employ two different varieties of Australian English – a mainstream variety when they are speaking to most interlocutors and an ethnolect when they are speaking to their parents, people of similar background or sometimes to all members in societyEthnolects are marked variously by lexical, grammatical, phonological and or prosodic featuresPidginised features include auxiliary/pronoun omission o How make Baklava? For: How do I make Baklava?Lexical items are often transferred (e.g. YiaYia for Grandma in Greek)Bruce Moore, head of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the ANU, in his book, Speaking Our Language, The Story Of Australian English, says that an ethnolect, "is used consciously to separate the speakers from Anglo-Australian values, and at its extreme also to separate the speakers from some parts of their own culture".

I would recommend you identify an ethnolect within Australian society and aim to find unique linguistic features (from any subsystem), which you can then include in your essays! Be original and unique.

These linguistic features often stem from the original language and function as in-group recognition devices. For example, with regards to lexicology, a Greek-Australian may use the interjection ‘-re’ at the end of an utterance that he or she made, which can be seen in the example "I can’t believe you did that, re!". This interjection functions as a form of astonishment, anger, surprise, disbelief, emphasis or merely a marker of social identity.

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