English Language

How ethnolects and idiolects shape Australian identity

Nathan Cheng

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Writing about ethnolects in Unit 4

Understanding how ethnolects and idiolects shape the Australian identity is a crucial aspect of Unit 4. This is because there are many different opinions about the Australian identity. On one hand, some believe that there is a distinct and unified national identity centred on values such as mateship, egalitarianism and a laid-back culture. On the other hand, others adopt a cosmopolitan approach, arguing that multiculturalism creates diversity within the Australian context and offers us a pluralistic (rather than unitary) identity.

For much of the course, you may have found it difficult to synthesise all of the information relating to your study of ethnolects and the many varieties that exist across the Australian context. You may be asking yourself, ‘does information like the fact that there are approximately 150,000 Greeks in Melbourne help you understand the impact of Greek English on our language?’

You may have researched and studied a lot about ethnolects and analysed ways in which they shape our culture, identity and society. To support you with determining which information is relevant, the following examples demonstrate how to separate evidence and its significance while planning essays.

Lebspeak and the Australian identity

Evidence 1: Habib (an informal vocative)

Have you ever heard someone say ‘habib’? Besides a select few, many of us have a sound understanding of what it means even if we are not Lebanese-Australian.

Significance: Habib is an Arabic lexeme that has been imported into the Australian English lexicon. Most commonly used with a semantic equivalent to ‘mate’, this informal vocative is frequently used by the Australian-Lebanese community to display their ethnic roots, as well as reinforcing in-group solidarity in a culturally diverse Australia. Their ability to do so, therefore, suggests that Australian English is largely influenced by foreign cultures and various ethnicities, generating more language varieties in the Australian context.

Habib is actually an Arabic name that means ‘sweetheart’ or ‘beloved’. Having undergone a semantic shift in the Australian context, adopting a similar meaning to ‘mate’, suggests instead that there is in fact an overarching national identity – one that influences promotes the ideals of mateship. One can argue, therefore, that whilst foreign lexemes imported into Australia generate diversity in the Australian identity, they too semantically adopt elements of the Australian culture.

Evidence 2: Fully (an intensifier)

Significance: The frequent use of fully as an intensifier by young male Lebanese-Australians has similar application that way is used by teenagers (think way happy). Although the Lebanese community exclusively use this intensifier by means of displaying their ethnic identity, they do so while adopting the Australian cultural tendency to positively exaggerate things.

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Greek English and the Australian identity

Evidence 3: Malaka (a derogatory lexeme)

Significance: Similar to Habib, almost all people understand the lexeme malaka which originates from Greek English, to be a derogatory lexeme. That many people, including non-Greeks, are exposed to such foreign lexis demonstrates the significant influence that foreign language has on Australian English.

These three examples are the easiest and most accessible to use when writing about ethnolects in an essay about language varieties and English in an Australian context. They are easy to remember, easy to understand and fun to write about. Of course, make sure that you don’t restrict yourself to only three examples. Explore a wide variety of evidence before synthesising and extracting the relevant significances for your essays!

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