What do “little Aussie sticklers” value most

Alyssa A. Severin, Kate Burridge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Two prominent features of Australian culture are its informality and its greater willingness to use colloquial styles of discourse. This attachment to the vernacular can be traced back to the earliest settlements of English speakers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the lingo of the day became an important way of fitting in and avoiding the label stranger or new chum. And, as the various corpora of modern Australian English attest, slang, swearing and terms of insult remain important features of the Australian variety (Allan & Burridge, 2009), expressing cherished ideals such as friendliness, nonchalance, mateship, egalitarianism, and anti-authoritarianism (encapsulated in key expressions such as fair go, whinge “complain”, she’ll be right, and little Aussie battler). This cultural context, or linguistic habitat, supports the take-up of what are elsewhere spoken of as “vernacular universals” of English, and go well beyond the kinds of colloquialisation noted in other varieties (Peters and Burridge, 2012; Collins and Yao, 2018). This somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards formal usage seems out of step with the rate at which Australians engage in prescriptive endeavours, especially when compared with other English-speaking countries. The Australians’ prescriptive concerns about the general well-being of their language appears to go beyond the tradition of complaining observed elsewhere (see Lukač, 2018). Australian prescriptivists consistently search for recognition of the value they believe standard usages holds and seek out confirmation of “correct” usage in forums such as letters to the editor, radio talkback, and television programs. In this research we explore popular perceptions of language as they are found in personal letters, emails, and general feedback received during Burridge’s more than 20 years involvement with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) radio and television. This engagement included regular on-going language segments for different talkback radio programs throughout Australia and (from 2006–11) for the TV program Can We Help (http://www.abc.net.au/tv/canwehelp/). In these programmes, listeners/viewers provided their observations on language and posed queries about usage. These questions and complaints have been collated and form a unique database of public opinion about language (comprising approximately 2000 pieces of correspondence per year). Using this database, we investigated aspects of Australian English usage to determine those issues most under dispute. A preliminary categorisation of the complaints along broad linguistic lines (pronunciation, spelling/punctuation, morphosyntax, and lexis/semantics) suggests that some language areas hold more value for speakers and are more prone to attract criticism; this is supported by Severin’s earlier usage survey, which demonstrated similar results (see Severin, 2013). We propose that modern pedagogy in the English language classroom has left the general public with a limited knowledge of more complex aspects of English grammar. As a consequence, speakers no longer “vent spleen” against those aspects of English that are more than skin deep, but rather focus on more superficial aspects such as spelling and pronunciation—in other words, areas that typically garner less attention from grammarians (Curzan, 2014: 29). Furthermore, opposition to non-standard usage shows no age watershed among prescriptivist—whingeing Aussie sticklers are of all ages.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage Prescription
Subtitle of host publicationValues, Ideologies and Identity
EditorsDon Chapman, Jacob D Rawlins
Place of PublicationBristol UK
PublisherMultilingual Matters
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781788928380, 9781788928380, 9781788928397, 9781788928403
ISBN (Print)9781788928373
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameMultilingual Matters
PublisherMultilingual Matters

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