Friday, May 29, 2009

Talking Australian: Just add O

Almost from the beginning visitors to the colonies were taken with the way Australians spoke. This was particularly marked in second generation Australians (called ‘currency lads and lasses’) who were accused of speaking lazily through closed teeth and with a strong Cockney influenced accent and vocabulary. When more people arrived with the gold rush this led to a further amalgamation of brogues with American, Irish, cockney, county, and broken English all combining. This was thought to lead to ‘tongue-laziness’ plus the desire to ‘communicate with the fewest and easiest sounds’. As a result Standard Australian consisted of fast speaking with clipped sentences, slurring of words and complete avoidance of syllable enunciation. As a general rule 'g', 'd', or 't' at the end of words were not pronounced and inflection and stress was given to the last syllable of each utterance with a raised pitch at the end of a question. Critics thought the Australian accent was ‘thin and narrow in its range of tone’, whereas others felt the Australian accent was ‘expressive and not unpleasant to the ear.

No less a personage as US writer, Mark Twain on a visit to Ballarat in 1897 noted Australians spoke in compressed English which gave it a soft lilt. By the 30s the preoccupation with deteriorating Australian accents preoccupied educationists and teaching of elocution became a focal point during the interwar years. The new education system stressed speech, deportment and etiquette which typified class and privilege. Eventually Australian kids were left to converse in regional accents and with local vernacular. According to experts there are no strong variations in accent across the Big Brown land although differences in pronunciation (particularly vowel sounds) and vocabulary do arise.

In the movies of course where stereotyping is the norm there are three main Australian accents i.e. Broad, General and Cultivated.

Broad is typically associated with machismo and many believe the broad Australian accent creates an image the person has the ability to relate to people from all walks of life, and will treat everyone with a sense of equality. Notable ‘broadies’ inlcude Paul Hogan, Bill Hunter, the late Steve Irwin, Kerry Packer and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Very few women use broad Australian accents with one notable exception ex Curtin University graduate, comedian and actress Judith Lucy.

The majority of Australians speak General Australian which is a mix between the broad Australian and ‘proper’ cultivated accents. Actors who try to keep ‘ordinary’ (and not adopt an American accent) speak General Australia. Examples include Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.

Cultivated Australian is akin to formal BBC English which is more often than not spoken by women in Australia wanting to portray a feminine and sophisticated image. One exception to this rule was ex-prime minister Malcolm Fraser.

Shortening words is an established Australian trait such as beaut (great, beautiful), BYO (Bring Your Own), deli (delicatessen), hoon (hooligan), roo (kangaroo), uni (university), and ute (utility truck or vehicle).

So too is the Australian preoccupation with adding the suffix ‘ie’ to shortened words. Examples include: Aussie (Australian), barbie (barbeque), beautie (beautiful, stereotypically pronounced and even written bewdy), bikkie (biscuit), blowie (blowfly), brekkie (breakfast), cozzie (swimming costume), Chrissie (Christmas), lippy (lipstick), rellie (relative), and sickie (day off sick from work) follow suit. In a similar way "o" may be added to the abbreviation. Examples include: arvo (afternoon), bizzo (business), compo (compensation), doco (documentary), journo (journalist) and smoko (smoke or coffee/tea break).

To show affection for others the diminutive ‘za’ or ‘o’ is sometimes added to personal names like Bazza (Barry), Kazza (Karen) and Shazza (Sharon); Lizo and Camo too. Many of these terms and speech mannerisms have been adopted into British (and now American English) via popular culture thanks many to Australian Soaps which are watched all around the world.


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