Australian Accents

As some of you may know I hold a couple of post-graduates in applied linguistics so it stands to reason – I’m fascintated by accents. The Aussie accent, however, has been a bugbear of mine. I can’t do one! I pride myself on my ability to ‘do’ accents. They’re part of my routine. I think my Irish, British, and American accents are rather good. Not only can I do generic accents but regional ones too. I can do Scouse, Geordie, Cork, Belfast, deep south USA, and even RP. In my past life, on the British Isles, I was forever rolling out the accents to entertain those in my company. I’d, pretty much, always get a chuckle. Particularly in Dublin. I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Dublin but the nuances of Dublin accents have forever enthralled me. The majority of them are place specific – with the exceptions of the D4 “DORT”/”DART” debacle and the newer more Americanised ones. The specificity with which I could locate an area of Dublin and, on occasion, even the street a new acquaintance hailed from was something I privately took much pride in.

But, not in Australia!

To be honest, I can only tell (after two and a half years) if someone is Australian or Kiwi. Other than that – I’m out! And, I pretty much knew that from the tele before I got here.

If someone came up to me now and put a gun to my head – I would be dead. Behold the stellar level of my complete lack of success with Australian accents. I can only surmise I lost my special ‘accenting’ powers when crossing into the southern hemisphere, circa 2010.

But seriously, do Australians even speak English? I spend my hours correcting NEWSCASTERS’ grammar!!!! The overuse of  incorrect comparatives in Oz astounds me e.g. “it’s more better than” – they say this on THE ABC! Grammarian rant over.

Joking aside: ‘B’ says “gull” and I don’t know whether to duck or say “hello”; even though I’m in the kitchen. He means “girl”. A girl is a gull – go figure.

Recently, I was recounting my confusion over Australian phrasal verbs when I first arrived in Oz. I used to pop into the supermarket in the city to get a few necessities daily. I’d hand over my card to complete the transaction and cashiers would say “ca ow” and I’d look at them like they had just had a lobotomy. Incredulous. I was incredulous that I could not understand the English language. Granted the lack of a clause did not help my comprehension of the unknown utterances. Now, if they had said: “Would you like ca ow?” with the inflection on the end I may have been able to work it out. But no. Faced with: “ca ow”. I was a lost and helpless tourist doing the smile headshake thing – which means both yes and no universally.  My initial thoughts, even though this happened several times before I figured it out, were – Has my card been declined? Expletive! I DID spend ALL of my money in Japan! Expletive! But no. They were saying – “CASH OUT?” With no inflection. How does a question become a statement. Hmmmmn … … … … well if it is stated with a spoonful of petulance – smiley face + LOL. Where I come from we say – “cash back?” – actually, people make full questions where I’m from, with all the words, there’s no shortage of them, they’re 100% free, costs ya nothin’ to say them all.  How and have you, I got over this culture shock after a week or so in Adelaide but I do still make a point of answering in complete sentences with Subjects – Verbs – and even Objects to boot. “Yes, I’d like $50, please. Thank you.”

So, I sit here and freely admit that I do not speak, understand, nor can I regionally locate Australian, and to be honest lads, as a self-confessed language snob I’m glad that I don’t and what’s more I, most likely, won’t. Australia can just carry on thinking I’m a Canadian who grew up in England because I don’t “sound very Oirish” with my lack of brogue and ‘proper’ diction.  “WOTEVA!”

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4 thoughts on “Australian Accents

  1. As a fellow language and grammar snob (strictly amateur – no post-grads in applied linguistics here…), I enjoyed that immensely.

    How ironic that, in a country known for what Stephen Fry once referred to as AQI or Australian Question Intonation (http://youtu.be/OluCvL0lRnI) at the end of regular sentences, you would be asked a question with no inflection. But then again, that is the country where draining water swirls backwards…

    • I hadn’t seen that Room 101, thanks. I may be wrong but I think that is more NSW/Victoria – TV Australian speak – like leprechaun Irish. South Australians are considered the ‘poshest’ Aussies linguistically because we’re the only ‘free state’ – settled entirely by free settlers; not convicts. The accent is much more similar to a generic British one, but I’ve met people from Sydney who sound South Aussie, so I think it might have a lot more to do with where your (grand)parents migrated from. The place specificity of accents here, to me, just don’t seem be as regionally located as in Ireland. For example, I know a couple of people from Darwin, I think they sound South Australian, but then, I look at their surname/maiden name and see they are of British origin. Perhaps in a few generations the accents will appear more ‘hit you in the face’ regionally located here but, honestly, Damien – I’m *expletive* lost.

      Oh, and I think the lack of AQI is to do with the truncation of clauses into two words and the truncation of those words into two sounds … and the aforementioned spoonful of petulance that has entered the customer service industry in recent years. #grumpyoldfoley

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