Host – Nicholas Carlie – Host
David – from Australia
Anne – Anne Dahl, professor at NTNU
The English language – in Australia
Host: Hi, my name is Nicholas and I'm a former journalist for NRK. I was born in Belgium to Swedish parents who raised me in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia and South America. English is not my mother tongue. English is not my native language, and I didn't live in an English-speaking country until I was 16 years old. English is, however, my first language, but I often wonder what is English? Why can I hear the difference between an Australian, a Londoner, a Bostonian or an African all sharing a common language? The English language has approximately four hundred million native speakers worldwide and is recognised as the single most widely spoken global language. In this podcast, we will explore the nuances of English accents and pronunciation, together with five native speakers from all over the globe and a Norwegian professor of this strange and wonderful global language. Who knows, maybe I'll learn something new about my first language. Today I will be speaking to David from Australia.
Host: I am sitting here with David from Sydney. David, where in Australia are you from and what is it like there?
David: I lived in Sydney for many years. I actually grew up in Melbourne, which is in Victoria. So it's a southern city. I moved to Sydney when I was 14, 15 and lived there for a number of years, and then moved to London. I now live here in Oslo. But growing up in Australia, Melbourne is a very creative city. It's the European city of Australia: very creative music, the arts, culture. Sydney is the postcard city: beautiful mountains, the Opera House, sunny, surfing. Great city. Two very different cities, two very different experiences, but very good.
Host: Are there two types of English in Melbourne and Sydney, could you easily pick someone out by their accent?
David: Yeah, you can. It's subtle, and I guess it's certain words that are used. And it's not necessarily like a dialect in terms of grammar and different things, but it's more specific words. And I can liken it to "Østlandet" and "Vestlandet", you know, like "dokker" and "dere" - words like that. We have different names for foods and stuff. It’s the same food, but we call it different things. And those are the kind of subtle things that would make you understand where someone's coming from.
Host: All right. Could you pick out someone from the north coast or the outback or the west coast?
David: That can be tricky. The outback is a huge, wide open space. But of course, there are certain ways that people speak, that give you an idea of where they're from. If I had met someone on the street and they started speaking, unless they referenced something culturally from the west coast, Perth, for example, then I would understand. But if not, it can be difficult, and than you do have to rely on these certain little words that give it away.
Host: It's interesting, because 50 years after the first English prisoners arrived in Australia, Australian was actually called the purest form of English on the planet. Because all of the dialects from England were adapting to each other and taking out their local dialects to make it easier for all to understand each other.
David: Yeah, obviously, living in London for 14 years, my accent now is much less Australian and it's more in the middle between Australian and British.
Host: Can you hear that yourself?
David: Yeah, I can. As Australians, we really draw out our vowels. So, you say "gidday, mate, how are you doing?". And for example, "gidday mate" or "gidday" is slang for "good day". You don't hear this often, but older generations in the UK and in Britain still say "good day".
Host: Good day.
David: Yes, good day, sir. Good day, fellow. Hello, chap. Those sorts of things. And then "gidday" became an Australian thing, because we shortened everything, and we draw out the vowels. “Gidday”.
Host: Let's explore that a little bit more. I like to think I can hear an Australian, but I'm not sure why. You're talking about drawn out vowels. What is it that that sets your English apart, like in the sound of it and the way you use it, that makes it distinctly Australian?
David: Yeah, well, we really accentuate the vowels, and we use "ah", the word "ah". And we're quite aggressive with everything. We draw things out a lot. People tend to ask Australians "is that a statement or a question?". Because when we're making a statement, we tend to go up at the end, which normally ...
Host: ... Is a question.
David: Exactly. So often if you talk to someone, especially from Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast ... Everything sounds like they're asking you a question. You can ask them a question and they can give you the answer, but the answer sounds like the question.
Host: Do you have an example of the way they ‘sing’ the end of the sentence, the rising end?
David: Yeah, I'll do my best here. (These kids in the education system are going to be laughing at me. Who's this idiot from Australia?) Typically you might hear someone say if you can ask the question: "Did you have a good day today?" "Yeah, it was reeeaaaally greeeaaat.", "Yeeeaaah, it was faaaantaaaastic." It sounds like you're asking me a question, and it's very drawn out.
Host: Let's talk about Australian English in popular culture. I mean, we had Mel Gibson, the first huge Hollywood star that I remember who was Australian. But he wasn't using his dialect. He sounded very American in the Lethal Weapon-movies. And now, you know, the God of Thunder Thor is Australian, and The Wolverine is Australian. And, you know, Nicole Kidman and all these huge stars. What have they done for Australian English culturally, do you think?
David: All these people that you've named have done Australian films, of course. And I think, when you see them in Australian films, they're talking in the Australian dialect. And when, of course, you go to Hollywood, it's a much broader audience that would be confused by that dialect. So, I think maybe what they've done is they've maybe put Australia on the map a little bit for actors because Australia does have a lot of great actors, actually. To most people around the world, the Australian accent sounds quite harsh and rough. It's not smooth, like French. So culturally, I think they've probably helped make the Australian accent much more acceptable.
Host: But these are actors, and we'd never know if they're trying to adjust their accent a little bit to sound a little more from one city or another in Australia. But one guy I knew who definitely used his accent his entire career, was the late Steve Irwin. Steve Irwin was a naturalist, I guess you could say, the real crocodile hunter. The David Attenborough of Australia. But in a very Australian way.
Host: He wasn't adapting his language to a certain audience. Is there something about his English that could tell you something about where he's from or what social status he might have had?
David: Well, I think Steve Irwin, who, of course, was amazing… I think the brilliant thing about Steve Irwin, other than all the things he did with crocodiles and all the other animals, was that he took you so close to the crocodiles. You had Crocodile Dundee, right, Paul Hogan in the movies, which was the Hollywood version with Australian Outback. But then Crocodile Dundee was just a name, right?
David: The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, he really brought you to the crocodiles. I mean, you know, he was jumping on top of them, he was pulling them out. And the thing about him, which was brilliant, is he spoke the everyman language. He spoke complete, honest Australian which every person understood. He wasn't trying to hide it. He basically represented the normal person on the street speaking that language. At one point, Steve Irwin was Australia's number one largest export, more than uranium, more than wool, more than different things that we have. And he introduced people through the way he spoke into the Australian psyche and the way of thinking and, of course, the dialects and different things like that.
Host: There's also this tradition of shortening words or replacing words with new ones. Where do you think that comes from?
David: Good question. I don't know. But it's always been there, since I was a kid. It's still there now, when I go back to Australia. Maybe we took it from British Cockney and adapted it to our own version. But it's very typical for Australians to shorten everything. For example, in British culture, they say "football". In Australia, we say "footy", or even "foo-dy".
Host: It's not uncommon to hear an Australian described themselves as an Aussie. Not as an Australian, but as an Aussie. Is that something you grew up with?
David: Yeah. We have this famous chant that you'll always see at the Olympics or sporting events or a concert, which is someone will yell "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie", and the rest of the crowd will yell "oy, oy, oy".
Host: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy!
David: Have you heard it before?
Host: I have. Yes, I've seen some rugby, but I am not really into cricket.
David: That's a classic kind of just shortening the words. I don't know where "Aussie" came from, to be honest. But you know, most people don't say they're Australian, we say we're "strai-an".
Host: So, you don't need the whole words?
David: I'm from Strai-a, mate. That's what you hear all the time. "Strai-a, mate".
Host: An Aussie from Strai-a.
Host: Your wonderful neighbours to the east, the New Zealanders, they also have a very distinct dialect, but they havn’t been represented in popular culture in the same way or same amount as Australian. What's going on over there?
David: I have some good friends from New Zealand. New Zealand's a great country, really great place, really good people. Their dialect is quite funny. As I talked about earlier, we tend to draw out our vowels and often in the English language, the letter "i" becomes "e" in Australian English. We even almost make it a double "e", so we really draw it out. But in the New Zealand language, the "i" somehow becomes a "u". Let's use a British example, "fish and chips". In Australia we say "fiish and chiips". In New Zealand they'll say "fush and chups". So, they turn the "i" into a "u". And the letter "e" is changed. For example, everyone used to laugh in school when a New Zealand person would say the number six, because they read that "i" as an "e", so they say "sex". The letters just have a different pronunciation.
Host: If I was going to listen to this and then wanting to get a little bit deeper into the Australian English, who would I like to see on YouTube? Do we have another ambassador of every day Australian now?
David: That's a really good question. I've spent my last four years really trying to adapt and delve into Norwegian culture, and the language and everything else. So, I'll give these kids a recommendation because there's a film from the 80's, when Nicole Kidman was not discovered by Hollywood. She was probably 18, 19 years old. It's called BMX bandits. And it's old school BMX racing. And she's in a gang of bike riders and she is speaking with her local Australian accent. And it is the funniest, worst, most horrible, yet brilliant film you'll ever see.
Host: That sounds fun.
David: It's very funny - to an Australian.
Host: Thank you to David from Australia. Now it's time to check back in with Anne Dahl, associate professor from the Department of Language and Literature at NTNU, to talk about this version of English. Hello again!
Anne: Hello again! Good to be back.
Host: This form of English is relatively old. It's been around for two hundred and fifty years, the Australian English. What are your experiences with this specific dialect?
Anne: It's different from the ones that we've spoken about before, because it's a lot more similar to British or American English or what we might like to think of as more standard English. So, it's generally not very difficult for anyone who understands general English. It's not very difficult to understand Australian English. Most people, if they have some experience with English, they'll be able to pick up the accent or at least hear that it's not American or British. But other than that, compared to Singapore English or Nigeria English, it's a lot more similar to British and American.
Host: David feels that the dialects don't vary that much in Australia from coast to coast. Why do you think that is?
Anne: Well, a simple explanation is that Australian English is an old variety and sure, compared to many others it is. But it's also quite young if you compare it, for example, to Britain. So, in Britain, people have spoken English for many, many centuries and they spoke it long before there was widespread contact between people in different places. So, people and their dialects just lived pretty separate lives in different places, and they developed relatively independently of each other. And what we see in Britain and in Norway, for that matter, is that dialects now are changing more and more into a more standardised version. You're losing some old dialect features because of the contact between people. In Australia, English only arrived about two hundred and fifty years ago. And even then, the English-speaking population was very, very small and mostly consisted of British people from relatively similar places. They spoke dialects that were at least similar. So English speakers have sort of spread throughout Australia in recent times and largely after communication across the country was in place. So there hasn't been much of a context for dialects to develop. They haven't been sitting in their little valleys and on their little hilltops and spoken only to the local people for a long time. People did that in Britain.
Host: Australia, as we know, they love to use slang and shortened words. They use these diminutives. Why do you think that is? Is it because it's fun?
Anne: Probably, and it's just something that has developed and turned into part of Australian identity, because language is a lot of things. And one of the things is it’s identity. Right? If you want to speak English in a way that makes you an Australian, this has become a thing that you do. So, they do like to make these short, cute words out of everything, mostly ending in an /e/ sound. They don't say barbecue, they say "a barbie" and they don't say breakfast, they say "brekky". And I think sometimes they come up with them in the moment. A lot of them are actually words that are used. I think both "barbie" and "brekky" can be called dialect words. And I wouldn't be surprised if you find them in an Australian dictionary.
Host: What do you think has happened the last two hundred and fifty years with Australian language? Has it changed much?
Anne: I mean, any variety of any language will change, and I'm sure if you read Australian English texts from two hundred and fifty years ago, you will definitely notice differences. But the more standard variety of English hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last two hundred fifty years. The thing about Australia is that when the English speakers arrived, the original indigenous population died. They were killed like in the US. So Australian English hasn't really developed in close contact with other languages. There aren't very many speakers left of the different Aboriginal languages in Australia, and most Australians certainly don't speak them.
Host: David mentioned that his English could sound quite harsh. Can you understand that statement?
Anne: I find that really hard to understand. But I wonder if we're talking about personal stereotypes here. And I mean, there is no such thing as an objectively harsh accent. Obviously, no language or no accent is harsher than anything else. It all has to do with the connotations, what you think about when you hear it. And so maybe he's thinking of his dialect as connected to these rough outback types who go into the bush and wrestle crocodiles and that kind of thing. But my stereotype of Australian English, which is also just a stereotype, is that, you know, it sounds very friendly and happy. So, I think more of the happy beach type. But, you know, there you go. It's really all in how you perceive it. It's not actually in the accent itself.
Host: Thank you so much, Professor Anne Dahl
Produsert av Både og for NDLA