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04 December 2007 @ 11:51 pm
How to speak Strayan  
I spend a lot of time thinking about language. Its my job, and it's always been my hobby. So I expected Australian to be easy. Most spellings are English, while some punctuation is American (eg " " for quotes), so a few simple mental realignments are all that are required to acclimatise -- in theory.

When I moved to Sydney I was fairly confident that I knew a lot about Australian English. My mother is Australian, and I saw her a moderate amount during my childhood. I had many Australian friends. I had watched three episodes of Neighbours. I knew the words to Throw Your Arms Around Me. I was sorted.

As it turned out, Australians actually are laconic and friendly, so I enjoyed myself from the start even though it is always disgustingly humid and there are no good local shoes. But there was a problem. The denizens are incomprehensible.

Australian English is a mix of several lingos. Loads of British English, an increasing amount amount of American Engish, scads of Irish, Northern, Scottish and Welsh slang, and dribs and drabs of Aboriginal, Japanese, Maori, Italian, Greek and Lebanese.

The key trick to speaking Strayan is not to move your mouth. It is essential never to open your mouth wide as this is the only way to avoid swallowing flies. There are a great many flies.

Not moving one's mouth leads to strange pronunciations. The household Australian says that the reason it's pronounced Straya is that they were tired of being confused with Austria and shifting the pronunciation was one further point of difference -- because one being flat, dusty, filled with marsupials and in the Southern Hemisphere while the other is mountainous, snowy, filled with beer gardens and in the Northern Hemisphere wasn't enough for, say, the president of the United States.

So, for the first six months that I was here, I was mildly bemused by a common word: seeyasarvo. It was obvious what it meant: I look forward to continuing this conversation later in the day. I assumed it was a Japanese import and was impressed by the increasing Asian focus of the locals. Then I had an epiphany. It was: "See you this arvo (afternoon)".

My first tip: if it's incomprehensible, say it very slowly and see if any sections ending in 'a', 'y' or 'o' are contractions of longer words.

Which brings me to my next point. To speak Australian, you must love contraction. If you find yourself overhearing a conversation in which words such as carby (carburettor) , barbie (barbecue), sanga (sandwich) and garbo (dustman/garbage collector) feature heavily, you are probably listening to an Australian.

There are certain rules as to which vowel one should slap onto the end, but I cannot tell you what they are since they are only handed out to Real Australians. The rules are even more complex when it comes to proper nouns.  Gazza, Matty, Jimbo, Deano and Richo are representative of the Australian approach, and yes, two of these involve making the original names longer, don't ask, they won't explain it.

My second tip: two syllables is ample for any word, just chop until you get there. Stick a vowel on the end, you're done. 

The image of Australians as wild, rural folk is, of course, a big fib. Almost all of them live in cities. Many of them know no indigenous people. Nevertheless, the language of the bush and Aboriginal is invoked in idiom.  People acting stupidly will be called a great galah (an Aboriginal word) --  in fact a pink and grey parrot that will get drunk on nectar and rotted fruit and wobble about on the ground (very amusingly). (Someone who actually is stupid is a drongo, a word derived from a losing racehorse, named after another bird.)

A billabong is a small lake created beside a river. Like many Aboriginal words, the actual language that it is from isn't hugely clear (there are many, many localised Aboriginal dialects and a fair number of separate languages, it's quite European). Despite the fact that most Australians have never seen a billabong, they use the word cheerfully, sustained by the fact they know the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda (which is more than can be said for the National Anthem).

The obscure "What do you think this is, bush week?" is one of my favourites. It is used as an expression of disbelief: "Would you mind if I came in late tomorrow?" "What do you think this is? Bush Week?"

It took me years to find the explanation behind this one. Apparently, during the Depression, the state governments spent a lot of money on infrastructure projects in the major cities so they could fund some employment.  Much of this money came from the rural sector and the bushies (see! it's easy!) took exception to the fact they were receving nothing. The NSW government spoke of having a big expo week where they would show off local produce and encourage trade, but it never came about. Thus bush week came to symbolise a mythical time, about which cynicism was appropriate.

Other rural related terms include dag, which means someone unsophisticated, unfashionable or gauche (literally the manure-tainted fleece on the back of a sheep), and swag, which means a lot, a large amount (from the large bag and bedding carried by itinerant workers in the bush).

My third tip: when Australians start using terms like the above, look them in the eye and say "You've never actually met a sheep, have you?"

Finally, Australians are rude buggers. If your Aussie friend addresses you as "You old bastard" it is a sign of affection. This causes no problems in discussions between Australians and Brits. It causes immense difficulties in discussions with Americans. My closest American friend took a long time to learn that "You wanker" was fondness, and even longer to learn that "I can't believe you're such a wanker!" was frustration.  Tone is usually the giveaway, though you may need to look at other quirks of body language -- balled fists, rolled eyes, grimaces of anguish ...

My final tip: if unsure, offer to buy the Australian a beer. It will cement friendships and defuse arguments in practically every case.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Geoviki: animals - yay by janicechessgeoviki on December 4th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
This was absolutely delightful!

It reminds me of Lumos this summer, when the exuberantly Australian snapetoy tried to organize a special dance at the evening's costume ball. She went and spoke to the (Canadian) DJ, who promply called for "All the Snipes" to come to the front. That got a lot of blank looks, until someone offered: "You mean Snapes?"
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 4th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
That made me laugh so loudly that the cat is glaring at me! it's a good point, though, the vowel-shifts are one of the most distinctive parts of the accent -- it all comes back to the not opening mouths thing, I am sure.
(no subject) - shyfoxling on December 4th, 2007 09:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
libby_drew on December 4th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
Much ♥ to you this morning. This was a delight to read. It's good to know that the buying of a beer to cement friendships is universal wherever you live. ;)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 04:46 am (UTC)
I am convinced that the only reason Australia has currency is because beer is too hard to transport. But the number of small favours people have offered to pay me in slabs of beer for ... Much love back!
Leochileochi on December 4th, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
Ahahahahahahahahahaha! I LOVE it. And let me tell you, we Austrians don't have too many beer gardens, those are Bavarian and Bavaria is in Germany. (Well it's close to Austria, but still. What we do have are "Heuriger" those are wine-gardens where the typical "Heuriger" (Young wine of the season) is served.)
This was really, really nice and interesting to read - as I grew up with several languages I'm always interested in the way other people see them. Thank you for writing this, it made my day (or evening). :-)))))
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 07:55 am (UTC)
I did know about the beer gardens, but Mozart festivals just sounded stuffier than I think of Austrians as being!

Very happy to hear that I raised a smile; just as your drawing did for me!
(no subject) - leochi on December 5th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
suonguyen: Sammysuonguyen on December 4th, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
LOL this was amusing and informative, half the things your wrote there I didn't even realise. The only I really use is dag... lol but I guess its cause I don't really know any 'old aussies.'
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 07:55 am (UTC)
Dag really is the most useful word in the whole language. Even if I moved to Estonia tomorrow, I would still kep dag!
Meredythmeredyth_13 on December 4th, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)
Hey! I didn't know you were on our fair shores! Damn, it makes me happy to discover great fanfic writers are actually local.

We're not that hard to understand. But I do wonder if you've ended up in Queensland, because they're known country wide for the motionless speech, and the rest of us do use jaw movements when they can't be avoided. ;)

It does amuse me to read experiences of our culture like this from newcomers. But I guess you can understand better than a lot of my overseas friends how much tone and expression are necessary to really communicate with us, and why this then makes IM so hard. Especially for a sarcastic cow like I am, because affectionate sarcasm is damned hard to interpret on line, and an inevitable feature of chatting with me. *sigh*

How long are you here for? Can I buy you a beer? *g*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 08:57 am (UTC)
In Sydney (hello! where are you?) And I'm not so new, it's a short yonk at least!

I tend to avoid Qld because it is even hotter and more humid, but the man who has kept me here lived there for much of his childhood, so you may well be onto something. And a disproportionate number of my close friends grew up in the country ...

I'm here for at least the next five years, and I would LOVE to catch up for a beer, it's almost certain I'll be where you are at some time in those years as I travel a lot domestically. So, as they say, where the bloody hell are you?
(no subject) - meredyth_13 on December 5th, 2007 09:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
two beers - (Anonymous) on December 5th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: two beers - blamebrampton on December 6th, 2007 08:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
Blindmouse: whee...blindmouse on December 4th, 2007 10:39 pm (UTC)
Strine! Good to see.

I had no idea where most of these expressions came from. I vaguely thought that the 'bush week' comment was something in the same spirit as "Anyone would think you grew up in a tent" - although looking at the respective meanings, I suppose this doesn't make much sense.

I am somewhat astounded that you've found city folk who use the words 'drongo' and 'galah'. I've only ever heard them in the country, and usually it's a conscious affectation even then. Or, you know, my dad ;-)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 09:00 am (UTC)
I think drongo and galah among my friends are partially artefacts of the fact a number of them are from the country, and partially the fact that I have a fair few quite old friends (decades older than me, even). My young friends only use either term for conscious affect ... usually when talking to me, the rotters.

Bush week had me obsessed. I ended up asking Gerry Wilkes (THE expert). Now if you can tell me why turmeric is pronounced tumeric, I'll be very happy!
(no subject) - blindmouse on December 5th, 2007 09:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 09:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
girl; obsessedcomplications_g on December 4th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you, thank you, for being someone who boggles at the Australian 'language' too.

I had such a problem understanding people when I first moved, and they did for me too! (Apparently I talk too fast and speak another language, known as 'English')

It took me quite a while to learn what swag was. It was when I was at school and someone mentioned it, I asked what it was, and they thought it would be funny to try and convince me it was some kind of animal. I was dubious about that but had no clue to what it actually could be. They held out on me for about half an hour, telling me all sorts, until I finally just went and asked a teacher. I was kind of disappointed. ;)

In school assemblies they made us stand up at the beginning and sing the National Anthem and even though they put the words up on a projector, everyone just sung 'Advance Australia Fair...' and mumbled the rest. They also printed the entire song in out school diaries for reasons I cannot fathom.

Oh, and the flies!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 09:01 am (UTC)
HAHAHAHAHAH!!! I can SO imagine those assemblies! I used to think that Australian sportspeople at the Olympics were just thick, or shy, when they did not sing their anthem, but now I know they are representative.

Good point about the lying. Let us not speak of drop bears!
Catscatsintheattic on December 4th, 2007 10:54 pm (UTC)
This was a very funny and interesting read! Thank you for sharing. :-)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 09:01 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading!
calanthe_fics on December 5th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)
I hope you don't mind - I realised we weren't friended, so I've friended you.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
Don't mind at all -- in fact surprised I had not done so already! Fixed now!
lackofmendacity (Diana): Tom Welling - ponderinglackofmendacity on December 6th, 2007 12:52 am (UTC)
I assumed it was a Japanese import and was impressed by the increasing Asian focus of the locals.

Ahahaha, this line had me snickering, you're certainly an optimistic one. *g*

I'm pleased to say that I do not use (many) of the contractions, though opening your mouth wide is definitely a health hazard. :/ I also haven't (yet) adopted the rural and Aboriginal slang, though I'm quite guilty of being a rude bugger. *looks sheepish*

I guess Americans wouldn't take it well if you demanded, "What the fuck is wrong with you?" when you're annoyed? *is worried*

(If someone balls their fist at you, I'd take a step back though, seriously. *g*)

Oh, and it was leochi who linked me to your amusing post (great, now she thinks I talk that this in RL. *scowls at you* :P), but I was wondering - would you mind if I friended you? *looks hopeful*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 6th, 2007 08:19 am (UTC)
Well, it seemed logical ... everyone I know says agadashi tofu a lot ... ;-)

That's the thing; it IS madness to open your mouth in Australia in summer. In Sydney you can swallow anything from a fly to a bogong. So it's just pure commonsense to talk without moving your lips...

As to the rudeness, I think that any cross-cultural misunderstandings usually end up as comedy, though you are right about the fists.

I will be sure to assure leochi that you almost certainly have an appealing Cate Blanchett-like accent. And we absolutely should friend each other; we even live in the same city!
kayleigh_jane: Approve of Postkayleigh_jane on December 6th, 2007 08:52 am (UTC)
This made me laugh, and reminded me of 'the Lost Continent' by Terry Pratchett. Ever read that? Billabongs, dropbears and a crocodile bartender. And a town called Didjabringabeeralong, which is totally in line with your last scentence.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 6th, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
I did, it made me laugh a lot, particularly because I, too, have been guilty of perpetuating the drop bear myth. But he's so right about the everything will kill you except some of the sheep ...