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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
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?
Meredythmeredyth_13 on December 5th, 2007 09:27 am (UTC)
These days I'm a true blue Melbournian. We relocated here just under a year ago, and I have fallen in love with the place. Grew up in Sydney, but have lived most of my adult life in SE Qld and most recently outside of Canberra in rural NSW.

If you don't do humid, then yeah, avoid Qld. It's getting worse every year. My mum and that side of the family are still up there so every so often I have to sacrifice myself for a visit - it kills me.

Sydney can do the humid too as you've noticed, although fortunately not for too long. Melbourne's even better, although we had a few nasty days last summer. Canberra was good for that - damned dry. But then... too damned dry. 6 years of droughts and fires and locusts just about broke my heart, even if we were close to the snow.

If you get down this way, that beer is definitely on me. :D
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 5th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
Melbourne is gorgeous! And yes, Canberra has been a disaster of late, it's probably for the best that you go where the rains still fall. I will definitely take you up on the beer offer the next time I am down (or at least hot chocolate), and I am buying the next time you're in Sydney.
(Anonymous) on December 5th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
two beers
Okay... make that two beers, I'm in Melbourne, and I'm from NZ... so I TOTALLY understand the frustration at some of the retarded things that come out of Australians' mouths.. :P

I don't know you, but as Lucie/Quill Lumos introduced me to this page, I probably should.. sooo.. ever in Melbourne? Second beer is on me.. :P

blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 6th, 2007 08:22 am (UTC)
Re: two beers
Hi drewcifer! I'll absolutely take you up on that next time I am south of the border. And the invitation is reciprocated next time you're north.

I'm just your standard HP fic-writing, F! racing-obsessed, bemused nutter from this corner of LJ, but I'm friendly.

What part of NZ are you from? I am a huge fan and go there often (though not this month, dammit!)