“Do you speak English?”
A simple question from any tourist.
But even a positive answer is an entrée to a smorgasbord of accents: some clear; some less clear. Linguists however, have reduced this menu to a choice of only two courses: rhotic and non-rhotic.
Rhotic speakers pronounce almost every “r” in any word or phrase. Non-rhotic speakers only pronounce an “r” if it precedes a vowel sound in the same word or phrase. If they say “butter,” rhotic ears might hear “butta,” unless they also say “butter and bread.”
Rhotic speech embraces North America; and Asians, Europeans and Latin Americans for whom English is a second language—possibly courtesy of post-war US influence.
“America and Britain are separated by a common language;” according to Oscar Wilde. Yet a strong rhotic burr clearly identifies a Cornish or Somerset accent; and could anything be more rhotic than the rolling “r” that grrrreets visitorrrrs to Scotland?
Non-rhotic speaking pervades the rest of England; as well as ex-British colonies in Africa, Australia and New Zealand; with another outcrop across New England—most notably in Boston.
And since Australia is a popular tourist destination, this background information may simplify any readers’ plans to come here...
Even after two hundred and thirty years of European settlement on a landmass almost as large as mainland USA; our population is passed by California, New York State, Texas and Florida. Fewer people means fewer accents, although South Australians and Tasmanians shorten “oo” to make “school” rhyme with “full.” They also join with New South Welshmen in pronouncing “castle” as “cah-sel,” even though “cassel” works just fine everywhere else. Queenslanders also finish most sentences with “hey;” yet civil war is unlikely to erupt despite these communication barriers.
Our speech pattern is also so terse that Rodgers and Hammerstein could never have been an Australian success. Curly McLain could never launch Oklahoma, singing: “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” No, he’d stroll onto the stage with his hands in pockets, look around and say: “G’day!”
We also vandalise vowels, flattening them so “ay” sounds like a long “i” (which cood mike things a bit confusing.) Our “eye” sound slurs to “oy”or “oi,” and we ignore non-vital consonants—a ‘consonant’ puzzle to visitors.
Back in the early sixties, English author Monica Dickens was at a book-signing in Sydney. A lady approached her with a copy. “Emma Chisett,” Ms. Dickens heard her say, so smiling warmly, she inscribed the flyleaf, “to Emma Chisset,” and passed it back to her.
A puzzled frown met her smile. “No! Emma Chisset?” she repeated. What she really meant was, “How much is it?”
Hearing of this exchange, Sydney advertising agent Alistair Morrison was inspired to publish a satire on Aussie speech patterns: “Let Stalk Strine” by Afferbeck Lauder - from Sinny University.” (Necessary translation: “Let’s Talk Australian,” by Alphabetical Order, from Sydney University!) One memorable entry was “Aorta: the vessel which carries the life-blood of Strine public opinion—as in “Aorta do sumpin about awlese crooks!” 1
You'll find a translation for this and the following two italicised paragraphs in my footnotes. But I’ll offer two clues: that “yoozel” means “You’ll,” and “yooze” is plural of “you.”
Yoozel hafta read this necks bitta loud so yooze can pick up the 'funettix.' (Intrestin word that one, doancha reckon? Coz if ‘funettix’ wuz spelt how it sounds, phua phorrinas’d beacon phused about how ow words phit tugetha.)2
Oil troy to ixpline how yooken tawk loik an Ustrieyan, jess loik me. Ozzie Inglish is diffrent coz we doan open ow mouths much. Probly cozza vawla floys that keep buzzin aroun’ awl ova the plice, but also coz flappin ya jor aroun tikes more effut. Annif we see too many lettas, we jess get riddavem.3
So now, if you’re planning to visit or want to migrate Downunder, you have a handle on how we speak.
PS. We also have a terse, one-word translation of “Relax over the next couple of days, and I hope to see you fit and well on Monday.”
1 “They ought to do something about all these criminals!”
2 “You’ll have to read this next bit aloud so you can pick up the phonetics. (Interesting word that one, don’t you reckon? Because if ‘phonetics’ were spelled how it sounds, fewer foreigners would be confused about how our words fit together.)
3 I’ll try to explain how you can talk like an Australian, just like me. Aussie English is different because we don’t open our mouths much. Probably because of all the flies that keep buzzing around all over the place, but also because flapping your jaw around takes more effort. And if we see too many letters, we just get rid of them.
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