Thursday 21 November 2019

G'day mate: 'Lazy' Australian accent caused by 'alcoholic slur' of heavy-drinking early settlers'

Australian "drawl" created from interactions between early settlers that were frequently "spiked with alcohol", claims communication expert

Hugh Jackman, left, and Nicole Kidman take part in the production of Baz Luhrmann's film
Hugh Jackman, left, and Nicole Kidman take part in the production of Baz Luhrmann's film "Australia"
Paul Hogan, the star of Crocodile Dundee

The distinctive Australian accent is the result of a “drunken slur” caused by the heavy drinking of the early settlers, according to a communication expert from the country.

 In an impassioned call for Australian schools to teach verbal expression and delivery, Dean Frenkel, a public speaking and communication lecturer at Melbourne’s Victoria University, said “drunken Aussie-speak” was formed generations ago but has continued to be passed on to children by sober parents.

Paul Hogan, the star of Crocodile Dundee
Paul Hogan, the star of Crocodile Dundee

“The Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol,” he wrote in The Age.

“Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns… Aussie-speak developed in the early days of colonial settlement from a cocktail of English, Irish, Aboriginal and German – before another mystery influence was slipped into the mix.”

Mr Frenkel said poor communication was “not related to class” but was evident among all sectors of Australian society.

“The average Australian speaks to just two thirds capacity – with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch; and that's just concerning articulation,” he wrote.

“Missing consonants can include missing ‘t’s (impordant), ‘l’s (Austraya) and ‘s’s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially ‘a’s to ‘e’s (stending) and ‘i’s (New South Wyles), and ‘i’s to ‘oi’s (noight).”

Most experts believe the Australian accent – known for its flat tone, nasality and elision of syllables - developed from the mix of dialects found in the early colony, whose residents included convicts and settlers from across Britain and Ireland. Various myths have arisen to try to explain certain features of the Australian drawl, including the claim that Australians mumble to avoid swallowing flies.

But the latest theory, suggesting that the colony’s heavy drinking played a role, appears to have largely been welcomed in Australia.

“Dean Frenkel is right about the need for better speaking skills,” said Anne Riddell in a letter to The Age.

“And it's not just about pronunciation; vocal quality or timbre matters, as does intonation – the way the pitch of the voice rises and falls.”

The Australian accent has long proven divisive, with Winston Churchill calling it “the most brutal maltreatment which has ever been inflicted upon the mother tongue of the great English speaking nations”. In contrast, Mark Twain apparently expressed a fondness for the constant tendency to abbreviate words and drop syllables, saying the accent was soft and had “a delicate whispery and vanishing cadence which charms the ear”

Most experts believe the accent was formed early in the history of the colony and that a foundational dialect may have developed by the 1820s or 1830s, just a generation after the arrival of the original British settlers.

“The children in the new colony would have been exposed to a wide range of different dialects from all over England but mainly the south east, particularly from London,” according to a recent account by linguists at Macquarie University.

 “They would have created the new dialect from elements present in the speech they heard around them in response to their need to express peer solidarity. Even when new settlers arrived, this new dialect of the children would have been strong enough to deflect the influence of new children.”

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