Thursday, April 04, 2013

Potato Potato, Tomato Tomato

It was a curious thing when I heard someone on a podcast, who is Australian and grew up here, pronounce buoy as Americans would, bu ee, and not boy as we would say it.

The  person seemed educated but then I have heard him say in the past, pronounciation, rather than pronunciation.

I suppose if you you learn pronunciation from American tv shows in Australia, you may well say bu ee for buoy.  I am ready to pounce on Little Jo if she ever says zee instead of zed, but it probably won't be necessary as she watches more Australian and English, along with Euro translated tv, than American. Her school teaches Spanish and she ahead of any of her family with the Spanish language. It may only be a few phrases she speaks, but that is better than us. She will be able to watch Dora the Explorer in the original. Anyway, if she does say zee, it will be in context. She knows the difference.

Then there are spell checkers. The one that checks my spelling here is hopelessly Americanised, and why should it not be. It comes from America. At times I give over to the spell checker, even when I am suspicious. You will find examples of me writing words with American spellings, rather than Australian spelling.

While I am not having a shot at America, its culture via tv and movies dominates. Australia has a unique English language, as does New Zealand and Canada and possibly many other countries with an English colonial connection. Even the governments of Singapore and Malaysia are moderating the battle against Singlish, a mix of local language and English.

In England, slowly but surely, a generic English accent is forming with a loss of regional accents. I don't opine whether this is good or bad. I think it is a bit of both. It is nice to be able to understand Geordies, but it was also nice to not understand them and ask for an explanation. And goodness, anything that can make Lancastrians understandable must be good. Of course in London, Eastern European English dominates.

I suppose there are those who think, what does it matter, as long as we can understand each other. You may think I am purist about Australian language, but I am not. I see people at work from other countries with fairly poor English skills communicating with others from another country with poor English skills and they manage perfectly well, with lots of repetition. I don't suppose they are talking about the meaning of life, but they really can communicate, sometimes better than I can with them. I have learnt how to talk to non native English speakers over many years. Don't use really big words, leave out most colloquialisms, speak slowly and clearly and at a reasonable volume. It is not hard.

I recall my Polish English students, a married couple who I voluntarily taught English to. Now Lee Lin Chin is a fine newsreader and speaks impeccable English (wears great clothes and is somewhat the life of the party. Psst, she likes a drink) but my students found her incomprehensible. Blub blub blub, they said.

But then there is the eloquence of Americans. Even those who would not know Egypt from  Ecuador seem to be able to speak coherently and very clearly , if the latter is not a qualification of the former. Or do many end up on the cutting room floor?

Why do I care? I would like us to keep our Australianisms, our own speech peculiarities. I will try to use 'blokes' where I can, but sometimes only guys will do.

24 comments:

  1. The British spell checking option is largely fine and I use it all the time. But there are two malevolent aspects. Firstly you cannot make British English your default option - only American or Australian. Secondly, and worse, the Australian "option" is simply the American list entered under a new heading.

    I won't buy tomato sauce in the supermarket if it is called catsup or dry biscuits if they are called crackers. No problem ....because there are always plenty of choices. But with the spell checker, we are royally stuffed.

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    1. Hels, I recall something about one of the major pc programs where you had to select the language on the keyboard settings, or something like that, so it would then default of the spelling of your choice.

      I am with you on catsup and crackers and french fries.

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  2. About forty years ago a very attractive young Englishman came into my place of work to collect his mail. Of course I rushed to attend to him.

    What is your name I asked and he said what sounded like 'Ales' (as in beers) and he spelt it for me;

    'A I L E S'

    I looked in the slot for names commencing with 'A'.

    No, no he said (spelling), 'its A I L E S'.

    Yes, I'm checking for you, I replied, returning to the slot for names commencing with 'A'.

    No, he repeated, slightly louder, 'its A I L E S'.

    Yes, I'm checking.

    No, he said again, 'let me write it down'.

    He wrote 'E Y L E S'

    Aren't accents fascinating?

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    1. They ayes have it Victor. Accents and language are indeed fascinating.

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  3. There is an Aussie English option in the spell checker (but do you want to muck around with the settings for Microsoft. YUCKS.
    I can't speak for myself, being a user of "Singlish" but I try my best to switch to "proper" English when I can do so.
    The presence of the British Council in all parts of the world just goes to show that the English are not quite done with taking over the world just yet.

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    1. Michael, it is good to know how to speak proper English, so that you can use it when needed, but I rather like Singlish lah.

      We have an English Speaking Union in Melbourne, but I don't know what it does or is about.

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  4. I just talk and hope people understand me. I'm happy to clarify if they can't. I do say things like plant instead of plarnt, and answer instead of arnswer, dance instead of darnce. I do feel sorry for non-English speaking people in shops where the assistant doesn't even try to help them out, but just repeats their own question over and over, often louder and louder. At times like this if I know or have a reasonable idea of what the customer wants, I'll intervene; usually the customer is grateful and I sometimes remind the assistant that maybe a bit of sign language would help. At the checkout for instance, if a customer didn't speak English I would often make writing motions with my hand when asking did they want to sign for their purchase, then make keypad touching motions when asking if they'd prefer to enter a PIN. it's a great help and ensures the customer feels comfortable shopping in your store.
    I never, ever use my spell checker, I know how to spell 99% of the time and I have an old dictionary handy in case I should ever need it. I do enjoy hearing old Australianisms like cobber, mate, fair dinkum and crikey etc.

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    1. River, I thought your accent would be like Colonel Schultz.

      I deal with the same problem with customer accents and I am not in a position to gesticulate, only ask them to repeat themselves until I get it.

      I used to be able to spell well, but the skill is deteriorating for me. I can spell well enough to know when the spell checker is wrong.

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  5. Our Filippina [spell check just told me this was wrong, which was wrong] house guest returned from TAFE last night shocked that an Anglo-Australian teacher was writing things like "urjent" on a white board. Well, OK, some Australian-educated people can't spell very well. Whiteboards do not yet come with a spell check program, so we are in trouble.

    We spend a lot of time at home teaching our guest the various meanings of words like "chuck", which is fun, and probably useful for someone who is already a Registered Nurse waiting to do a bridging course for Australian Registration.

    Perhaps the most grating and common mispronunciation I hear from Australian-English speakers is not due to any American influence but to sheer laziness - "ow" instead of "our". Listening to discussions on the ABC can be as painful as listening to a room full of sick cats.

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    1. FC, I think it one p, but at least you got the gender thing right. Chuck is a useful word for a nurse to know.

      An ever so proper neighbour was once a nurse, and after running through the polite ways of asking a patient, she eventually resorted to asking, 'Mr Smith, have you had a shit today'.

      There is no hope for Australia when so many of politicians say Austraya.

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    2. Oops, you are right, one p.

      Hmmm, TO tells me tales in which she uses quite blunt language... but maybe it's because patients won't remember much of what happens in a recovery room? Must ask.

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    3. With some pride, I did not even double check that. I am not sure how I know the spelling of the word, but I do.

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  6. I give up on spell check Andrew..does marvellous buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz wrong have one or two l's, marvelous, tick ..but not according to my Thesaurus..I just don't give a s...!! haha!

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    1. Well Grace, you may not care, but your spelling is good. I think it one l in America, like toweling and traveling. Hmm, spell checker is not happy with those two words. I must have a British spell checker then.

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  7. As a regular UK telly watcher now, I can assure you that regional accents are still very frequent and very strong. LC and Sapphire often turn to me and ask, "What on earth did he/she just say then?"

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    1. Kath, ask an English person and they will confirm that accents are not as broad as they used to be and people deliberately modify their accents too now, depending who they are talking with. Some used to be impossible to understand.

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  8. Colonel Schultz?
    Really?
    I grew up in Australia, speaking only English.
    My parents spoke English as much as they could too, only using German when they were with other German adults or when they were discussing Christmas gifts for us kids.

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    1. Christmas gifts, haha. I suppose the emphasis back then was on being Australian and fitting in, hence no need for you to learn German, but of course nowadays as a youngun, you would be learning German.

      I think it must be awful when kids only speak English and their grandparents can't speak English. It happens rather a lot, or used to.

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  9. Your last comment reminds me of a woman I used to work with. She was Polish Australian and her mother only spoke Polish. My workmate's husband was Hong Kong Chinese whose mother only spoke Cantonese. Neither of my workmate's children spoke anything other than English so the parent's had to translate all conversations between the children and their grandmothers.

    I feel quite strongly about maintaining English dialects and try to include as much Australian English in my classes as possible. That said, I do feel sorry for my students who have to cope with teachers who speak 5 versions of English. It must be confusing for them at times...

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    1. Gee Wombat, that is an extreme case and quite sad.

      Yes, five lots of colloquialisms and slang too learn, although we tend to know American and British slang.

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  10. This is a favourite topic ...I will not write "color" instead of "colour". I will fight to the end to not make all my "isations" "izations" eg hospitalisation which I have now typed and the spell checker wants me to change it to hospitalization - it has even underlined my word favourite. We Australians move around a fair bit generally but one can always tell Melbournians in that they say Newcastle (rhymes with ass) and the rest of us say Newcastle (rhymes with arse). There is nothing wrong with saying Austraya if it comes out naturally but if you want a good job remember to put the l back in..Grab the DVD of Housos Vs Authority for some "variations" on Austrayan English -

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    1. I am with you those MC, and I guess you may have typed hospitalisation once or twice.

      I say Newcastle as you do but you are pretty right. The dvd sounds fun.

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  11. Interesting!
    After taking the pronunciation class, I reckon that what I imitated to pronounce was totally wrong. I got to buy the Cambridge dictionary app to check the phonetics of every word.

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    1. Many Australian born people don't know how to pronounce our local words, so what help for non English speakers? I am sure Cambridge will be ok, but Oxford is the defining dictionary.

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