Monday, August 8, 2011

Learning to Speak Aussie

Even within the English language, things get complicated. Does anyone still speak English the same as it was in its inception? Would Chaucer be rolling in his grave hearing the way that English has been twisted around and bastardized over the hundreds of years we've been using it? Words such as OMG and LOL permeate our texts, emails, and instant messages. They've even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which, in retrospect, doesn't seem like an honorable feat at all.

I know I'm guilty of using some English colloquialisms that I've picked up from living in the South. I have no excuse if I slip a “y'all” into a conversation with friends. Regarding the more professional aspects of my life (i.e. teaching), I try my hardest to use correct English. After all, how else will my students understand what they're learning?

The truth is, the English language will never be the same as our forefathers intended it upon its creation. When people started learning it and taking it to the four corners of the world, it meshed with the languages of other countries and became what we know it as today. We add our own regional flair to it, we add our own vocabulary to suit our needs, and sometimes, we just change the pronunciation of it all.

Remember how I mentioned a responsibility of anyone who travels or lives in a foreign country was to learn at least a little bit of that country's language? The same applies even to English—the language I was speaking as soon as I learned to talk. A language that is as natural to me as breathing even has its hang-ups, as I would learn from living in England, and eventually upon visiting Sydney.

Australian and British English have words and tone that is all their own. It is said that the old British English of the colonists who settled America long ago is not the English spoken today in England. But interestingly enough, the English spoken in the Southern United States is linguistically closest to that of our British ancestors. Perhaps that explains why it is easiest for British and Southern-raised actors to imitate the accents of each others' regions. I'm not saying that it would be a perfect imitation, but it would be easier to attempt.

I must admit that while listening to Brits and Aussies talk is enjoyable, sometimes it's hard to translate what they're saying, given the accent and unique phrases they use. And I don't doubt that us Americans give our colonial ancestors a hard time with our “America speak.” (Who in the US hasn't been a little confused by a quick-speaking New Yorker or frustrated with the slower-speaking Mississippian?) Even Canadians and Americans have their linguistic differences, sometimes enough so to warrant teasing or jokes.

What have I learned since I arrived in Sydney? Well, at least a few phrases to try and make my stay here a little more comfortable at least.

The morning after my arrival I headed downstairs for breakfast (or brekkie) at the hostel's cafe. After perusing the menu, I ordered my meal but was clueless how to order a plain coffee with milk. I tried to explain to the girl behind the counter that all I wanted was a “plain coffee with milk,” but she had no idea what that was. She finally made me a coffee with milk, which I came to learn was called a “flat white.” Armed with this knowledge, I no longer had to worry when it came to ordering a morning jolt of caffeine. At coffee shops, I was in the know.

If I ordered a sandwich out at a cafe, I had to be careful to ask for crisps with it, rather than potato chips. Bangers and mash were sausages and potatoes, chips were French Fries. On my trip to the botanical gardens, I came across a sign warning people to keep an eye out for the flying foxes. I was intrigued until I looked up into the trees above. Flying foxes, as mysterious as it sounded, were bats! At the grocery store, I found prawns (shrimp), aubergines (eggplant), rocket (arugula lettuce), and muesli (granola). Reading cookbooks here have proved interesting, learning the alternative names for ingredients.

One of the apps I downloaded onto my iPhone prior to traveling has a built-in Australian sayings dictionary, but it isn't all-inclusive. Many of the words I listed above aren't even in it. Although I did find a text at the library recently concerning Australian English in its entirety. That shall be a reading project for another day, I think.

Learning Aussie has been a fun journey to say the least, and I'm certain it isn't over by far. I've still got a little over a week left in my trip to learn more. It's interesting how in a country that speaks your native language, sometimes you don't feel like a native speaker at all.

1 comment:

  1. Heather, this is Roseanna. My boyfriend's ex is from Sydney and he's told me a lot about Aussie slang and it's really interesting and intriguing. This is why I love languages :D. Thongs are flip flops. Trolleys are shopping carts. Cossies/Swim Costumes are bathing suits. Pressies are presents. Etc, etc. I love it :D


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