The blogosphere doesn’t seem to have picked up on a recent presser from a couple of Macquarie Uni speech scientists. Their study has apparently revealed that the Australian accent is moving away from “the stereotypical broad Australian English – a la Paul Hogan” to a more generalised form.

“Part of the reason is that the stereotypical accent has been stigmatised because it sounds really ocker,” researcher Felicity Cox said. “People want to be more generally known as Australian but not carry those connotations of ockerism.” She said, “people are determined not to sound like Paul Hogan, the Crocodile Hunter or Kath and Kim. ”

Well, they may be determined but a hell of a lot of them still do – and why not?

Kath’s and Kim’s accents actually sound pretty mainstream to me. It’s not the accent so much as the malapropisms that set them apart. Even the famous “look at moiye” line – though stressed for effect – is middle Australia incarnate. Here’s what they think about Steve Irwin: “When we think of the broad stereotypical type we think of people like Steve Irwin. That accent is a kind of a caricature of an Australian. It’s not real. It’s also associated with something stereotypically Australian – from the past perhaps.”

Strike a light! Waddarya? It’s not Steve’s accent that’s distinctive, it’s more the Wallaby on speed approach he has in presenting it.

The good doctors compared the voices of several elderly Australian blokes recorded in the 1960’s with the teenagers of today. They were surprised to find that the old guys – all in their 80″s at the time, largely rural dwelling and from less than impressive socio-economic circumstances – didn’t sound all that much like – well – Steve Irwin, I guess. They weren’t all that broad. It got them thinking about when “broad” began to happen. Maybe in the First World War?

Maybe it just evolved. Probably it still is.

There’s nothing in the news release about regional versus metropolitan accents – they claimed that no-one in Sydney speaks broad anymore, but they haven’t met my neighbour Joyce. I did catch one of the researchers on the ABC suggesting that people in Sydney say “Beeh” for Beer while people in Perth say “Be-ah.” Interesting, but it’s hardly the rich cultural distictiveness of your Southern drawl is it?

They also observed that only Juanita Phillips still speaks with “correct” pronunciation – OK, they didn’t mention Juanita but they did say that relatively few of us do. They wondered whether it was the Republic that had led to the demise of the Queen’s english. I wondered where they’d been not to know that having the piss taken unmercifully out of one for sounding like David Flint was probably a far more potent antidote.

The teenagers all spoke a kind of generalised Oz which, we’re assured, is in no way becoming American – or Kiwi. Indeed the Australian and NZ accents are apparently diverging – at lightning speed whenever Helen Clark appears on Australian electronic media.

They also claim that there’s no discernible accent difference between private and public school kids which might alarm North Shore parents forking out the first tranche of 2005 school fees. What’s the point in paying for SCEGGS if she’s going to sound like someone aspiring to lead the ALP?

There was also no mention of migrant influences on Oz english. They should have heard this exchange outside the Illawarra Rd Woolworths in Marrickville last night. A carload of Leb boys roars up, one leaps out and heads inside. His mate yells after him – “Hey Ibrahim maaate! Get some fockin chikos maaate!”
It was almost Lawsonian.

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26 Responses to Strine/Strain/Strin

  1. Mark Bahnisch says:

    On the demise of the Queen’s English, when I was a kid, some ABC newsreaders still did the whole “educated Australian accent” thing – I wonder to what degree that was a conscious imitation of Oxbridge and to what degree it was a legitimately Australian accent which has now disappeared (even Downer isn’t so bad!).

  2. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Incidentally, I knew a couple of people at uni from a very similar background (GPS schools, professional fathers) with diametrically opposed accents. One (the wettest of wet liberals and the highest of high and dry Anglicans) had a near perfect facsimile of RP (Oxbridge speak) only given away by a few pesky Oz vowel sounds occasionally, and the other – who was an aspiring young Nat had the broadest of Queensland country accents (a very distinct accent btw – have a listen to Bob Katter or visit a pub in Dalby – even the urbane National Party premier of Qld, Rob Borbidge, originally Victorian and then a Gold Coast hotel owner said “Queenceland” rather than “Queenzland” as Brisbanites say…). When I first visited the Nat lad’s house for a family bbq I was shocked to discover he’d been brought up in the leafy streets of Ashgrove. Both gentleman had adopted their accents, I suggest, as pure affectation, which tended to cohere nicely with other aspects of their rather eccentric personalities.

    The degree of regional variation is interesting – the old story used to be that Oz accents were either class based or rural/urban. But note now that everyone from SA says “darnce” and “charnce” no matter how broad their accent and as Fryzie made famous in BB last year, “gels” for “girls”. SA people also seem to pronounce “school” differently. I’ve been amazed whenever I’ve visited Adelaide to be spotted as a Queenslander by my accent (like everyone else, I didn’t think I had one!).

  3. Mark Bahnisch says:

    On affectation, I should also mention the practice of vocalising ‘r’s that some young people (invariably women) of my acquaintance appear to adopt as some sort of attempt to seem cool (or hot) by having a sort of transatlantic accent. It sounds very odd – given that the rest of their accent is pure Oz.

    Inevitably there’s always an excuse (I mean, explanation) – two I’ve heard being “I lived in America for a month” and “I went to an English speaking school in Thailand and the teachers were American”. Under no circumstances should anyone be tempted to buy these people a cocktail!

    Another funny thing about accents is that an original accent tends to be more pronounced when people are drunk or angry. A friend of mine at Uni, who’d migrated to Oz when she was 12 from England sounded much more English when she’d had a few wines…

  4. Geoff Honnor says:

    The chahnce/dahnce/frahnce thing is interesting. I note much more use of this now in general Ozspeak. And often variation between chance and chahnce by the same speaker on different occasions. Maybe chance is on the way to the broad beyond?

    There’s a discernible squattocracy/GPS accent which is much more predominant here now than English RP. Downer has tinges of RP but he went to Radley College, Oxford :) Malcolm Fraser moreso but his was probably the last generation when it wouldn’t have been a total political liability. John Anderson has a classic evolved NSW squattocracy accent – Oz mid-drawl with slightly more rounded vowels. So does Mungo McCallum come to think of it.

  5. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Fraser also went to Oxford didn’t he? Big contrast with Hawkey – who went to Cambridge I think?

  6. Geoff Honnor says:

    Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar – so it was Oxford – where of course he was the yard drinking champion. But a Sebastian Flyte accent would not have been an asset in the ACTU :)

  7. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Indeed no – maybe the answer to the Macquarie conundrum is that strine was invented in the John Curtin hotel :)

  8. Buzz says:

    I went to school with a girl who is an ABC newsreader in Brisbane (or was). She has a totally affected newsreader voice that seems to be common on ABC radio as well, but you never hear that sort of thing in the community. She is 35. I’m at a loss why they continue to do that sort of thing. She sounded perfectly normal (and pleasant) to me without it.

  9. Splat Guy says:

    I think pretty much anyone will alter how they speak if they become aware that accents/language affect how you’re interpreted by others.

    Sometimes it’s an upward movement, like Mary Donaldson (the Danish princess from Tasmania). But other times it’s down, like Bob Hawke who I’m sure fakes his accent to appear Down With The Workers.

    I’m 100% convinced that John Williamson (as in, “Hey, Trewwww Blewwwww, eez eht meee haw you”) has faked his accent. Ditto for the lead singer of the Waifs. And let’s not even start on Rolf Harris!

  10. Darlene says:

    Suspect there is a split between those who reject speaking “Kath and Kim” style or who talk like that to be snide and those who still speak like that because that’s the way they always have.

    I know someone who does a beautiful “Kath and Kim” except it’s just the way she talks.

    Perhaps the “Kath and Kim” divide accurately sums up the split in our nation. If that’s the case, I’m saying “look at moi” at every possible moment.

  11. The amazing range of australian accents can be sampled by a bit if rambling around the dial on community radio. In the abscence of a house sanctioned accent you get a wide range. Even though we all have phone voices, meeting voices, public speaking voices, kitchen voices, bed voices, BBQ voices and concert voices (whhoo hoooo)its hard to hide the underlying basics.

    The australian singing voice is so infrequenlty heard that The Waifs, Redgum (sigh) and John Williamson sound affected. I think if you get used to a non USA singing voice they sound a bit more natural. I was enamoured of Gary Shearston’s stuff years ago precisely because he was about the only one at the time trying to do it well without gimmickry. I still think he’s underated.

  12. James Farrell says:

    The biggest change in Australian accents is surely the emergence of distinctive ethnic accents. Many children from Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and Arab communities have accents and speech patterns quite different from Anglo-Irish Aussies, even if they were born here. I assume this is the consequence of higher concentrations of migrants in the cities, which allows the non-English sounds to achieve a critical mass. The kind of speach I’m talking about can still be broad or more cultivated, but it’s still distinctively ethnic. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t apply to Ibrahim and his mate.

  13. yobbo says:

    As far as singers go, a couple of current acts “Grinspoon” and “The Cat Empire” sound very Australian in their accents. (Although “Cat Empire” use one of the distinctive ethnic accents that James talks about. It’s pretty clear from any song that they’re Australians of some kind of wog descent.)

  14. Geoff Honnor says:

    “The kind of speach I’m talking about can still be broad or more cultivated, but it’s still distinctively ethnic. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t apply to Ibrahim and his mate.”

    Very much so. In my part of Sydney, first generation yoof Oz English is distinctive and it’s effects profound. It uses the idioms of teenspeak but the rhythms are often very different. We all know, for instance, about the often distinctive speech patterns of Oz-born Greeks and this extrapolates out across the full spread of migrant cultures

  15. Stone the struthin’ cows! Looks like I’m buggered!

  16. Robert says:

    “The australian singing voice is so infrequenlty heard that The Waifs, Redgum (sigh) and John Williamson sound affected.”

    I don’t think so.

    Yobbo’s already mentioned Grinspoon and the Cat Empire, and you can chuck in a whole pile of others. Off the top of my head… Frenzal Rhomb, the Hilltop Hoods, Darren Hanlon, You Am I, Blueline Medic, the Living End, Magic Dirt, the Whitlams, Motor Ace, and of course Paul Kelly.

  17. Robert says:

    Even Australia’s newest Ramones-“inspired” band, the Spazzys, sing with an Oz accent.

  18. Factory says:

    “like Bob Hawke who I’m sure fakes his accent to appear Down With The Workers.”
    Some show on TV years ago said that there were 3 distinct Australian accents. High, middle and low accents. The High accent is your typical Austrlian snob accent, whilst everyone else will use the two other accents unconciously at different times during speech.
    The show also said that Hawke was quite a good speaker in that, unlike most politicians, he would actually conciously use different accents at different times.

  19. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I remember running into a guy 10 years after I knew him at uni. He came from Wagga, and affected a kind of Australian Briton accent, you know the kind of thing. He also carried a riding crop occasionally. When I met him ten years later it was no longer Australian British but pretty much English. He said he’d been in ‘the markets’ for that time. I asked him if it was in London. “No. New York” he said.

  20. Niall says:

    Does it really matter if we speak through our noses, or from our diaphrams? Who cares if we reiterate 1930’s strine, or adopt 1980’s Americanisms in our speech. We are who we are, and damn the academics.

  21. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Rob, darn it I missed the Spazzys at the Arena a few weeks ago (supporting Machine Gun Fellatio) – are they good live?

  22. David Tiley says:

    There are people around who claim to be able to tell regional urban accents from round Australia. Certainly I can notice the Adelaide accent of my sister who still lives there.

    There is a really noticeable contrast between the use of class and regional accents in British media now, and our clinging to an inoffensive standard received Australian on the ABC. The distinctive regional accents heard in Melbourne seem to be American (go Lucky!) though this may just reflect my choices of listening material.

    I am often involved in the choice of voice for documentaries, where the question of “what conveys authority” and “what is unobtrusive” and “what is warm” are live issues. The answer is always bland, and middle class, and curiously like the accent of the chooser, unless we want to go for “quintessential Australia” when we hire John Flaus who is held to represent an older and more rural voice.

    I sometimes notice the accents in my friends’ children changing fairly sharply when they go to a big private school, mostly Wesley in Melbourne. They get drawly and affected and kind of sneery and bored.

    At the same time, I notice the use of the open vowel at the end of a statement a lot. A kind of lift which I associate with fake Mediterranean “They’re a Weird Mob” voices, but may be a version of the Canadian “eh” at the end of sentences. My guess is this comes from people whose parents use English as a second language, but it has spread far beyond that base and may even have warped the Australian “toff” away from the English equivalent which has been taking in self conscious working class voices for a generation.

    Buried underneath our public assumptions about accent, I suspect that there are distinctive marker subcultures defined by class, ethnicity and location. Someone should really burrow into Melbourne and do the formal work, and I think the answers might be surprising.

    I think a lot of accents in popular music are about rhythm and cutthrough. Jagger, with a proud English accent in conversation, still does an American accent in his songs. I think it is really a way of using the vocalisation to get at the feeling.

    Same with Australian bands. That heavy Oz voice, derived I suspect from bush bands, is really good at pushing the sense of words through the instruments. But I’m guessing at all this – you people are the music junkies.

    I am a bit surprised the original discussion did not cite the huge amount of material held by the National Film and Sound Archive. They go back a long way to the earliest wax recordings.

    Even the ABC’s archives throw up a whole series of Arts programmes from the Fifties. Dame Mary Gilmore talking about the way King’s Cross used to be cow paddocks; Norman Lindsay carrying on like an English gentleman. There is no doubt that the post war ABC was desperate to sound like it had been cloned from a brick in the BBC. Dead fockin’ poncey.

  23. Simon says:

    My mother couldn’t speak any English before her first day at primary school. I was brought up listening and speaking English/northern Italian dialect in a rural Queensland area where a large proportion of the population were post-war Italian migrants and their children. Even though I put on an Ozzie Ocker accent very well I just can’t do a Woggy one. In fact I had never heard the Oz-Wog accent until I was 19 and I visited some family friends in Sydney.

  24. James Farrell says:

    That’s really interesting, Simon. I never noticed it until I moved to Sydney from Brisbane in 1984, but subsequently found it was well established in Adelaide. Maybe the wog accent can’t be explained in any deterministic way. Perhaps it’s more chaotic, like an epidemic. The key thing seems to be that kids get it from other kids rather than their parents.

  25. Mark Bahnisch says:

    I think Simon and James are right – lots of Italians settled in Brissie (and even earlier in North Qld) and I’ve never heard the “wog” accent here.

  26. David Tiley says:

    “Kids get it from other kids” – My understanding is that languages are invented by children rather than adults. (Think about it – that’s when language acquisition is fastest and most intense, and communities of deaf children will invent ways to sign). So that idea really fits.

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