Friday, 15 May 2009

Mind your Language!

As an ex-pat I've learned to roll with my adopted countries' speech. Every country customises English to its own devices, and as a newcomer you have to learn the new usage just as if it were a completely foreign language.

In Pom-land it took me a while to realise that the receptionist's query "You all right, luv?" didn't in fact mean that I looked ill and should they call an ambulance, it just meant "Good morning" (and I now still struggle to call trousers "pants" after 7 years of pants=knickers).

Here Downunder they have altered the English language in their own way too. I'd say 50% of the rows Milord and I had when I first arrived were purely language-misunderstanding (the other 50% were from sleep deprivation because of his world-class snoring). Phrasing, inflection, tone - these all differ from country to country too, so you have to take that on board as well as a whole new slang.

On my travels my accent and speech has settled into a sort of mid-atlantic Queen's English. I've dropped my Saffa slang and most of the stronger vowel sounds. The Aussies think I sound British, the Poms can hear my Saffa twang, and the Saffas say I sound posh. I pick and choose my slang based on who I am with: I'll talk of "bakkies", "takkies" and "braais" to a Saffa and "utes", "thongs" and "eskies" to an Aussie. When in doubt I'll fall back on proper English - and at the moment I work with a lot of Indian and Asian ex-pats so I don't use much slang at all!

It actually startles me when a long-time ex-pat still sounds like they are fresh off the boat. Is it a conscious decision to "hold onto their identity" or are they seriously unable to tone it down? Am I in the minority in that I am happier with a middle-ground accent? I used to think I was a chameleon and that I picked up the accent of the place I was in, but after 3 years I haven't picked an Aussie accent.

When asked why I haven't picked up the accent I say that I pick up accents that I like. This usually gets a laugh after a beat or two, although it's probably quite true! I realised the other day that my children will have Australian accents. Urk. I've yet to come across a nice Aussie accent - the only good ones out there have been toned-down like my Saffa one (think Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman - that's not accent, that's a lack of accent).

...and the slang. Oy. The thing that sparked today's post was a headline in the newspaper: "Firie's experience criticised"
Firie? FIRIE?? (That's pronounced "firey" by the way, and it means "fireman")

But wait, there's more. Ambo = Ambulance / EMT. Arvo = Afternoon. Smoko = Smoke break. I won't go into any more of these because they annoy me, but "firie" really annoys me! Shouldn't it be "firo" anyway, in keeping with most of the other abbreviations? Suffice to say that I haven't adopted any of these slang items into my speech!

Good article here.

After 3 years it still amuses me when Milord comes out with some stuff. "G'day mate" is actually a common greeting, and "Fair dinkum!" a common comment. "She'll be right", "Good on ya" and many other phrases pepper his speech, especially in conversation with another "true blue" Aussie. I'm trying to discourage him from calling our unborn child a "little bastard" but I'm losing as it is apparently a term of endearment. *sigh*

Strewth mate, what the bloody hell am I going to do? Crikey!


Lisa said...

ahahahahahah! I would also turn a little green at the 'little bastard' endearment! You are so amusing! Whatever your accent is, I can hear you speak by the way you write and I love it. It's almost like you are reading your comments to me. The mark of a great writer, I think. xxxxxxx Give the Blackadder bumplett a gentle pat for me. I would never presume to touch even if I was there, but it is good to feel connected in some 'ethernet' way.

greytonsal said...

No worries! Just make sure you speak to him/her all the time and imprint your accent before anyone elses!