Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Sydney accent? Strewth!

Vanishing American had a post recently about a speech accent archive. The idea of the archive is to preserve the different accents of the English language.

A lot of the accents are pretty similar. There's one from Arkansas which sounds very regional. And, oh, the one from Sydney does too. Very, very regional. It's the broadest Australian accent I've ever heard.

You can listen to it here.


  1. Can you guys down south learn how to say 'girls'. The Australian accent's weak R sound makes words like girls a weird abomination in Victoria. "Gur-wezz" or "gur-wells" or something.

  2. It's interesting that the inhabitants of our big population centers in the northeast, Boston and New York, have accents most separated from people around the rest of the country.

  3. Anon,

    I haven't noticed much of a difference between accents in Australia.

    There's a big difference between the Australian and NZ accents, but that didn't come out in the archive. The one New Zealander has the standard international English accent rather than the very distinct NZ one.

  4. I've always been fascinated with the now nearly extinct Australian rhyming slang.

    From Convict Creations:

    Nearly two generations after the First Fleet, 87 per cent of the population were either convicts, ex-convicts or of convict descent. With such strong convict foundations, it was inevitable that Australia's linguistic traditions would be different from the mother country:

    "No other class of society would use slang more readily or adapt it more expertly to their new environment; no other class would have a better flair for concocting new terms to fit in with their new conditions in life " Sidney Baker (The Australian Language, 1945)

    In 1869, Marcus Clarke described how locals devised language to ' convey a more full and humorous notion of all his thoughts' or to conceal'the idea he wishes to convey from all save his own particular friends'.

    The most notable method of concealment was cockney rhyming slang. Rhyming slang created an idiom type sentence out of two or more words, the last of which rhymes with the intended word. For example, "plates of meat" were "feet" and "hit the frog and toad" was "hit the road." Although few Australians use rhyming slang today, its legacy may be the prevalence of idioms in Strine.

    The abbreviation of words might be another legacy of rhyming slang. As rhyming slang involved the addition of new words, sentences became long-winded. In order to compensate, long words might have been shortened. Thus "have a Captains Cook" which is rhyming slang for "have a look", was abbreviated down to "ava Captains." Pomegranate, which is rhyming slang for "immigrant", was abbreviated to "Pom."

    The skills that were acquired when abbreviating rhyming slang clauses may then have been applied to also economise ordinary clauses. So words such as "good day" were economised to "g'day", "afternoon" to "arvo", "politician" to "pollie" , "journalist" to "journo" and "barbecue" to "barbie."

    Aside from rhyming slang, another method the convicts used to conceal their true meaning was to turn the meaning of a word upside down. For example, "bastard" or "ratbag" were used a terms of endearment as well as insults. The only way to know up from down was to infer from the tone of the sentence.

    As is to be expected, the combination of novel words, rhyming slang and tonal communication had the authorities at a loss. This often allowed the convicts to make them the butt of ridicule. A good example of this can be found in the memoirs of Captain James Rowntree:

    "On Monday of this week a Welsh convict named Jones called me "a Fair Dinkum Arsehole". Such insolence and was about to pistol whip him when Jones quickly started rambling. The funny thing was that it turns out that "Fair Dinkum" actually reverses the insult which follows. By calling me "a Fair Dinkum arsehole" he was saying that I am, in some way, the farthest thing possible away from an arsehole. Feeling quite chuffed with myself I refrained from beating the man. I have decided to play along with their folly. In the last few days I have been called a "Fair dinkum Prick", Dick, Asseshead, Cows Tit and some really vulgar words that I would not put to paper. It has taken time but I have finally gained respect from these horrid convicts " 12th Febuary, 1839 *

    * sometimes reality should not stand in the way of a good story

    *Australian English is not cockney, and working class Australians do not subsitute an 'f' for a 'th' like working class English people.


  5. There's a big difference between the Australian and NZ accents

    So I've heard, but my American ears can barely detect it. The Flight of the Condors guys are Kiwi, but they sure sound Austraaaalian to me. If I had to guess, the Kiwis' vowels are all a bit more rounded and closed. I suppose American and Canadian sound pretty similar to you all. In the US, Candadians stick out like a sore thumb, except in Minnesoota.

  6. Steve,

    The NZ accent has undergone a vowel shift.

    To Australian ears, when a New Zealander says "pen" it sounds like "pin". The word "fish" sounds like "fesh".

    You're right that the Canadian accent doesn't sound that distinct to me. Sometimes they seem to say the "oa" sound more forward in the mouth than we would.