Thursday, August 4, 2011

This is America - speak American!

Some of y'all might have heard the recent fuss about the kidnapping and execution of British English at the hands of the Yankee invaders. Last month, the BBC's Matthew Engel sounded a lament for his mother tongue, mourning "the sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe."

This was followed by a persnickety list of abhorrent Americanisms. And then US editor/lexicographer Grant Barrett submitted his own perspective, pointing out that a majority of those loathed "Americanisms" didn't actually have origins in America, and that the "carpers, whiners and peevers" who had submitted them were basing their claims about English on nothing more than gut feelings about a language they knew too little about.

Where do I stand? I'm Australian. We have a vague notion that our language mirrors British English more than it does American, but in practice we're more likely to model our speech on NBC than BBC. There is a thing called "Australian English". There are grammatical rules. We follow mostly British spelling and punctuation, for instance. There are also dialectical features of Australian slang speech - we use phrases like "g'day", "fair dinkum", "I reckon", and "sheila". Apparently. Here's a fun list of Australian slang terms at Koala Net, anyway.

But I certainly don't speak like that. I know people who say "bludger", "bogan", "dag" and "mate", but the wider range of Australian slang has lapsed into a sort of embarrassing collection of cliches that one simply can't use with a straight face these days. And as a long-time sufferer of Australian cultural cringe, I have no problem with this. "Strewth"? Really?

I honestly don't mind sounding "less Australian" because I don't use such turns of phrase. I'm not comfortable with them. And that's the key, really - the way people speak generally reflects the way they feel comfortable speaking. Should anyone be forced into talking more pommy-like, simply because they're British? Should I be expected to "talk like an Australian"? I might live here and I might be happy and lucky to live here. But as long as you can understand me, I'm going to talk like me.

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