Sunday, April 1, 2007

Something light-hearted!

In my next upcoming extract from the papers, it'll be something Aussie. Don't get me wrong: I have no axe to grind at all. My truly best childhood friend in the 1960s was an Aussie. We began our friendship rather dramatically with him giving me a big slap due to a miscommunication in languages... but later we became great friends.

Today, he's happily married, lives and works in beautiful (So I heard) Tasmania for a paper. Hi, Ipi, my great buddy! Good die, mate!

By the way, I've never been Down Under... I would love to go there and do have standing invitations by wonderful ex-Aussie principals of my old school to be with them. Anyway, I've got quite a lot of Aussie friends and certainly, some of them really speak like the late Nature-loving great Steve Irwin!

As this article is rather lengthy, I will have to write it out myself parts so I will not be producing everything at one time in one day.

It's dated July 14, 1983 by Paul A. Gigot of The Asian Wall Street Journal.

MELBOURNE - G'day, mates. It's Saturdie arvo at the footy match. the 'Roys are getting murderated. The ump, he's a bloody no hoper. A sheila in the crowd doesn't like it much. She's whinging about that ump. Listen:


How's that again?

"Blind Freddie could have seen that, you drongo."

Excuse me?

"I said he's a blind idiot."

It is widely believed that Australians speak English. This turns out to be an exaggeration. Some Australians sometimes speak English. Properly motivated, they can speak it with the queen's precision. But catch them at ease at home or corner them in a pub, and many Aussies sound like that genial sheila (woman) complaining about the umpire at a Saturday afternoon football match. They can be close to incomprehensible, a people roaming the linguistic outback, divided from the rest of the English-speaking world by their language.

National Code

"It's fair to say," says G.A. Wilkes, a professor of English Literature at Sydney Uni (Sydney University)," that two Australians could have a conversation that no other English speaker could understand."

A visiting bloke might guess that Aussies are embarrassed by their lingo. Wrong, nit. They're proud of it. One of them has given a name to its extreme variety: Strine, because that's how Australian sounds when an Aussie pronounces it . The Macquarie Dictionary of English, which was published here in 1981 and claims to be "aggressively Australian", has so far sold 110,000 copies, at the equivalent of $31.50 a crack.

Arthur Delbridge, the Macquarie's editor, attributes this response to a resurgent Aussie nationalism, a reaction to the feeling that Aussies "walk alone hanging from the bottom of the world". Naturally, Aussies have a name for this inferiority complex: "the cultural cringe". But now, says Mr. Delbridge, "we feel it's time to stand on our own two feet."

This sentiment may be out of control. The foreign minister William Hayden, recently said that Australia will spend about $1.1 million a year to teach Aussie English to 240 Indonesians in Jakarta. Strine has become an export. Worse, the Indonesians are grateful. "It's very useful," says Poernomo, a spokesman from the Indonesian Embassy in Melbourne. "Indonesian students learn English at home, but they come here, and can't understand a thing. Don't you have that problem?"

The largest obstacle to Australian fluency may be the accent. It isn't easy to describe. It isn't quite British. A few words hint of Boston. Perhaps Buzz Kennedy, a columnist for the daily Australian, puts it best. "It is reminiscent," he wrote in 1978, "of a dehydrated crow uttering its last statement on life from the bough of a dead tree in the middle of a claypan at the peak of a seven-year drought."

Linguists say Aussies try to pronounce sounds, especially vowels, closer to the front of their mouths than Yanks do. Also an Aussie sentence tends to end on a high note. Add to this near-universal failure to enunciate-the words slide together-and you have a rhetorical middle.

Faced with this accent in one Aussie firm, a New York critic once demanded English sub-titles. And the citizens of Colac, a town in southeastern Australia, built a kindergarten and named it Wydinia. Why Wydinia? Because says Jenny Bibby of the school's staff, "everyone kept complaining, "Whydinya do this? And whydinya do that?"

Aussies also have a compulsion to shorten words. Australia is Aus or Oz. The mailman is a postie. A refugee is a refo, and the man who picks up the trash a garbo. Natch, the neighborhood drunk is dero. Some Aussies cite laziness to explain this shortening habit. But most attribute it to the national characteristic of egalitarian friendliness, which dimunitives tend to convay. Everyone's a bit of a dero, righto mate?

Aussie Talent

This cultural trait may also explain the Aussie talent for making expletives seem like compliments. The best example is bastard, which here rarely carries the insulting meaning that it does in the U.S. Aussies often use it affectionately, as in "Cute little bastard, isn't he?" Even Prime Ministers say it publicly: In 1974, Gough Whitlam told supporters: "I do not mind the liberals... calling me a bastard. In some circumstances, I am only doing my job if they do. But I hope you will not publicly call me a bastard, as some bastards in the Caucus have."

But the Aussies' greatest contribution to - or desecration - of language is their gift for coining a phrase. They have some beauts. A few, such as "up a gumtree" (in difficulty or confused), are widely known. But others, just as descriptive, remain happily local. "Don't come over the raw prawn" means don't put one over me. "Your shout, mate" means it's your turn to buy. "Getting off at Redfern" (the station just before Sydney Central) refers to coitus interruptus. And a "wowser" is a killjoy. (Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau immortalized this in 1970 when he told Aussies: "You have wowerism; we have Toronto.")

The Aussie elite use such phrases as much as hoi poloi do. When Tamie Fraser, the wife of the then-prime minister, muffed a shot at a public golf match in 1977, she said, "Wouldn't it rot your socks?" And Robert Hawke, the current Prime Minister, who is often described as a "larrikin" (rascal), likes to say his government is "fair dinkum" (true and honest), the ultimate Aussie tribute.

Scholars say that many of these phrases were born in the British Isles and brought here by settlers. The term sheila for women seems to be Irish, for instance. Other terms grew from the continent's fauna and landscape. Still others have obscure origins.

The bottom line appears to be this: Aussies like to play with words. Even the clergy can't resist. In 1978, the Catholic diocese of Maitland, in the southeast, began running TV ads that included strine versions of sections of the Gospel. Here is an example that shouldn't set back the Christian cause by more than 200 or 300 years.

"G'day. 'Ave you 'eard about the day Jesus and His mother had been working flat out with this big mob, curing warts and leprosy and all that? After a while the Apostles said,"It's time to tie on the feed bag, but there's not enough tucker for the mob.' Andrew said, 'Here's a kid with five loaves of bread and two fishes.' So Jesus said, 'Righto, bring me the bread and the bream.' He blesses it, breaks it into bits and the Apostles take it around. Jesus said, 'Collect what is left over or we'll be in strife for littering.' They found there was 12 baskets of food left over. Jesus had fed 5,000 blokes. That's not counting all the sheilas and kids."

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