Australian English month continues with a guest post from Jodie Martin, an Australian PhD student of linguistics, studying jazz music student writing. She has started blogging about her PhD in ‘Linguistics and all that jazz’ and tweets as @jazzlinguist.
The best thing about studying languages are those moments when someone points out some simple fact that you maybe unconsciously knew but could never quite put your finger on. Suddenly so much makes sense!
So yes, Australian English has at the extreme end those idiosyncratic phrases born of the country, the people, and sometimes a desire to affirm identity by excluding others. And we have that jumble of vocabulary judiciously or haphazardly picked from both the UK and North America, Aboriginal languages and various migrant languages. And a good part of it I’ve never heard in real life or would never use. But the simple mechanism which decodes so much of the Australianisms we unconsciously use is this: we abbreviate a word, then add ‘o’ or ‘ie’ at the end.
I can’t claim credit for discovering this. I read it Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English, in which he credits it to a Dr Kate Burridge.
So simple, yet so prevalent! Pressie is a present, brekkie is breakfast, arvo is afternoon, muso is musician, pollie is a politician, journo is a journalist, bikkie is a biscuit, brollie is an umbrella, piccies are pictures, trackies (or tracky-dacks) are tracksuits (usually just the pants). Many of those words look strange to me, because I say them and never write or read them. And of course an Aussie is an Australian. For the record, though, it’s pronounced ‘Ozzie’, not ‘Ossie’.
It seems trivial, but when I’ve explained it to both Australians and non-Australians living in Australia, it’s been a revelation.
I once worked with someone who gave instructions to a new non-Australian, non-native English-speaking staff member: “I’m going on my break. Mrs Smith likes a bikkie with her cuppa. Ta.” She came back from her afternoon tea break and Mrs Smith had neither received her cup of tea nor a biscuit with it. Her first thought was that this person didn’t really speak English. Then suddenly she reflected on the English she was speaking.
The most revealing characteristics of our language, perhaps, aren’t necessarily the vocabulary we stick in tourist books and language guides, but the systems we apply and understand unconsciously when we’re not even trying.Email this Post