It’s our own strain of strine, habib
Published: March 9, 2009 – 1:28PM
You know you’ve arrived as a community in Australia when the lexicographers start taking note. And while Melbourne has long been a focus of linguistic research into migrant accents and words, with its living laboratory of Greek and Yiddish speakers, Sydney has emerged with the newest ethnic dialect under the microscope: Lebanese Australian English.
Migration patterns, especially over the past 30 years, have seen Lebanon account for two out of every five Australian migrants from the Middle East. In the last census, 72.8 per cent of those born in Lebanon called Sydney home, and in NSW more than 114,000 people can trace their immediate Lebanese ancestry.
Bruce Moore, head of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the ANU, in his new book, Speaking Our Language, The Story Of Australian English, says while Melbourne’s Greek and Yiddish communities’ languages were about familial and cultural values and identity “something more complex is occurring in the Lebanese example”.
He says the the ethnolect, a variety of a language spoken by an ethnic subgroup, “is used consciously to separate the speakers from Anglo-Australian values, and at its extreme also to separate the speakers from some parts of their own culture”.
Welcome to Lebanese-Australian English – English with Arabic flavourings. “Shoo” is “what’s up?”, “yallah” is “let’s go/goodbye” and “habib”, Arabic for “darling”, is almost “mate”. As one Lebanese man explains, “habib and mate differ” because “mate is like a friend, just to make fun with them. But with the term ‘habib’ when you’re talking to him, is like a serious talk.”
Although, as Moore says, “habib” has become more complex in Lebanese-Australian English because it has become a pejorative word for males who assert themselves aggressively.
“The responses of both male and female informants,” Moore says, “clearly indicate that habibs were obsessed with grabbing girls’ attention, hotted-up cars and loud music, and have their own style of dress and particular ways of talking.
“Such a habib might say ‘I swear to god’ and ‘you know what I mean’, change ‘this’ into ‘dis’, and create hybrid language versions by adding the English ‘ing’ to Arabic colloquial verbs.”
The comedian, Akmal Saleh, who migrated from Egypt to Australia when he was 11 without a word of English, says as he grew up, he made a conscious decision to move away from the Arab-Australian culture in Australia.
“If I wasn’t Egyptian and I said this, people would think that I am a racist, but it’s true. A lot of people here stay within the community. It’s often fear of change.”
He picked up English at school.
“After about a year I was quite good at English ? but we still used Arabic to our advantage.
“We used to go to the swimming pool and every few days or so we’d go over to the shopping centre opposite and tell the lady at the information desk that our sister was missing. She’d ask her name and put it over the loudspeaker. “Anna in Arabic means ‘I’, so we’d make up names that meant things like ‘I eat shit’ and then rush away so she wouldn’t see us laughing, while any Arabic speakers around would think, ‘Did I just hear that?’ ”
Language experts think that ethnolects will die out as the country becomes more homogenised culturally.
But then the country might be a bit poorer for it, eh, habib?
Language born into: Greek
Lived in Australia: since birth, to Greek parents who migrated in the 1950s.
“Greeks just speak English differently. Our tone. We use our hands. I could spot a Greek a mile away. A lot of the Greeks seem to say ‘Good on you, mate’ even if they don’t know how to say anything else. I want my children to speak Greek so they can communicate with my parents. My children are Aussies, through and through. They were born to Australian parents. I’ve had to force them to speak Greek just to speak to my parents’ generation, who refuse to speak English.”
Language born into: Arabic
Lived in Australia: since birth, to Lebanese parents who migrated in 1985.
“We spoke Arabic at home and English at school. It was all good. Now I use ‘yallah’ for ‘I’ve got to go’? A lot of the other ones are swear words! You can normally tell if someone’s Lebanese. They use words like ‘bro’ or ‘cuz’. A lot of other nationalities are picking up on that now. If you want to tell a secret to someone you can say it in Lebanese. When I have children, I’d teach them Arabic at home so they grow up with it, the same way I was brought up.”
Language born into: Mandarin
Lived in Australia: three years.
“I studied English in China for my university degree. I wanted to work in interpretation and translation. It was a little bit difficult when I came to Australia because of the accent. How they pronounce ‘a’ like ‘mate’. I had a very good friend who was Australian when I was back in China and he taught me a lot of Australian expressions, like ‘Aussies’ and ‘brekkie’. I speak Mandarin. My husband speaks Cantonese and Mandarin and Hakka. I certainly hope when I have kids they will be able to speak all those languages.”
Do you speaka my language?
Chinese-Australian English has the useful all-purpose exclamation “aiyah” (oh dear, good heavens, what a shame, etc). It likes to end sentences with the all-purpose question tag, “lah”, as in “You very good, lah?”
Greek-Australian English (Grenglish): has such things as the “grocaria” (grocery store) and anything that looks like a cartoon is “miki maos”, but is perhaps more a style than a vocabulary on the English side. “Can I have money?” rather than “Can I have some money?” and double comparatives such as “more better”.
Anglo-Australian English has taken little from Aboriginal languages except nouns for place names and plants and animals, although some words, “kangaroo” and “bunyip”, have gone a long way past their original meanings. “Yakka”, from the Yagara language of Brisbane, is one of the few commonly used Aboriginal words, along with “jackaroo”, probably a Brisbane word for a pied crow strike, one of the country’s noisiest birds.
Aboriginal-Australian English has “gubbah” for a white person (probably a corruption of “government”) and “mob” for extended family, although “mob” is shifting over to Anglo-Australian English as well and “business” (“traditional lore and ritual”) is already here with secret men’s or women’s business. The author Anita Heiss (Avoiding Mr Right) likes to mix her cultures by calling herself “a concrete Koori with Westfield Dreaming”. “Koori” comes from the Awakabal language of northern NSW.
New Zealanders have Kiwi English, which has “chilly bin” for Esky, “jandals” for thongs and “judder bars” for speed humps.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/its-our-own-strain-of-strine-habib-20090308-8sgx.html