Austrayan twang on the wane

Austrayan twang on the wane

Peter MunroJanuary 27, 2008

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The broad Aussie accent, influenced by ethnic voices, is evolving.THE sounds of Australia are changing. The broad nasal twang stretching from Barry McKenzie to Kath and Kim is as distinctively Australian as the Sunday morning lawnmower and kookaburras in the gum trees. But not for much longer, perhaps.

The dinkum Aussie accent is fading beneath a rising din of ethnic dialects and voices, some experts say. And with the national accent predicted to grow more regionally diverse, might this be one of the last summers we speak of Strine?

Missing, too, among most young Australians, is the cultivated, quasi-English voice typified by former foreign minister Alexander Downer and, before him, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser.

Entirely new forms of Australian language are emerging as our accent adapts to the growing babble of multiculturalism, says Fiona Cox, a phonetician from Macquarie University in Sydney. “Changes in accent parallel socio-cultural changes, because accent is a fundamental marker of identity,” she says. “Our dialect is still quite young by global standards but as it matures we can expect some more regional variations and ethno-cultural variations to come into the language.” The twang of the future will sound different to any we have heard before. The Australian-born children of migrants from Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands are asserting their respective cultural blends each time they open their mouths, leading to dozens of different ethnic dialects such as “wogspeak”, that much-parodied blend of Australian and various Mediterranean accents.

Dr Cox predicts Australian English will grow more regionally diverse as well. Historically, such differences have been minor compared with those in Britain and the US. A keen ear was needed to pick up subtle shifts in language, such as the way Victorians tended to pronounce “eh” like “ah”, turning “Melbourne” into “Malbourne”.

More recently, she says, teenagers in South Australia and Victoria have started dropping their jaws and opening their mouths wider, dulling any discernible difference between the sounds of words such as “food” and “feud” or “pull” and “pool”.

Lawrie Zion, writer and researcher of the recent ABC TV documentary The Sounds of Aus, says Australian English developed as a unique language until the end of the 19th century, when it was divided by a new emphasis on British-style elocution. Now, he says, the Australian language is finally starting to reclaim its voice. “Some would say the Australian accent in a way has come full circle — it’s ours again,” he says. “Our accent is incredibly resilient, the changes that are occurring now are doing so on our terms, they’re not being imported.”