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  1. #1
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Perhaps native speakers who learned the language the easy way and for whom the adaptation to its variants is a seamless process couldn't care less. Not so with English learners. We indefatigably burn hectolitres of midnight oil in the hope of being able to understand and be understood by as many people as possible. The language learned from textbooks and through the participation in courses tends to be very orthodox and the smallest deviation from the rules renders it at best severly disabled. I had once my hopes mercilessly dashed when after years of study I found myself on a farm in Norfolk UK

    Nowadays with the advent of satellite TV and Internet I feel disappointed, even angry at times when trying to decipher Australian English. What worries me more here than in the example above is that this time it is the whole country rather than just a local population of farmers that is effectively beyond my grasp.

    Hence these questions:

    1. Is the process of language differentiation set to continue?
    2. Is the uniformity of the English language as dear to anyone's heart as it is - for pragmatic
    reasons - to its learners?

  2. #2
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Yes, language evolves constantly. But don't feel so out of it. There are places I've been to in my very own country where I have had difficulty with accents. I use the subtitles when watching movies like "Trainspotting" because of the thick accents. So while native speakers may have an advantage, we are not infallible when faced with other variants.

    And, please, burn gallons or quarts of midnight oil. Even burn it by the 55 gallon drum. Not by the hectoliter. Is that unit actually used anywhere?

  3. #3
    Raymott's Avatar
    Raymott is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Quote Originally Posted by JarekSteliga View Post

    Nowadays with the advent of satellite TV and Internet I feel disappointed, even angry at times when trying to decipher Australian English. What worries me more here than in the example above is that this time it is the whole country rather than just a local population of farmers that is effectively beyond my grasp.

    Hence these questions:

    1. Is the process of language differentiation set to continue?
    2. Is the uniformity of the English language as dear to anyone's heart as it is - for pragmatic
    reasons - to its learners?
    In what context have you noticed that, Jack? It's certainly true that some native speakers of non-Australian English have trouble with the Australian accent. But this only a temporary thing. Once your ear is accustomed to the accent, you should have no trouble - but that can take a variable period of time. I once had temporary work that involved working with an Irish woman as my secretary. I couldn't understand a word she said until she repeated it three times; so I had to stop taking that temporary job purely for that reason. I don't think it's just Australia that displays this accent problem.
    Also, it's not just English. It also occurs in Spanish, probably for the same reason - it is a widely dispersed language, and different accents and slang etc. have arisen. If you learn Peninsula Spanish (the Spanish of Spain), you might have trouble understanding Argentinian or Nicaraguan Spanish.

    1. Is the process of language differentiation set to continue?
    It's hard to say. My own opinion is that, with the Internet, accents and vocabularies should converge rather than diverge. But with the weight of population in China and Asia generally, learning English, international English will probably become Sinosized.
    This might lead to a reactionary retreat to traditional national standards in communities that want to preserve the language that they originally learnt.

    2. Is the uniformity of the English language as dear to anyone's heart as it is - for pragmatic
    reasons - to its learners?
    Yes, to some, but for different reasons. Older Australians, such as me, don't like hearing Hollywood American becoming the normal dialect of our children. Many of us here are resistant to changes from Singapore and Hong Kong English (which some of us would judge as being substandard. One specific example is that the non-sentence "How to say X?" is likely to judged normal English one day soon.)
    But these aren't pragmatic reasons. They are reasons of identity. One does not like to hear one's own language that has served one well all of one's life being corrupted.
    For students, as you say, the reason is different. When you learn "English", you don't want to then be told that what you have learnt is only good for some places where English is spoken. That, at least partly, is why I, personally, believe in the notion of Standard English, even though no one actually speaks it, or can define it. One can at least tell when something is not Standard English.

    I'd like to see other people's opinions too.
    Last edited by Raymott; 19-Jan-2012 at 07:51. Reason: a few typos

  4. #4
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    1. Is the process of language differentiation set to continue?

    Like raymott, I find it hard to say.

    Until quite recently, I thought that the internet would reinforce film and TV in ensuring that there would always be a fairly standard English throught the world, with some form of American English becoming the biggest influence. However, I am not so sure now. The internet appears to have freed many people from the influence of prescriptive authorities, and millions of people who never put pen to paper are now churning out their thoughts daily. What was clearly sub-standard only twenty years ago is commonplace. Indian English, largely unknown outside the sub-continent, is now regularly seen. Sino-English will become more and more influential.

    I think that a form of English will probably remain the main language of international communication, but it will be an English that does not have its base in BrE, AmE or any other identifiable variety. If that happens, the present varieties may drift farther apart from each other, though I don't think they will ever become really separate languages - the international variety will keep them mutually intelligible.

    2. Is the uniformity of the English language as dear to anyone's heart as it is - for pragmatic reasons - to its learners?

    As a teacher, I wish that there were fewer important varieties of English. When I began my teaching career, it was relatively easy for me to teach standard British English, and to reject as incorrect anything that didn't follow the rules of that variety. To do that today would be very hard on the learners. To insist that one variety is 'correct English' and that all others are in some way imperfect is clearly unreasonable. However, I now have to check far more carefully before I say that something is unacceptable. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to know exactly what is acceptable in the major examinations, FCE/CAE/CPE, BEC, ELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, etc.

    As a linguist, I am fascinated by the changes and developments in the language.

  5. #5
    waflob is offline Member
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    I must confess to laughing out loud when I read about you ending up in Norfolk - at least you can't accuse them of talking too quickly

    Actually, there was a bit of a scandal years ago when the Freedom of Information act allowed people to have access to their medical records. In Norwich, there were lots of records with the comment N.F.N and no satisfactory explaination for its meaning. After lots of asking, it turned out that it meant 'Normal For Norfolk'. Caused quite a fuss at the time.

    As for the Australian question, I think that if there were more films (or entertainment in general) coming out of Australia, then people would have more exposure to it and not find it so confusing. I should point out that it's not just language students who struggle with this, but native speakers as well. Once you are comfortable with the accent (or Ozzy Twang, as it's reverently called), you realise that many of the words used are too unfamiliar to make sense. However, once you realise that 'strides' are 'trousers' then it's no longer unfamiliar and next time you see or hear it, you know what it means.

    I feel your pain.
    Last edited by waflob; 19-Jan-2012 at 09:22.

  6. #6
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Quote Originally Posted by SoothingDave View Post

    1. Yes, language evolves constantly. But don't feel so out of it. There are places I've been to in my very own country where I have had difficulty with accents. I use the subtitles when watching movies like "Trainspotting" because of the thick accents. So while native speakers may have an advantage, we are not infallible when faced with other variants.

    2. And, please, burn gallons or quarts of midnight oil. Even burn it by the 55 gallon drum. Not by the hectoliter. Is that unit actually used anywhere?

    1. Your argument does not convince me. I do not feel so out of it because of not being able
    to understand and much less talk in prison or street slangs of a given country. I feel
    perplexed and out of it when trying to make out what Julia Gillard wants to say when she
    delivers a speech.

    2. Let me see...1 gallon equals to 4 quarts, 8 pints, 16 cups, 256 tablespoons or 768
    teaspoons. No, thank you I will stick to metric Is it used anywhere? How
    about ... hmmm ... everywhere except the USA?

  7. #7
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Quote Originally Posted by JarekSteliga View Post
    1. Your argument does not convince me. I do not feel so out of it because of not being able
    to understand and much less talk in prison or street slangs of a given country. I feel
    perplexed and out of it when trying to make out what Julia Gillard wants to say when she
    delivers a speech.
    But you should understand that Julia Gillard has a very "broad" accent which is not typical of how most cultured, urban Australians speak. She is a product of the trade unions and the political Left, and you shouldn't assume that she isn't speaking in the argot of prisons and street slang.
    Anyhow, you can pick specific examples of individuals from any group who are difficult to understand.

  8. #8
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    In what context have you noticed that, Jack?

    I was referring to the pronunciation. For example "left" is pronounced as "lift" (or at least that's how I hear it). I wonder if this common replacement of vowels (again according to my own perception) is formally recognized i.e. if it is reflected in the phonetic transcription in Australian English dictionaries.

    I suppose we are all familiar (certainly English students are ) with this duality:

    detail /'diteıl, US dı'teıl/

    Are we about to have to grapple with a "triplity" in the near future?

    Having read all the posts in this thread I am persuaded to suspect that the differences in pronunciation are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Does the process of differention affect also grammar, idioms, collocations?

  9. #9
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Quote Originally Posted by JarekSteliga View Post
    2. Let me see...1 gallon equals to 4 quarts, 8 pints, 16 cups, 256 tablespoons or 768
    teaspoons. No, thank you I will stick to metric Is it used anywhere? How
    about ... hmmm ... everywhere except the USA?
    I think that SD was referring to the 'hectolitre' unit rather than the metric system. I have spent a fair part of my working life in countries that use the metric system, and I have never heard the word used. I have seen it sometimes in economic/business reports.

  10. #10
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default Re: Is Australian English drifting ever more distant from its UK and USA cousins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    But you should understand that Julia Gillard has a very "broad" accent which is not typical of how most cultured, urban Australians speak. She is a product of the trade unions and the political Left, and you shouldn't assume that she isn't speaking in the argot of prisons and street slang.
    Anyhow, you can pick specific examples of individuals from any group who are difficult to understand.
    Indeed this comes as a revelation to me. I normally automatically assume that heads of state speak "Oxford" or "BBC" or "Harvard" English of their respective country. Also I believe that the language we speak is one of the strongest means of expression of our identity and if a politician wants to ensure a large or influential following in a democratic society, they first and foremost should make sure that the language they speak coincides or resonates well with that of their supporters.

    I now realize that having been little exposed to any "Australian English" other than that spoken by Julia Gillard, I may have built my case in this thread on entirely mistaken grounds! Following your post I listened to a number of videos broadcast by Sky News Australia (freely available on Internet) and to my horror (I should say relief rather) I found very few deviations from what I am used to on (in/at?) say the BBC news.
    Just to give you a few examples, "make" sounded to me more like "mike", "precious" more like "capricious" without "ca" in front, "safer bet" more like "safer bit", "west" more like "wist".

    At the end of the day, as a result of all the views presented by English teachers and other members in this thread I find myself a different man i.e. not as radical about what is discussed here as just a few days ago. Perhaps it is a good thing to know - with a bit of practice - where people we meet come from without even asking them?

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