Call it Boganism, Ockerism or just plain slaughtering of the English Language, the unique Australian accent is certainly a challenge to try and faithfully compose in the written word - especially when you have a character that is straight from the colourful streets of Sunnyvale, Moe or Blacktown and you don’t want your writing to be an indecipherable collection of letters.
After all, as writers we go to great lengths to make sure our spelling and grammar are as correct as we can make it, yet try and write the way Australians actually speak and it goes against any English lesson I’ve ever had. So, as authors, do we remain faithful to the written language so that people can read our works, or do we throw in the towel and write with our individual Australian voices?
To do this, we have to break down our unique accent. There are three areas of accent - broad, general and cultured.
Roughly speaking, general accents represent the most common type of English spoken in Australia. Broad accents are usually described as more extreme (and associated with more working-class speech), while Cultivated Australian accents are a prestige variety somewhat closer to the British Received Pronunciation (although actual speakers of the latter are in the minority).
1.) Broad: the late Steve Irwin.
2.) General: Nicole Kidman.
3.) Cultivated: Cate Blanchett. (I like to think I sound like Cate, but I know my accent could be described as a cutt-off buzz saw.)
Although there are clear class differences within the Australian accents of both genders, these differences are not the same for each sex. Very few women use broad Australian accents. If an Australian woman used it, she may sound like a woman partial to a spot of roo shooting, picking her nose in public, making fart jokes and camping for days in the outback without a shower or toilet (ewwww).
However, even between the sexes, there are commonalities and several grammatical rules that are consistently smashed.
Ignored grammatical rule number one: Don’t pronounce each and every letter of a word clearly. As Australians we actually go out of our way to say the least amount of syllables possible. I’m not sure of the reason, except maybe we think it takes too much time, or is a waste of breath or we simply just can’t be bothered. For example ‘I am going to...’ becomes, ‘I’m gunna...’, ‘I am going to have...’ becomes, ‘I’m avena...’ Short and sweet, for sure.No wasted breath there.
And we choose to replace actual syllables with our own. Such as:
anything, everything, nothing, something. The 'ing' is replaced with 'ink'
I am going - 'I'm gunna'
I have got to - 'I gotta'
I want to - 'I wanna'
Let me - 'Lemme'
Don't you? - 'Doncha?'
How did you...?, Where did you...?, What did you...? These three are commonly abbreviated to 'howdja', 'wheredja' and'whadja. Examples: 'Howdja get here?', 'Wheredja come from?', 'Whadja do last night?'
Oh yes. It’s all class in Aussieland!
Decimated grammatical rule number two: Do not say the end of words. That is forbidden. No exceptions. Oh, and if you have to say them, change the sound. It goes something like this:
Those ending in ER, sound like ‘ah’, as in ‘together’ say as ‘tuh-geth-ah’.
Words ending in a “G” are cut off. For example, “Catching” sounds like “Cat-chn”
Words ending in an "E" are also cut off. For example, "Mate" sounds like "M-ayee-t."
As for the letter ‘R’ - well, don’t even bother with that. It’s out. Completely.
matter, flutter, butter, splatter, stutter… Words with 'tt' which are pronounced as 'dd' so they become 'madder', 'fludder', 'budder' …
ask. The 'k' gets left off. The word becomes 'ax' as in 'I wanna ax a question.'
to. Its two letters are abbreviated to one; 't' as in 'I'm gonna go t town.'
Massacred grammatical rule number three: Throw an ‘O’ on the end words. Anything you like. Smoko, garbo, bowlo, bottlo, arvo. (With all of this shortening of words, it’s actually amazing we speak at all, really).
(Translation for the ‘O’ words above: The break when you smoke is a ‘smoko.’ Someone who collects garbage is a ‘garbo.’ A bowling and community club is a ‘bowlo.’ A bottle shop is a ‘bottlo.’ And the word afternoon, with three syllables, just doesn’t stand a chance: it’s evolved/devolved to ‘arvo’.)
Butchered grammatical rule number four: We do say vowels. We actually focus on them. (Well, if we didn’t we actually wouldn’t say anything, would we?) In fact, we don’t only say them, we stress them. For example, “The Aussie language is pretty weird” becomes “Th-a oz-zie l-aye-nguage is pr-i-tty we-ee-rd.”
We change the sound of vowels, too. Even between the three general accents (Broad, general and cultivated), there are vowel distinctions. ‘Kite’, ‘ride’, ‘mine’ sound like ‘koite’, ‘roide’, ‘moine’, or the more broader the accent, will sound like ‘koyte’, ‘royde’, ‘moyne’.
Words like ‘face’, and ‘make’, sound like, ‘fice’ and ‘mike’.
E sounds are said with an added ‘R’, as in ‘need’ sounds like ‘ner-ee-d’.
Sounds like ‘or’ or ‘ayee’, and in AUtomatic or stAY, sounds like “Or-zie” and mate sounds like “M-ayee-t”
Sounds like ‘ear’ or ‘eye’, as in pIErce or mIght. For example, irresponsible sounds like “ear-re-spon-sbl” and Hide sounds like “H-eye-d”
O sounds like “ew” or “aw” (shOO or OUght) For example, shoot sounds like “sh-ew-t”
U sounds like “uh” (rOUgh) For example, suppose sounds like “sugh-p-oh-s”
And let’s not forget that sometimes people in our Australian culture replace the sound of ‘th’ with ‘f’. As in ‘thought’ become ‘fought’. Two distinctly different things, I’m sure you will agree. If that happens, it’s then best to look at the context in which the words has been placed to avoid confusion.
But wait, there’s more....
Demolition of swear words. They can mean good and bad things. Take, for example, the word ‘arse’. Wouldn’t think you can do too many things with that word, would you? Think again. It has many, many meanings here in OZ:
arse = anus, bottom, posterior (ns)
arse = luck (ns); (more arse than class) (ns)
arse around = muck about; muck around (ns)
arse about = arse around (ns)
arse about = arse about face (ns)
arse about face = in the wrong sequential order; back-to-front, out-of-order, wrong-way-around (ns)
arsetalk = talk through your arse, go on and on with nonsense, clatterfart (ns)
arsehole (m) = immoral, unfriendly, uncaring person (man) (ns)
arsehole = anus (ns)
(to) kick arse = (to) succeed; (to) overpower (ns)
get your arse into gear = get ready to start (work); stop mucking around (ns)
arse over tit = fall over (ns)
(to) give the arse to = (to) wipe; (to) treat with contempt (ns)
take your finger out of your arse! = hurry up!; go faster!; stop messing around! (ns)
move your arse! = hurry up!; go faster!; stop messing around! (ns)
pull your finger out! = hurry up!; go faster!; stop messing around! (ns)
jam it up your arse! = abandon it and don't mention it again! (ns)
stick it up your arse! = abandon it and don't mention it again! (ns)
arse licker = one who seeks his favour or acceptance by acting as if he is of extreme importance (ns)
arse wipe (m) = shithead (ns)
Arse end of the world = to travel a great distance (v)
Even the rear ends of animals are not left out of the joy:
Pigs’ arse - I do not believe you
Rat’s arse - See pig’s arse
I don’t give a rats arse - I do not really care what you are on about
(Hmmm - As I keyed in the above list, I was most aware that I have been the user of these phrases on numerous occasions - goodbye the cultivated Cate Blanchett accent, hello cringeworthy Paul Hogan - bugger me. Although in my defence I have never been roo shooting).
If we didn’t need any more transgressions, the accent itself requires using your tongue, cheeks and lips to almost “chew” the words as you say them. And for God’s sake, speak from your nose. If it doesn’t sound nasally, you haven’t spoken with a true Australian accent. How we say our words colors our accent as much as the butchering of the aural word.
The logical conclusion is that correctly spelling Australian pronunciations makes English words unreadable. If I write the way we speak, the page will be nothing but completely unreadable hieroglyphics. So, how do we inject the accent into our written word? Do we have characters running around with their hands over their ears, wincing and looking for the source of their auditory pain? Do we supply two copies of a book, one in Australian and the other in readable English? Do we build a website where translations from Australianisms to Proper English are available? Do I offer an apology before I even get to the dedication that my characters are Australian and crucify any correct grammar and spelling I have gone to great lengths to achieve?
Or is it enough to suggest that I am an Australian author and annihilating words is a foregone conclusion? Do I blame any grammatical errors on my rule of thumb ‘if it sound all right when you read it out loud, it’s OK’. Or maybe that’s just my voice - my apparently down-to-earth general accented Aussie voice - which writers work really hard to develop?
I only know writing the Aussie accent down ‘as you say it’ will not work under any circumstance. It’s just too bloody hard to read. I’ll stick to my ‘rule of thumb’ and try and develop my voice as it is in my head, after all if people read what you’ve written, it’s the content they’re interested in and how you convey it, not to judge you on an accent.
Thank you to the following web sites, for without them I would never know how atrocious my accent really is: