When in Australia, surrounded by mostly Australians, accents are what my American friends have, or perhaps the Iranian uber driver, and most certainly the kiwis with their confused vowels sounds. Me? I certainly do not have an accent.
Back in 2012 I remember driving home from the airport after 6 months away and the radio playing in the background. It was the first time I remember hearing and registering the Australian accent. I asked dad to turn the radio off. It was overwhelming.
7 years on here I am again, ‘away’. And I’m reminded routinely I have an accent. Whether it’s the server asking me to clarify my request for more wah-turrr instead of my initial request for wor-tah. Or butchering seemingly common names like Craig (Cregg) Aaron (Erin), Sara (Sarah).
But on the flipside, it’s been 8 months and I no longer register the voices around me as having Canadian (or American) accents. It’s all just the new normal. As for catch ups with other expats, I largely just remember their voices, just as I remember the voices of my friends and family at home. They don’t have accents.
Until I’m sitting on a bus and I hear a conversation going on behind me. Aussie.
Or every second server at Whistler while visiting on Australia Day. Aussie.
Or even the new arrival I met while at netball this week. Aussie.
They absolutely have accents. And gosh it’s awful.
In hearing the accent and its variations, it has triggered me to more closely consider the Australian dialect that we’ve largely just reserved for mocking politicians like Pauline Hanson and Julia Gillard, or the interview ‘talent’ on A Current Affair. We love to tease our ocker speaking compatriots.
“My ears are bleeding”, I remarked to my friend on the Whistler chairlift. A fellow chairlift buddy piped in: “It’s very harsh and abrupt.” She was from New York City.
Thanks to long chairlift rides (and even longer runs) and the recent thoughts mulling in my mind, we discussed how Australian English is fairly unique in that it is less geographic regions that vary the Australian dialect but socio-cultural factors: urban vs regional, social class and subculture. (I challenge you to explain Strayan or bogan to a North American.) For example, my stakeholders from the Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have a very different dialect to my colleagues and friends raised on the west coast. As do my friends from North Carolina, California, Mid-west and now just south of the border in Washington state. Whereas, my Australian expat friends here are split between Perth, Sydney and Brisbane but sound very similar, bar some minor nuances.
But still I sit with the reality I’m finding myself cringe when I hear the Australian accent around town. I feel like a traitor! I know I have a fairly general Australian accent, one that I can dial up or down based on my surroundings or content or audience. Exemplified usually in an increased frequency of “mate” in a more strine version of the language.
I’m proudly Australian, proud of my distinguishing voice, but gosh it’s ear-itating.
I now also face the battle of not wanting to “lose” my accent – something tied to my Australian identity – an increasing challenge. I joke its genetic that Australians can’t roll their Rs – a key distinction between the Australian dialect and those around me at the moment. We shorten everything and keep our vowel sounds short.
I spend a significant portion of my days on the phone talking with stakeholders across Europe. Daily conference calls are collection of British (and their variations), French and German (with English being an additional language), Quebecois accents. I love it. It’s a challenge to distinguish who is talking, particularly with the French. On the flip side and not a surprise at all, a few weeks ago I met some of the people on the daily calls after 3 months communicating only via phone and email. They said they knew immediately who I was, before being introduced, just by overhearing a conversation in our office. “You can’t hide that accent!”
However just by the nature of talking with people of all different accents, I find myself taking on some of the nuances of their various accents. Little things creep in and then I’ll catch myself after it’s already out of my mouth. The s on “this” is suddenly sss. I slightly curl and extend the r in “or” in offering a couple of options to move forward. And suddenly I’m not sure of something, I’m “shhurrr” of it. And that’s just what I’ve picked up.
So yes, it’s likely when you chat to me over FaceTime or similar, you’ll notice I’ve started changing a couple of my words. Feel free to pay me out. It’s likely the best way to find out what I’m actually changing! Although I will argue it is unintentional and not in response to realising the Australians are the foghorns of the English-speaking world. (Although I’d argue the Americans are still the most obnoxious…JK I promise I love all my American friends).
And with that I end my ongoing dilemma with accents. I’ll save you my vocabulary dilemmas for another day.
(And from this ongoing thought process over the last few weeks, I really wished I had of done Linguistics 101 during my Arts degree. Can I go back and do a fun Arts degree? Ie. Not one that I had every subject chosen out to ensure I could graduate with the 3 majors I ended up with rather than splattering of random language subjects, philosophy, anthropology etc. Alas.)