Allan Takes Aim Blog

English as she is spoke

Posted on: 16 December 2009

Published The Chronicle Canberra 15 December 2009

Hillary Clinton has been reported as asking the Hon Julia Gillard the following question: ‘”Do you speak English in Australia?” I wonder if she asked just to make sure that when travelling around Australia she wouldn’t run into the same problem Julia Gillard might encounter in some parts of the United States?

There is such a problem because how people speak English is determined (though not entirely) by geography. For example, John Smith from the North of England is likely to speak differently to Babu Bose, from North-Eastern India, thus, John and Babu will use different words, phrases and sentences, to convey the same meaning: e.g.

John: ‘ I fell off my bike’: five words.

Babu: ‘I was riding my cycle in a perpendicular position when, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was momentarily, and unfortunately, catapulted into a vertical position, following which I was forced to assume a position of horizontality.’ I’m sure you’ll agree that Babu’s 37 words, like John’s five also describe falling off a bike. (Credit for these examples must go to Chronicle reader Martinho de Souza who also advised they came from an 1855 Portuguese-English phrasebook co-authored by Portuguese writers Jose da Fonseca & Pedro Carolina.)

This interesting book, published years later (1833) in both London and Boston (USA), had a foreword by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) that helped turn the book into a bestseller in both England and America: In his foreword Twain said: “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow: it’s perfect.”

The truth, of course, is, that there are various styles of English. For example, Australian English, which some Australians even call ‘poetic.’ But poetic or not, because The Chronicle is a family newspaper, I hesitate to cite examples of the poetry to which poetic refers.
Then there’s British English style that some UK citizens think cool, calm, clear, correct and concise. But is it? I ask because having lived in various places in England (and as Gillard might find with the US) an interpreter would have come in handy.

There are many kinds of “English as she is Spoke.” For example, Indian English, which tends to the pompous and bombastic; singsong Kenyan English; Goan English, which is floral and ornate; and Chinglish, of course, which, or so it seems to me, dominates the computer and mobile phone instruction book market.

A brief return to “The Hon. Julia Gillard.” Born in Wales, bought up South Australia, her accent is Anglo-Aussie. She speaks the brand of Australian English spoken by Adelaide’s upper classes. (In South Australia, as in every other Australian State or Territory, the upper class speaks posh and the lower class tosh.)

But no matter who we’re talking about, perhaps we should take greater note of what Philologist Syme said to his friend Winston in George Orwell’s 1984.
“YOU haven’t a real appreciation of Newspeak Winston,” he said almost sadly. In your heart you’d prefer to speak Oldspeak with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year? Don’t you realise the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? Has it ever occurred to you Winston that by the year 2050, at the very latest, there won’t be a single human being aljve who could understand the conversation we are having now?”

No doubt you have noticed that, as yet, I haven’t mentioned the best English speakers.

I doubt anyone would deny the Scots and Irish that honour. That they speak the best English is only to be expected of two intelligent races that, to their own discomfort, not only sent millions of their people across the world to give others the benefit of their intelligence but also how to teach them how to speak good English.

Although they’ve partly succeeded in Australia, they’re still working on the United States.

Finally to all readers from Boadicea and myself: Best wishes for the festive season and for a happy, healthy and successful 2010.

For the best of Canberra’s community news The Chronicle, published every Tuesday.

NB. The Chronicle will next appear on Tuesday 12 January 2010 but additions to the site will continue to be made


1 Response to "English as she is spoke"

I live in Seib Rd, Eumundi QLD. Apparently the street that Kevin Rudd grew up in.

I can tell you that no-one around here speaks like he does. English or not.

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