Aussie accent is result of alcoholic slur among drunk early settlers, says language expert

By @vitthernandez on
Sydney Bar
A bartender serves beers in a bar in central Sydney May 11, 2009. The Australian government will announce on May 12 what is the most keenly watched national budget in years, as the country heads for a recession, unemployment rises and rumours swirl of a possible early general election. The government is expected to increase taxes for cigarettes and alcohol in this budget. Reuters/Daniel Munoz

While many experts attribute the Australian accent to a mixture of dialects of early settlers such as English, Irish, Aboriginal and German, a language expert believes that alcohol played a bigger part behind the Australian drawl.

Dean Frenkel, public speaking and communication lecturer at Victoria University in Melbourne, explains that the early settlers regularly gathered to drink. Their frequent interactions “added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns.” This speaking pattern, which he sought to be corrected by teaching Aussies verbal expression and delivery, continues to be passed on to the younger generations even if many of the present-day citizens are sober, reports The Telegraph.

This has resulted in the average Australian speaking to only two-thirds capacity. He describes the remaining third of Aussies’ articulator muscles to be sedentary “as if lying on the couch,” Frenkel states in an article in The Age.

However, the problem goes beyond lack of articulation. When Australians speak, many of their consonants are missing such as the letters “t,” “l” and “s.” It also applies to the vowels “a” and “i.” The result is “important” is pronounced as “impordant,” “Australia” as “Austraya” and “yes” as “yesh.” Meanwhile, Aussies say “stending” instead of “standing” and “New South Wyles” rather than “New South Wales.”

Racetrack Chat Race-goers are seen in the member's enclosure before the running of the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne November 3, 2009.  Reuters/Mick Tsikas

Frenkel’s theory appears to be correct since these early settlers were convicts from England who would be known for their heavy consumption of alcohol.

Other English speakers are divided on how pleasant or harsh the Aussie accent, characterised by flat tone, nasality and elision of syllables. American statesman Winston Churchill describes it as “the most brutal maltreatment which has even been inflicted upon the mother tongue of the great English speaking nation.” But author Mark Twain found the accent soft with “a delicate whispery and vanishing cadence which charms the ear.”

Frenkel says the cost of poor communications to the Aussie economy is in the billions of dollars. But David Petersen, a linguist and the creator of languages for TV and movies such as “Game of Thrones,” calls Frenkel’s theory as trash.

Another linguist, Aidan Wilson, agrees with Petersen. “I personally find it laughable that Frenkel thinks that there was a critical mass of constantly drunk people – new mothers included – that would enable children to essentially learn inebriated English,” quotes CNN.

In an online survey of Telegraph readers, 49 percent agree that the drawling accent was the result of drunk convicts slurring words, while 35 percent attribute it to the wide range of English dialects used by settlers. About 8 percent believe the Aussie speak fast to avoid swallowing flies.

One of them is Aussie author Kathy Lette who wrote to The Telegraph, saying, “As anyone who has lived in Australia knows the reason we mumble is because if you open your mouth too wide, a fly or mosquito will buzz right I and bite you.”

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