The Lingo: Listening to Australian English

The Lingo: Listening to Australian English

The Lingo: Listening to Australian English

The Lingo: Listening to Australian English

Synopsis

Analysis of the variety and cultural significance of Australian vernacular language. Discusses the role of colloquial language as an expression of cultural identity and looks at the distinctive forms of speech found in everyday experiences such as sport, gambling, work, and family life. Examines historical and archaic usage as well as contemporary speech, and considers the influence of age, gender, ethnicity and social class, as well as outside influences, particularly that of the United States. Includes references and an index. The author teaches Australian studies at Curtin University.

Excerpt

From the late 1940s Australians began to fear the great numbers of new Australians bustling down the gangways of migrant ships. This was the era of politician Arthur Calwell's now-notorious pronouncement, 'two Wongs don't make a white', and a time when Australians had begun to assert their own ideas of cultural identity. the key official words applied to migrants were 'integration' and 'assimilation'. We wanted migrants to become as much like us as possible, as quickly as possible.

One minor but revealing response to this incursion of foreignness was the development of a slang test. a group of social psychologists searching for ways of measuring the Australianness of new migrants invented a quiz of Australian slang for this purpose. After some time living here, new migrants would take the test and their score would indicate the extent to which they had become Australian; in short, how well they had 'learnt the Lingo'.

This slang test, discussed in a little more detail in chapter 2 was, fortunately, never used. Its invention though, indicates two things: one was, as it turned out, the transitory importance of the assimilationist ethic during the immediate post-World War II years; the other was the singular extent to which Australians have continued to regard their vernacular as a significant indicator of national identity. While the existence of colloquial language is not unique to this country, our emotional attachment to the Lingo is an Australian peculiarity, one that both reveals and hides much about ourselves. the causes of this colloquial dependence can be traced to the earliest settlement of English speakers on these shores, through the 19th and 20th centuries, into the uncertainties that have again thrown questions of cultural identity into sharp relief.

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