SINCE today is America’s birthday, the annual celebration by the cousins of their significantly successful outcome in that nasty little blue with poor old George the Turd, Hec has been musing about the Land of the Free. Specifically, that is, the culture that comes out of it. No, he kids you not. And he’s not talking Oregon organic low-fat soy yoghurt, either.
Musing upon the largely unwanted but defiantly indelible deposits dumped by the Americans on the formerly fertile ground of English (even on Australian English, which, let’s be frank, isn’t the best), he was amused to read today in his old home-town newspaper, the Brisbane Courier-Mail, an item that noted young Australians were adopting American speech patterns and accents. Apparently they define this as cool. Hec rests his case.
According to one keen observer of semantics, University of Queensland linguistics professor Roly Sussex, teenagers are extremely susceptible to imitating what they see as “snazzy or powerful”. (This must be why Hec was such a fan of Seven Up when he was a fledgling. So coool ... and all those zesty little bubbles up your beak.)
It’s the prestige model, according to Prof Roly, who notes that prestige is a very powerful model. He’s been around, this bloke.
Says Roly: “They see or hear these things being used by people like on MTV for example, and think ‘gee, I want to be like that’.” Gee, no wonder we’re dumbing the world down even faster than all those doomsayers say we’re warming it up.
Mind you, the bloke’s got a point. Like Roly, Hec hates first syllable emphasis: DIS-tribute, RE-search, DE-fence (Hec has always considered defenestration a suitable penalty for that offence) and CIG-arette. These make him nearly as mad as he gets if he hears al-loo-minum for aluminium and noo-klah (or worse, as in GW Bush, “noo-kah-lah”) for nuclear, when uttered by a non-American.
It seems young Aussies no longer like to use the footpath, preferring the sidewalk. They tend to use a park brake instead of a handbrake. They fool around and fall in lurve instead of love, having listened to far too much bad music. And since none of them can spell anyway, they probably don’t even notice when they pass a “center” instead of a centre. As in service centre, or sports centre.
To young Australians today, things are great, cool, neat, filthy or fat. Nothing is ever ace or grouse any more. Most of the words of approval they now use are American; Australian terms like ace and grouse are almost invisible. So it’s hooroo to all that, it seems; even if the Aussie accent itself remains determinedly intact. At least our keep-the-flies-out, pursed-lips twang hasn’t yet shot through like a Bondi tram
Of course, it’s not just young Australians who have swallowed American speech patterns along with all those Big Macs. And neither is it altogether a bad thing, since (1) the Americans are as entitled as anyone to render language dysfunctional; and (2) the dynamic genius of English is unsurpassed.
The trick is simply to ensure that all English-speakers can still actually understand each other.