I stopped by CNN today, and I saw this headline:
Is the Australian accent due to booze, mate?
After I paused for a moment to let that process, I clicked through. I thought maybe I would find a discussion about some linguistic shift due to large numbers of immigrants who came and worked in breweries or something.
Instead, I found this:
I’m still pretty incredulous. No one actually thinks that, right?
The Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol. Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns. For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.
I couldn’t help but click through to the original piece, and the author, Dean Frenkel, does indeed seem quite adamant that the Australian accent comes from alcohol consumption. As in, Australia apparently had, as linguist Aiden Wilson put it, a “critical mass of drunk people” who were so constantly inebriated that their children only learned slurred speech.
Frenkel then goes on to insinuate that Australians are lazy speakers, whatever that means, due to shifted vowels, elision, and other changes, and laments that “Indeed a recent trend in linguistics teaches that poor speech doesn’t matter at all,” as if the distinction between prescriptivism and descriptivism is a new thing.
Even ignoring his idea that every adult in colonial Australia was perpetually drunk, I’m dumbfounded.
I’m not surprised that Frenkel complains that students lack speaking skills, since he lectures on communications and public speaking at Victoria University. I’ve never met an educator who doesn’t express discontent with the education provided to the students coming to them, particularly in the teacher’s own specialty, so it could be argued that his career choice correlates to prescriptivism. It’s hard to disagree with a call to better education in communication, especially while channels of communication are changing, and I’m sure he sees plenty of students (including intelligent ones) for whom clear writing or speech is an issue.
That phenomenon isn’t unique to Australia, though. (It’s why I have a job.) And to call an accent or dialect “poor speaking” and to imply that anyone with that accent or dialect is incapable of decent rhetoric is just… strange and impolite, to put it mildly.
I think I need to go sit down now, before I get ranty and Frenkel tells me to get off his lawn. But he gets to do so in the company of the millions who since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks (and probably much longer) have lamented about kids today.