South Pacific English


English Down Under

One odd thing I have discovered traveling the Pacific is that many people in this part of the world have little or no ability to distinguish between the American accent and the Down Under accent. I can safely refer to the “American” accent as including Canadians, linguistically anyway, though I expect Canadian readers will experience a moment of angst at reading that line, relax, I only mean that the Canadian and American accent are so close as to be almost indistinguishable when compared to the vast canyons of different between a Canadian’s English and a Kiwi’s English. And I do not mean to include native French speaking Canadians (Quebecois) who should be considered separately, linguistically at any rate.

Several observations have caused me to conclude that really Americans and Canadians are, in my mind, more brothers then ever. First off, over the last 18months I have met many Canadian cruisers. Most of them - MOST mind you – speak English with an accent so close to the American that I was unable to tell that they were Canadians and usually (like a fool) assumed they were American. This happened many times. The only way I can tell which are the Canadians (and there are a LOT of Canadian cruisers out here) is to see the maple leaf flying from their boats.

Kiwi and Australians seem also unable to tell the difference, and well they should be considering, as I said, the huge gulf which separates their English from Ours. During my stay in New Zealand I was often amazed at how different the slang terminology is. My favorite example is their (and Aussies) use of the term “heaps” to mean “a lot of” something. In America we might say “tons” or “loads” (as in “I have loads of work to do tonight honey” or “Man, that guy had just tons of avocados in his garden”. The Down Under crowed seem to prefer “heaps”.

Similarly, we say “call” as in the sentence “I’ll call you tomorrow Tom” whereas they use the British “ring” instead “I’ll ring you tomorrow Tom and we can arrange that sheep swapping party we talked about”. Another really minor one which annoyed the hell out of me is their use of the word “on” in reference to telephone numbers! A common radio or television commercial device is to end with a plea for you to “call now”. In the US the announcer might say “Call us at 554-4433!”. Down Under its “Ring us on 554-4433!”. The thing is its just bad English usage. No excuse for it, although I am sure the Brits and the Kiwis and the Australians (who, BTW, in total have a population about the size of California and perhaps Montana thrown in) will argue to the ends of the earth that THEIR interpretation of English is more correct then ours. But they are plain wrong.

 The word “on” is a “spatial relationship” word (as we have been teaching our 5 year old son). It indicates the relative position of something, for example, “Bob is on the car’s roof” or “The book is on the shelf”. In the sentence “Contact us on 652-2342” the implication is that they (“us”) are “on” a number. But in reality, a phone number is really a coded device which represents a physical location. Yes, this is the important part, a “physical location”. This is why the use of the word “at” is so superior to the use of “on”, because it correctly associates the phone number with a physical location! “Contact us at 652-3242” clearly shows that they (“us”) are AT a location which is represented by the number given (the telephone being a device which can connect people vocally at any two or more physical locations). Clear? Good.

Beyond that I think I can safely characterize Kiwis and Aussies as “slang lovers”. Oh there are plenty of other grammatical and  word usage issues I could point to, the far greater difference between the use of English between the two cultures (now again, Canadians, please do NOT be upset and start writing your representatives to recommend war against the US – I know you have a separate and distinct culture, for the purposes of a discussion of variations in English regional  dialects, the differences between Americans and Canadians melt away when compared to the differences between North Americans and the Down Under crowd) is the use of slang.

Yes, Americans use slag, especially in technical fields where a new terminology must be invented as new technologies are invented. But the Kiwis and Aussies seem to love to invent new words which are cute and cuddly for things which already have decent English words. For example, in Kiwiland when you have to buy drinks for someone (or a group of someones, and the opportunities for this are endless) you are “shouting”. In Australia, instead of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles they have “salties” and “freshies”’ – how cute! They hardly sound dangerous at all.