Aussies ditch ocker accent

February 11, 2005

Strewth! "Strine" is disappearing from the mouths of Australians, and the TV programme Kath and Kim could be to blame, writes Geoff Maslen in Melbourne.

Linguists at Sydney's Macquarie University have discovered that Australians are modifying the broad accents used by characters such as Kath and Kim and Crocodile Dundee, and former prime minister Bob Hawke.

Felicity Cox and Sallyane Palethorpe say the stereotypical accent has been stigmatised because it sounds "really ocker" (uncultured). They have detected a shift to a more generalised form of speech.

While Australians were happy to be identified by their accents, they did not want to carry the connotations of ockerism, Dr Cox said. As part of a 15-year study into the origins and evolution of the Australian accent, the two academics interviewed more than 500 people in Sydney, rural New South Wales and Victoria to identify the three strands of Australian English: educated-cultivated, general and broad.

"When we think of the broad, stereotypical type we think of people such as Steve Irwin," Dr Cox said. "That accent is a kind of a caricature of an Australian. It's not real. It's also associated with something stereotypically Australian - from the past perhaps."

The research was boosted by the discovery in a Macquarie storeroom of tapes holding oral history records. They included recordings of men born in the late 1800s, a time of large-scale British immigration, and interviewed in the 1960s. The linguists expected the men to have broad accents given that they were rural working-class and not well-educated. Instead, the men still carried the effects of dialects from England and had rounder vowels than predicted. Dr Cox said it appeared the classic broad Australian accent had its origins much later.

"We believe the very broad accent developed in the early part of the 20th century came to the fore sometime in the middle part of the century and now has started to move away," she said.

"Accent is continually changing. Instead of those extreme types of accents that we used to see, we're moving more towards a more general form."

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