Diminutives as a distinctive feature of Australian English
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DIMINUTIVES AS A DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF AUSTRALIAN
Sydney College of Business and Information Technology Australia, Sydney
Abstract: The article touches upon the origin of Australian English and characterizes its most distinctive feature, diminutives.
Key words: Australian English, diminutives
Language is born of culture and in turn reflects the history of a culture. This is evident when comparing English in Britain, the United States and Australia.
Of the three dialects, British English has the most confusing grammar and spelling rules. This is probably because those involved in English standardisation processes in the 18th century wanted to showcase their French influence and thus differentiate themselves from the uneducated masses. In other words, British English reflects the British preoccupation with class.
The US dialect is almost universally recognised as the easiest to understand. In comparison to British English, its spelling is more phonetic, grammar more pattern orientated, and its pronunciation is more legible.
Australian English is different from British and American English in that it has a bias towards invention, deception, profanity, humour and a classless society. At times, this can make it almost impossible to understand and quite offensive to speakers accustomed to formality. It reflects Australia'-s identity conflicts born out of its penal history.
Australia was first colonised by the English for use as a penal colony, in other words, Australia was an island jail that Britain used as a solution to their problem of having an overflowing prison population. These early settlers were, therefore, primarily convicts, who were sent from all over Great Britain, including Ireland, Wales, Scotland.
Thus, Australian English was created with the first generation of children born in the new colony, who, due to their exposure to a wide range of accents, and also to completely separate languages such as Gaelic and Welsh, began to speak a distinct dialect of English that was to become the language of the nation. These differences were first noted by late arrivals in the early 1800s, and was said to bear a strong resemblance to Cockney English, spoken by the working class in London.
Still, Australian English seems to have some particular fondness inspired, perhaps, by the strong desire of many 19th century Australians to adopt Aboriginal names and words, particularly in rural Australia. This is fondness for diminutives. While many dialects of English make use of diminutives, Australian English uses them more extensively than any other. Diminutives may be seen as slang, but many forms are used widely across the whole of society.
There are various explanations of why the diminutive is so common in Australia. One is that the diminutive seems more informal (like slang) and thus reflects the Australian love of egalitarianism. In the words of Nenagh Kemp, a linguistic psychologist from the University of Tasmania: & quot-Australians who use these diminutives might be trying to sound less pretentious, more casual and more friendly than they would by using the full words. "-
Although Kemp'-s explanation explains why the diminutive is used, it doesn'-t really explain why diminutives keep getting invented. After all, speakers of other English dialects use slang to appear casual and friendly but do not create diminutives. Perhaps then, diminutives keep getting invented when English words are used in association with Aboriginal words and then
enter conversation where they serve the purpose of slang — even when Aboriginal words are not being used.
All in all, diminutives play the following three roles in Australian English:
1. Verbal playfulness. The English speaking colonies in Australia were planted by folk from all over the British Isles speaking many different dialects. Thus thrust into close contact with each other they became extremely sensitive to language differences, and much given to verbal playfulness. Aussie English remains highly inventive and colourful, and diminutives are but one example of this.
2. Informality. Australia has a particularly informal culture. The heavy use of diminutives is one linguistic expression of Aussie informality.
3. Group solidarity. By using Aussie diminutives Australians are signalling their membership in the club of & quot-Aussie-ness"- and by addressing somebody with diminutives they are including him or her in their club as well. Group jargon defines the group.
There are over 5,000 identified diminutives in use in Australian English. They are usually formed by taking the first part of a word, and adding an (z)a, o, ie, or y. Alternatively in some cases no ending may be used. There does not appear to be any particular pattern to which of these suffixes is used.
Examples with the -o ending include: abo (aborigine — now considered very offensive), aggro (aggressive), bizzo (business), doco (documentary), evo (evening), journo (journalist), milko (milkman), smoko (smoke or coffee/tea break), vejjo (vegetarian), etc.
Examples of the -ie (-y) ending include: aggie (student of agricultural science), Aussie (Australian), barbie (barbeque), beautie (beautiful, stereotypically pronounced and even written bewdy), brekkie (breakfast), chokkie (chocolate), exy (expensive),
greenie (environmentalist), mozzie (mosquito), oldies (parents), sunnies (sunglasses), etc.
Occasionally, a -za diminutive is used, usually for personal names. Barry becomes Bazza, Karen becomes Kazza and Sharon becomes Shazza.
There are also a lot of abbreviations in Australian English without any suffixes. Examples of these are the words are beaut (great, beautiful), deli (delicatessen), nana (banana), roo (kangaroo), uni (university), ute (utility truck or vehicle) etc.
While the form of a diminutive is arbitrary, their use follows strict rules. Diminutives are not used creatively. For example, an ambulance paramedic is called an ambo, and is never pronounced ambie or amba. The use of the & quot-ie"- ending, for example in bikie, (a motorcycle club member), does not carry a connotation of smallness or cuteness as it does in other English dialects.
Some diminutives are almost always used in preference to the original form, while some are rarely used. Others might be restricted to certain demographic groups or locations. For example, diminutives are often used for place names, and are only recognised by people in the local area, for example, cot, for Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Parra for Parramatta in Sydney and Broadie for Broadmeadows in Melbourne.
The use of diminutives also evolves over time with new words coming into use and falling out of favour. Some diminutives have become so common that the original form has fallen out of common usage. & quot-Deli"- has become so universal that & quot-delicatessen"- is rarely used. Some words, such as & quot-ute"-, from & quot-utility vehicle, a car with a tray back& quot-, have become universal.
Many Australians believe themselves to be direct in manner and admire frank and open communication. The frequent use of diminutives brings in additional semantic information, makes speech emotional and colorful and is part of usual informal conversation. However, it may cause some misunderstanding on the part of a foreign interlocutor.
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