Aussie English and proper English

Not that Australian English isn’t proper…

English is so widely and variously spoken that it barely can be called a single language. That hasn’t stopped grammar stickler Simon Heffer from trying to re-establish order.  The man is seriously old school, and he doesn’t like what any of Britain’s new schools are teaching –or failing to teach — about English usage. We take a trip with Heffer to a school in Suffolk, where he makes the case for his version of correct English: the difference, for example, between I will and I shall. Heffer doesn’t like it when English speakers get in a muddle over foreign terms. The Italian term panini, meaning sandwiches, has essentially become an English word. Most of us either don’t know or don’t worry that panini is plural.  Heffer, though, does. If he’s buying just one sandwich, he will insist on asking for a panino.

No-one’s going to arrest him for that.

Heffer, of course, is far from alone in trying to control our use of  the language, before it descends into hellish and unseemly chaos, no doubt taking us with it.  In the eighteenth century,  English bishop Robert Lowth tried something far more proactive: he laid out a set of  grammar rules for English that were, essentially, borrowed from Latin. To that end, he criticized the likes of Shakespeare, Donne and Milton for their “false syntax”.   Podcast contributor Elise Hahl says Lowth partially won his fight for the Latinization of English grammar. She says that to this day, English is the poorer for it. That said, we  hold up Shakespeare today as the numero uno Literary God of the English language, not least because of his inventive rule-breaking. So maybe Shakespeare and loose English got their revenge.

Also in the pod, poet Les Murray describes some of the more colorful expressions of Australian English: papped, for example, means snapped by paperazzi (or, I suppose, paperazzo if there’s only one photographer, yes Simon?); a window licker means a voyeur.  The keeper of the Australian English flame, by the way, is the Macquarie Dictionary, well worth checking out.

Finally, we check in on a language school in India where the teachers have a strong sense of what constitutes proper English. Mr Heffer might approve.

Listen in iTunes or here.

For more on the endless variations of English, check out our discussion of Rotten English in this podcast from 2008.


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14 responses to “Aussie English and proper English

  1. Blaize

    I heard you refer to one gentleman on the program as a “grammar Nazi.” Did he burn millions of people in his grammar ovens? No? Then perhaps a different phrase might be more felicitous.

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  5. Bradders

    Eating Sideways: “Doing a Bradbury” named after Steven Bradbury won gold in the short-course speed skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics after the other 3 skaters fell at the last turn.
    “Right words: a guide to English usage in Australia” by Stephen Murray-Smith is an excellent guide to Aussie English. It is not “strict” like Heffer, but does fight for the rules that are worth fighting for. It also explains political terms, names of sizes of beer glasses in each state and the ability for Australians to change accent from broad through colloquial to Received Pronunciation. Listen to the speeches of PM Bob Hawke in RP compared to his comments after Australia II won the America’s Cup: ‘Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum!’
    Any remember, you can”barrack for” but never “root for” an Australian; root means to have sex.

  6. Channa Heam

    This podcast on “proper” or “standard” English is very interesting. While I do not agree with being really strict like Mr. Heffner, it is important to have some standards. The podcast showed how English is spoken differently in different countries, and that is good. Language should meet the needs of the people communicating, rather than the people meeting the needs of a language (which is riduculous). At the same time though, if official, or formal communication is filled with “local” words and phrases, people in England, the US, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand (to name a few) may not be able to understand. So without any rules, or standards, the language fails.

    NVCC Student

  7. abiel nugusse

    there is no way that there can be one form of english. it wouldn’t work because english has adapted to its surroundings. clear example when the settlers first came to the Americas they all spoke roughly the same kind of English but over the years the dialects and accents have changed by location. exe the south, new England, the north etc. this further proves that regardless of how “proper” of an english a person learns it will gradually change depending on where they live.

  8. Christian Escobar

    English could never be spoken in only one form. People change the way the pronounce the words based on there language. They way a French person says a certain words in English is not going to sound similar to someone saying the exact same word that has a strong Portuguese accent. This is what makes diversity amazing. We all have our own way of saying the same things. People should know by now that diversity among a group is fascinating because you get to learn something you would have not even noticed.

  9. Abby

    I really liked how someone had said that, “We are judged in how we speak and how we write” and it’s very true because we are judged in how we speak and how we write. I was sitting in English class a while ago and the girl next to me had really improper grammar and even though she’s not native in the English language, I felt like her paper was being degraded. The reason that this was happening was because of the grammar and the flow of her paper was written. I mean having proper grammar might not seem like a big deal but in the real world where you’re dealing with people and lives then the format could mean a lot. I LOVE the improper expressions used by Australians! Who knew that free traders could mean “split bloomers worn under voluminous skirts”? It’s very entertaining when you’re dealing with expressions because sometimes you have to live in a specific area for that expression to be valid. I’m not entirely sure about the British accent part being the correct way to speak English because it’s not entirely the proper way. Yes, the British were probably the most known for using it but language is different in each region. There does need to be interaction with different strangers to be really able to communicate and get the feel of a language is spoken.

  10. Since new words are being added in English ,I think in near future English might be like a melting pot.

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  13. The use and phrasing of English is, in some ways, like Darwinian speciation. Separate a group of English speakers and over time, the different populations append, disperse and delete portions or the language, creating a “subspecies” of the language, like British-, American-, Australian-, Indian-, or some other locus, English. Here, in the United States, there are dozens of “dialects” that can be generally understood, but the details are more localized, by usage, grammar, or local modified words or phrases. There are Hawaiian words mixed into the English used on the mid-Pacific Island State. Inuit and Aleut terms are used in Alaska. The Southwestern states have Mixtan (native preSpanish-Mexican) and Spanish phrases that are seen less often in the Northeast, where French-Canadian phrases creep in.

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