[Editor: This article by Dr. A. G. Mitchell was published in The ABC Weekly (Sydney, NSW), 12 September 1942. This was the second of two articles written by Dr. A. G. Mitchell on the subject for The ABC Weekly; the first article, “Australian speech is here to stay”, was published on 5 September 1942.]
“There is nothing wrong with Australian speech”
By Dr. A. G. Mitchell
Lecturer in the English language at the University of Sydney and an authority on speech.
It is a good idea to learn how people do talk before we proceed to lay down laws how they should talk. When, in studying pronunciation, we survey the English-speaking world we find great diversity in speech habits.
Does this diversity indicate richness in language material or does it represent an unfortunate disintegration of English? Both views are held.
The linguist and the writer of fiction accept the richness of material gladly; those who would like to see English standardised hold that the spread of the language throughout the world sowed the seeds of its disintegration into mutually unintelligible dialects.
Whatever we conclude, however, there is a unity in the diversity, just as there is a unity in the diversity of national aspirations and ways of life within the British commonwealth. The dominions share the common heritage, but have something distinctly their own to show for their history of independent effort. Language reflects this.
If we concentrate our attention upon the separate countries of the English-speaking world, we shall find diversity in pronunciation within each of them.
In England this is most marked. There we have the rustic dialects, the speech of the cities (Cockney for instance), class dialects, as well as the large cleavage between Northern, Southern and Irish English.
In America there are the North Eastern, Pacific Coast, Middle Western and Southern varieties of pronunciation.
In Canada the diversity is considerable. In Australia it is least noticeable.
Indeed in this respect we may put England, America and Canada in that order, and assert that Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are notable for the uniformity of pronunciation to be found within each of them. The uniformity in Australia, considering the size of the country, is remarkable.
But there are differences all the same.
Australian speech falls broadly into two types. One is the educated cultivated type of speech, approximating to the educated speech of Southern England, but far from identical with it.
The other is the popular, broad, characteristically Australian speech. It is difficult to find a name for it.
Some dismiss it contemptuously as Cockney. But that description is unwarranted. It is not appropriately called the Australian dialect, because a dialect implies a minority speech, whereas the broad Australian speech is used by the majority of Australians; by at least seventy per cent. of them.
Let us call it broad Australian, for want of a better term. It is the type of speech that marks the speaker as unmistakably Australian, and causes the Australian some irritation when he travels abroad and is identified by his pronunciation.
But why should we be irritated? Why should we not pay broad Australian at least the respect we pay Scottish pronunciation?
These divisions of Australian speech do not correspond to geographical or social divisions. They do not correspond at all closely to professional groupings. An eminent lawyer or surgeon may use the broad Australian speech, while a factory hand may use the educated speech. Perhaps they correspond most consistently to educational divisions.
The educated speech is most commonly characteristic of people who have had the privilege of an advanced education. It is aimed at and desired by them.
The broad speech is the pronunciation of farmers, tradesmen, shopkeepers, etc. It is good and useful, as its users are praiseworthy and indispensable people.
So there is an external and an internal problem which confronts broadcasting authorities in Australia. Are we to face the problem squarely as it presents itself or take refuge in the wild assertion that the Australian voice and speech are hopeless anyhow and we are going to dodge our difficulties by adopting an English standard?
Certainly the latter is the last course that should be adopted. We should use an Australian speech, without apology and without any sense of a need for self-justification. There is nothing wrong with the Australian voice or speech. It is as acceptable, as pleasant, as good English as any speech to be heard anywhere in the English-speaking commonwealth.
And we should not try to ignore or even reduce the differences between Australian and English speech. The educated Australian does not speak exactly as the educated Southern Englishman. Far from it. Listen to the way in which the B.B.C. announcers say: Monday, many, calm, service, ability; and listen to Heath Burdock or Bruce Miller, good Australian speakers, and notice the differences.
If the Australians tried to imitate the English manner, they would produce a speech that was neither good Australian nor good English.
There are also differences between English and Australian speech in the pronunciation of separate words. We should give the pronunciation that is commonest in Australia, not slavishly imitate the English pronunciation.
We should adopt naturally an Australian speech. I was almost going to write “adopt unashamedly.” But the question of shame or inferiority should simply not arise.
Speech is a social habit, and people are easily irritated by pronunciations different from their own. Often we dislike a form of speech because we associate it with a type of person or a social class whom we dislike or with whom we have no sympathy.
The speaker of educated Australian may associate broad Australian with lack of education, boorishness, carelessness. The speaker of broad Australian may associate educated Australian with false superiority, affectation, excessive carefulness. The irritation is added to if the broad Australian is extreme or if the refinement of the educated speech is over-done.
It is an eternal problem, but not beyond solution.
The B.B.C. found a solution, though it was faced with a much more complex variety of speech than are the Australian broadcasting authorities.
The speakers of broad Australian will tolerate, even ad mire, the educated speech, so long as it is not pedantic or over-refined.
The educated speakers will not tolerate the broad speech in general announcing, but will welcome it in its proper place, in interviews, microphone discussions and dramatic dialogue.
To exclude it altogether would be as foolish as to expel Cockney or Lancashire English from radio comedy.
There is a place in broadcasting for every type of Australian speech.
But in general announcing and in short-wave broadcasting, the speech should always be Australian. To use an English or pseudo-English pronunciation is a policy which has no justification in theory, dodges the problem, which shrinks from proclaiming own nationality, and which may inflict irritation upon many Australian listeners.
The ABC Weekly (Sydney, NSW), 12 September 1942, pp. 3-4
B.B.C. = the British Broadcasting Corporation, established in October 1922; known as the British Broadcasting Company, until it changed its name in January 1927; also known as “The Beeb”, “Auntie”, and “Auntie Beeb” (slang terms)
Bruce Miller = a journalist and newsreader for the ABC in the 1940s
Heath Burdock = a newsreader for the ABC and 2UE radio in the 1930s and 1940s
per cent. = an abbreviation of “per centum” (Latin, meaning “by a hundred”), i.e. an amount or ratio expressed as a fraction of 100; also rendered as “percent”, “pct”, “pc”, or “%” (per cent sign)
rustic = of or relating to the countryside or rural areas; plain, rough, or simple in appearance or fashion; something typical of rural places or of the countryside; lacking refined etiquette or social graces; characteristic of or resembling rural people
[Editor: Added a full stop after “desired by them”, “educated Southern Englishman”, “from radio comedy”.]