Talking the talk
On Tuesday I flew from Sydney back to Perth on a Qantas jet. The chief steward announced the menu selection over the intercom – butter chicken or salmon in a white sauce with vegetables – but by the time it arrived on the trolley we were offered the choice of ‘chook or fish’ by the very down-to-earth steward and not surprisingly, the Filipino family next to me had little idea what he was talking about. The same guy had previously asked his colleague if he could find any extra ‘blankies’ because one of the passengers was cold, and I was just waiting for him to ask if we wanted a bickie with our cuppas. It struck me that this comfortable informal ‘kidspeak’ is really typical of Aussie vernacular- it is not patronising, in the sense of treating (other) people as children but it is certainly an acknowledged Australian characteristic to reduce everyday discourse to the ‘informal’. It happens in different ways elsewhere of course, and I respond differently too. In the UK I have felt mildly affronted at being called ‘love’ in a supermarket, but equally, here in Australia, I generally take a back step when an American student calls me ‘professor’: who me? Murdoch is very much a ‘first names only’ campus. The way language is used is fundamental to culture, and the way we respond tell us something about our own. Why do I find the Oztalk, the bickies and blankies, so offputting – it is after all ‘my’ culture. Maybe there’s a bit of cultural cringe happening here, but it also reminds me that ‘culture’ is far more than just a set of ‘national’ attributes.
What do you think?