Lost in Translation

As I lug my Arabic grammar books and dictionary from country to country in anticipation of my time in the Middle East, it never occurred to me that I should have packed similar tools to help me with the Australian language. Sitting at the dinner table at the farm in Wingham, we often joked how we needed subtitles for the conversation. I am not sure where along the royal line the Queen’s English derailed, but the differences are notable.

A combination of both pronunciation and vocabulary has led to many misunderstandings, questioning looks, and general, “I haven’t a clue what is going on”. Some of these examples are also spoken in the United Kingdom, others seem to be uniquely Aussie.

I was aware of many words that are different in the U.K. And Australia: boot vs. trunk, spanner vs. wrench, lift vs. elevator, torch vs. flashlight, but I am surprised when entire phrases are lost on me.

“The bikkies are on the bench.”

Anyone?…Anyone?…”The crackers are on the countertop.” To further add confusion, from what I gather, bikkies could also be cookies.

Down under crook is sick, broken down or useless. So, when I was crook, they gave me icy poles (popsicles).

I muddled through life on the farm, easily able to distinguish some words. Beetroot is just beets back home and it knew a paddock was a field, but did you know cos is romaine lettuce? News to me. And in Australia lucerne is hay, not a city in Switzerland. And chooks are chickens.

And I beg of you, don’t go to a store and ask for a fanny pack. Similarly, exercise extreme caution if someone asks you if you would like a fork and you are nowhere near the dinner table.

In addition to new vocabulary, the accent presents a host of problems . The principal pothole is the diphthong. A diphthong is when one’s tongue changes shape during the formation of a vowel sound. In North America when we say rain, it is a hard ‘a’, like the Canadian ‘eh’ tagged on to the end of a sentence. “How’s it goin’, eh?” Australian’s pronounce rain more like the vowel sound in rind, as in lemon rind.

The diphthong led to an embarrassing situation one Saturday morning when I was selling raffle tickets at the Farmers’ Market in Wingham. A young lad came to buy a ticket. I repeated back his name three times and thought, “Silly parents, naming your son Ding”. When I gave the ticket back to young Ding he laughed and slowly spelled D-E-A-N.

Speaking of spelling, I hope the tyres on my aeroplane are in good shape for my landing in Bangkok.

Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.– Ralph Crawshaw

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. louisahills says:

    Have you noticed how the dipthong comes into the word ‘today’ as well? I hadn’t noticed until I met a Korean girl who was mortally offended when an Aussie asked her ‘so did you come here to die?’ Now it’s all I can hear every time!

    1. peiterry says:

      Yes, Louisa – I hear it in today and can understand how someone would think it is ‘to die’!!

  2. Dolcie Graham says:

    It sounds like you have had to learn a new language and probably many laughs doing it.

  3. Ashley says:

    Reminds of me of one of my first days of work at the hotel in NZ when we were taking inventory (apologies if you’ve heard this story before). All I had to do was write down the items and quantities as Gina, my supervisor, called them out to me. Sounded easy enough, but she ended up having to spell out nearly every item name. Luckily she was far more amused by my confusion than bothered. When she got to the Pall Malls (as in the cigarette brand, which I’d never heard of), she noticed I looked even more puzzled than usual, so instead of spelling it for me, she had me write down my best guess as to what she was saying. Not sure about Australia, but Ls at the end of a word like that are barely pronounced in NZ, and sound more like a W or just plain silent (I think it’s similar in the UK, but maybe not to the same degree as NZ). For vowels, it’s like they just have a completely different set of sounds that we don’t even use in Canada. After failing my first guess (Po Mo), some of the other staff started joining in to see if their pronunciation was any clearer for me, but of course, it just sounded the same. Gina was in tears laughing after nearly ten minutes of me guessing everything from Paw Maw to Pore More, but I finally came up with Pal Mal, which was close enough.

    1. peiterry says:

      Glad it is not just me, Ash!

  4. Anne MacDonald says:

    I so enjoy reading your posts. I would love to do the travel that you are doing and meeting the people and the life styles you are experiencing. So much to learn and see. Keep us posted.

    1. peiterry says:

      Glad you are enjoying it! Hope all is well back in PEI. Heard you had some snow.

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