HEY AUSTRALIA, YOU SOUND DRUNK
For quite a long time, we Australians absolutely loved to think we were great big nation of boozers. When it came to beer, no one liked it more than an Australian. Man, we could put it away like you wouldn’t believe; it was why we ranked way up there on the list of the world’s biggest beer-drinking nations.
Aside from it being a little odd to be proud to have a national image of perpetual drunkenness, it’s actually not true. Historical drinking rates show that, aside from a period in the 1970s, we’ve never been as in love with beer as we liked to think we were.
It’s finally possible that the myth of the Australian boozer may be dying, if we go by the outraged reaction to a claim that our accent has its roots in drunken slurring …
In October 2015 an opinion piece the Melbourne Age newspaper created a storm in a schooner glass. Dean Frenkel, a lecturer in public speaking and communications (but not, it should be noted for reasons that will soon become apparent, linguistics) at Victoria University penned a piece about Australians’ poor skills when it came to rhetoric, aka the ability to clearly pronounce and articulate your speech.
That’s hardly a contentious issue; speaking more clearly and effectively gets your point across accurately. It’s also likely to ensure the listener doesn’t think you’re a massive dropkick; you could be talking about quantum mechanics in great detail but if you sound like a bogan while doing it (and raise your voice at the end of every sentence) it does make it hard for that listener to take you entirely seriously.
That said, Frenkel did blame a lack of articulation for a surprising array of issues:
“It is self-evident that poor speech skills lead to a lack of confidence and a tendency to internalise emotions and thoughts. It can also contribute to difficulties in relationships, poor decision-making, loneliness, stress retention and stalled development. It may also be a contributor to Australia’s lack of cultural substance.”
“A lack of cultural substance”? Ouch. But still, this wasn’t the thing that caused many people to get hot under the collar and saw Frenkel’s opinion piece referred to by the BBC, CNN, Daily Mail, The Independent, Huffington Post among a host of other outlets. No, that would be Frenkel’s contention that Australians talk like a nation of drunkards.
Or, less flippantly, that our accent has been shaped via the boozing and drunkenness of the first white Australians way back in the late 1700s. Curiously, despite this theory not being the focus of his piece, Frenkel chose to open with it. “Let’s get things straight about the origins of the Australian accent,” he began.