When Barack Obama goes abroad, he has a knack of disarming the locals by quoting from the local language. Even if the locals speak English. In Australia, he won laughs for his (slightly off) rendering of expressions like spot on, chinwag and ear bashing.
So, what better time to consider Australia’s languages, and its use of English? Australia is, of course, home to a great diversity (though not so great these days) of Aboriginal languages. For decades, white Australians either ignored these languages or actively tried to eliminate them. Only recently have Australians begun to embrace these languages as a central part of the country’s culture.
On the pod, three Australians talk about this and other language-related issues: novelist and historian Thomas Keneally, opera singer and composer Deborah Cheetham and historical novelist Kate Grenville. As well as the discussion of the history and fate of Aboriginal languages, bush ranger Ned Kelly is remembered for a choice turn of phrase ( “a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat-headed big-bellied, magpied-legged, narrow-hipped, splay-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords”).
This discussion was first broadcast on the BBC’s Start the Week. There’s a podcast version here. It’s always a must-listen.
For some more Aussie English, curated of the great Australian poet Les Murray, check out this previous pod/post.