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Asia Minute: Is Alcohol Behind the Australian Accent?

Jes / Flickr
Jes / Flickr

Australia continues to be a growth market for travelers to Hawai‘i.  The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority reports visitor arrivals from Australia are up ten-percent compared to a year ago.  So you may be hearing more Australian accents—but some recent discussion about that accent is sparking a bit of controversy back home. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Accents come from various influences.

There’s geography…family…culture…and perhaps even alcohol.  At least that’s the claim of one Australian academic—who says the origins of the Australian accent can be traced to the drinking habits of early settlers.

Dean Frenkel is a lecturer in communications and public speaking at Victoria University.  Last week, he wrote a commentary in the newspaper “The Age,” suggesting “Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns.”  The main point of Frenkel’s piece was a call for public education to pay more attention to rhetoric and communication.

But the bit about the booze sparked the most reaction.  From blogs to op ed pages…criticism has flowed faster than a draft of Victoria Bitter.  A commentary piece written by a fellow Australian in Britain’s Guardian newspaper said “The drunken Aussie accent theory is another slur on our rich use of English.”  University of Queensland linguist Rob Pensalfini told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Frenkel’s theory is “absolute rubbish.”  He says the Australian accent has its roots in Cockney English…with an influence of Irish English. 

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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