An academic in Australia has set off a firestorm Down Under with claims that the Aussie accent resulted from early settlers being drunks.
In an opinion piece in The Age newspaper, public speaking expert Dean Frenkel claims the “Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol.”
“Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns,” he wrote. “For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.”
The claim – which Frenkel later acknowledged was little more than a theory - was quickly attacked by other communication experts in Australia.
University of Queensland linguistics expert Rob Pensalfini told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the theory was an example of "cultural cringe" and was "absolute rubbish."
"They say New Yorkers have nasal voices because they have to cut through the noise of the traffic," he told the ABC.
"The original one for Australia was we speak in a slurred and closed-lip way to keep the flies out of their mouths,” he said. "They're all completely baseless ... I want to see the evidence, I want to see the instrumental valuations."
But Frenkel did have his defenders – sort of.
Tom Clark, a colleague of Frenkel's at Victoria University, said that there may be something to his theory.
"It is undoubtedly the case that the Australian accent is formed out of a mix of accents from source countries that came together in a particular environment in Australia, and no doubt the way people socialised was an important part of that…he can't be 100 per cent wrong," Clark told ninemsn.
Whether the theory holds up, Frenkel probably did achieve one of his goals – to raise the profile of rhetoric as an important fixture in Australian culture.
In his opinion piece, Frenkel fretted that Australians speak in just two thirds capacity – “with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch and that’s just concerning articulation.”
“Missing consonants can include missing "t"s (Impordant), "l"s (Austraya) and "s"s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially "a"s to "e"s (stending) and "i"s (New South Wyles) and "i"s to "oi"s (noight),” he wrote.
He went onto claim that poor communication was akin to an epidemic and was costing the country’s economy billions of dollars. His solution – introducing rhetoric into the schools.
“Rhetorical skills are a crucial part of the Australian fabric. Yet I have no doubt there would be resistance to introducing the fourth "R" into the curriculum,” Frenkel wrote. “Why? Because Australia is burdened with a values problem that nonsensically plays down the importance of speech skills, regarding them as superficial. Indeed a recent trend in linguistics teaches that poor speech doesn't matter at all.”