Is the Australian accent due to booze, mate?

Posted at 2:45 PM, Oct 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-29 16:45:34-04
By Todd Leopold


(CNN) — Does “slip a shrimp on the barbie” have a connection to the “bottle-o”?

Fair dinkum, says an Australian researcher.

Dean Frenkel, a lecturer in public speaking at Melbourne’s Victoria University, claims that the well-known Australian accent — the native voice of Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett and Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan — gets its distinctive twang from alcohol.

“Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns,” wrote Dean Frenkel in The (Melbourne) Age. “For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.”

Frenkel was trying to make a point about Australians’ speaking skills, which he mostly deplored.

“Poor communication is evident among all sectors of Australian society and the annual cost to Australia may amount to billions of dollars,” he wrote.

But other experts disagree. Linguist David J. Peterson, who’s created languages for such shows as “Game of Thrones,” dismissed Frenkel’s idea as “garbage.”

And to many Australians, Frenkel’s theory was as popular as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip.

“Not since Winston Churchill described the Aussie accent as ‘the most brutal maltreatment that has ever been inflicted on the mother-tongue of the great English-speaking nations,’ has someone swung so low,” wrote Jenni Ryall in Mashable.

Ryall spoke with experts who questioned Frenkel’s idea.

“I personally find it laughable that Frenkel thinks that there was a critical mass of constantly drunk people — new mothers included — that would enable children to essentially learn inebriated English,” said one of them, linguist Aidan Wilson.

Others preferred a different theory, more related to the Australian environment than its alcohol consumption — or, for that matter, its mix of native peoples with those from England, Ireland and Germany.

Asked why Australia has a distinctive accent and slang — called “strine” by the locals — Australian author Kathy Lette attributed it to the ever-ferocious species of Oz.

“As anyone who has lived in Australia knows,” Lette wrote in the UK Telegraph, “the reason we mumble is because if you open your mouth too wide, a fly or mosquito will buzz right in and bite you.”