This morning I said something to my husband about having some water, and even my own ears picked up on the way I pronounced ‘water’. Wawdah. I don’t know what happened to the ‘T’ in the middle, but it doesn’t exist in my lingo. In fact, there’s even a little roll of the tongue somewhere in there!
If I’d said it to someone learning the English language, I’d be surprised if they understood what I meant.
It’s endlessly fascinating how we can mangle our own language. It seems it’s the same all over the world – there’s thousands of languages, and then there’s dialects – millions of them. And within that, there’s the way we pronounce words differently from area to area. I say tomaeto, you say tomatoh.
We grow up with our own ways of communicating, within our own language. It can be daunting to outsiders. Within a family there can be a language all of your own, sometimes built on some little thing someone once said. My mother’s mother was known as Era to the extended family (pronounced Ee-rah) simply because my oldest brother as a toddler couldn’t pronounce ‘Grandma’.
Then there’s the different terms used from state to state, or town to town. We tease my father for his use of the word ‘donk’. Apparently that’s what he and his friends called it when they gave each other a lift on their bicycles. He grew up in Ballarat, a large country town in Victoria, Australia. He raised his family in Melbourne, where everyone (plus the rest of our state and probably the country) used the word ‘dink’ instead.
Oh stop laughing, rest of the world – it sounds normal to us! However, of course my family still laughs at the word ‘donk’, just because it’s different 😉
And there’s words that can get you into trouble from country to country. Like ‘thong’ – in Australia, it’s rubber footwear for summer, but to the rest of the world it’s swimwear that leaves little to the imagination. And the word ‘root’ has entirely different connotations in Australia than in America. In Australia, rooting for your team would get you arrested for a major public indiscretion!
I once went on a guided tour in South America with only four other people. Three of us were Australian, including the trip leader; there was a girl from the Isle of Man in the UK, who’d recently spent some time in Australia; and then there was the Danish girl who spoke English quite well.
Or so we thought, until I came back to our shared room one night to find her upset. After some coaxing, she told me that she couldn’t keep up with our rapid-fire English, let alone the slang with which we peppered our conversations, and she felt very left out. I quietly let the others know and we were much more careful after that, with what we said and how we said it. Which was actually very good for us, making us think about language and the power of speech.
And we did find a shared language of another sort – all happily belting out ABBA songs for two hours on the back of a truck somewhere in Brazil!
When language fails, smiling or singing will do the trick 🙂