Sunday, March 29, 2015

On Language

A note about yesterday's fun: Some of us from class held a picnic at school by the campus' bucolic lakes so we could go to the university's Earth Hour celebration later in the evening. We were looking forward to see some good music while stargazing when the lights and electrical devices would be turned off for an hour. Welp, our experience was not quite what we had in mind, as UQ decided to not participate in the hour and left the school fully lit all night. That also meant that few people felt inclined to turn off their mobiles, and you could see people texting and shooting pictures when Earth Hour should have happened. And we heard one-too-many aspiring Bob Dylan's, as most of the music was performed by undergrads playing hippie-influenced acoustic songs about sadness and other profound topics (I'm not hating on hippie culture, it just is not my music of choice). There were also a few petitions making circuits on the lawn, hoping to sway massive corporations to change their ways with the signatures of a handful of students. So my people left early, mildly confused from the experience.

Photosynthesis Drew brought up the good point that UQ probably could not participate because the campus hosts a heaping ton of fragile lab experiments with refrigeration and lighting that mustn't be disrupted for academic studies. Still, it was frustrating to see these young students unable to unplug their phones for even an hour, even if they were discouraged from the university's decision. We did not even bother turning off our phones, because there didn't seem to be a point, and we left shortly after the hour started.

Now, back to language. Or rather, languages.

It is going to be pretty amusing when I come back from Australia having learned to speak fluent Spanish during my studies. I believe this will happen for two reasons. Firstly, there is a good amount of Latinos in my program, and I get to hear them speak with each other in Spanish between class sessions. Secondly, my roommates come from Ecuador and Peru, and they are in a constant stream of conversations en espanol, and they encourage my meager efforts to participate with the Spanglish I have in my brain. Living in NYC has prepared me for this experience, with Spanish signs plastered in all of the subways, and I feel I am up for the challenge. But still, it's not at all what I had anticipated for my living abroad experience Down Under.

As for the Aussie version of English, I am facing small snags with my integration of language and dialect. There are words they use in different ways than us in the US, and it's sent me into some pretty amusing arguments about which is the correct word to use for the context.

Some fun examples:

  • Squash vs. Pumpkin - We got in a long debate over the picnic about this because I brought some spaghetti squash to share (They did not know what spaghetti squash even was! I bought it at the market yesterday, so I know it exists here, but they were awestruck by my dish.). When I announced the dish and its ingredients, they asked what I meant exactly by a squash. It seems that Aussies use the word "pumpkin" for all squash. To them, squash isn't really a word except for one or two specific kinds of squash (which I believe are also called zucchini in the US). The orange pumpkin we love and carve/bake in autumn in the US is probably a species they don't know here, which is pretty depressing. But how on earth is a spaghetti squash supposed to be called a spaghetti pumpkin?! That just seems ludicrous. Butternut squash I can see might get away with the word "pumpkin" in its name, and maybe even acorn squash. But spaghetti squash?! Never. Denver Meg and I battled it out with Kylie, Chris, and Drew for a long while, and we left it moot.
  • School vs. University - Okay, I'll let them have this one. University, though an education and schooling facility, is a better way to indicate what level of "school" you're in. But it's a hard habit to kill.
  • Casserole vs. Stew - When discussing cultural dishes, I've told many people about how in the Midwest we are all about the casseroles. I've gotten a lot of tilted heads when I mention this, and I recently found out it's because Aussies use the word casseroles for stew-like concoctions. It makes sense now why people seem flabbergasted that I'd bake a casserole in the over, but I'm not sure why a stew would be called that. I mean, a casserole just *sounds* like something that wants to sit in an oven for a while and roll around in a baking dish. I feel like I should educate these poor souls sometimes in the obsession of the Americans that is a big, creamy casserole.
  • Lightbulb vs. Globe - Imagine my disappointment when I was first walking through aisles in grocery stores here and did not find big world globes happily sitting on shelves, waiting for my amusement. I get it, it's shaped like a globe, but they are not globes. They are bulbs of light! I was devastated that my desires to spin a globe in a supermarket would remain unaccomplished.
  • Gas vs. Petrol - Another one I have to give to them. Gas, while a simple monosyllabic word for all to enjoy, means other things in science that can make it a bit confusing. We put petrol in our cars, because it's petroleum. I can stand behind that one.

Also, Aussies love to abbreviate stuff. I know I've mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating as it's starting to become like a new language in my head. I was listening to the radio a few days ago and realized I didn't understand half of what was going on because every word in the sentence was amputated at the end and had an "o" or an "ie" glued onto the stump. My favorite example is how afternoon somehow magically became arvo, which still flustered me as there is no "r" or "v" in "afternoon" and I'm not sure what inspired that.

Sometimes I wonder why they even bothered to commit word massacres - a lot of the words that are chopped up remain the same number of syllables, just with a different endings. Like bikkies (biscuits, aka cookies). And Brissy (for Brisbane). And brekky (breakfast). I've heard an incredible amount of words that are no longer their originals, though, especially when I was listening to the radio. It seems like they are tired of the ever-so-common English and just want to make their own language. If they were going for efficient slang, though, they have not succeeded.

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