Saying it like an Australian

Australian Style

To be, or not to be. That is the question. For example: To be Australian. Or not to be Australian but be true to where you originally came from?

That is the question some immigrants are encountering in multicultural Sydney. Some choose the former. The young lady who makes coffee (a barista, as the title goes) at one of our local coffee shops is from Punjab. She’s chosen to be as Aussie as possible from day one. This is her new country, it has adopted her and called her Australian. She is, therefore, not going to let it down, no way darl!

Darl? Not to sound preachy or instructive, but for those unacquainted with the Aussie penchant for abbreviation, darl is not even remotely connected to Indian lentils. It is, instead, an abbreviated endearment. A little darling. Darl.

In Australia, the general rule of thumb: Why say Darryl when you can use Dazza, the obvious diminutive. Likewise, the diminutive for Tom is, of course, Tommo. Ergo, darl, for darling. Follow? No, neither do I, and I’ve been here a decade and some.

It took a while to twig when someone is a daggy dresser. Daggy, being scruffy. You could be suited up and still be daggy. Someone having a smoko is, yes, puffing on a ciggie! A journo, correct, is a reporter, or more properly, journalist but you’d expose yourself as a trifle un-Aussie if you said ‘journalist’.

But what’s a muso? A muse, maybe? Unamusingly, it’s a musician. Paul McCartney, for instance. Or the band Muse. All musos.

Speaking of musos, would any non-Aussie care to guess as to what chunder is? The dictionary says chunder is an old seafaring term when seamen, seasick, stuck their heads out of cabin portholes and … well, got sick.

True blue Aussie

I, of course, encountered the word in the 1980s via a lively piece of music with a catchy little flute riff, called Down Under. The story of the catchy little flute riff is to be set aside for another time. For years I sang the song, in seclusion to be sure, unaware and uninformed. Now, where was I? Ah yes, the immigrant Punjabi barista! Is she aware that darl means darling? No, she wasn’t. She was simply imitating the other lady barista, who is a true blue Aussie. Now that she knows, of course, she has stopped calling the young men who come to have their coffee made, by that word, or by any word.

That’s one side of the immigrant coin. On the reverse, there’s the migrant who’s determined not to give up one iota of accumulated culture. The idea is to teach the others to blend/accept his/her ways — within reason, of course: we are talking common speech here.

In this way, words like chai, sari, kofta and tandoori are, like popular music, enjoying a fair deal of air play. Others will follow because there are Aussies who are keen to demonstrate there’s a latent polyglot in some of them.

The other day I sallied past four people who appeared to be chanting together. I recognised one of them as the man who serves me at the chicken shop, a recent migrant, too. A Sri Lankan. The other three, as it turned out, are his teachers at the migrant learning centre, where language skills are taught. Only, in this instance, he was doing the teaching. A quick lesson in pronunciation, or syllabification.

For the Sri Lankan name, with its abundance of syllables, can traumatise the lazy tongue. Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilanga Sumathipala. These English teachers are all cricket tragics. A tragic, being an aficionado, or a fanatic.

And so it goes, in Sydney’s melting pot. A little give, a little take, a little mix, a little match and, very subtly, while no one is watching, a whole culture is evolving, one new word at a time. It will be interesting, with so much migratory movement, to see what Sydney is like in 50 years’ time.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.