Do you speak Oz? Guest Post by Janet Gover

Janet Gover author who can speak OZ


Today, our guest blogger is Janet Gover, an Australian writer who grew up in the bush. There she discovered that falling in love with the boy next door is difficult — when next door is 50 miles away and all you have for transport is a horse.

With a pedigree like that, the Hive was not at all sure what kind of guest blog we were going to get. And when it arrived, it was … well … different. But different can also be great fun as you’ll discover. Over to Janet . . .


Do you speak Oz/Australian/Strine?

Stolen vowels.

It’s time for a confession.

The guilt of my nation has weighed heavily on my shoulders — and at last I’m coming clean. Australia is a nation of thieves. It must have something to do with our convict past. But I’m afraid we have stolen something very valuable… Welsh vowels.

Let me explain.

It’s Welsh wot dun it

Flag of Wales exporting vowels to speak Oz

I think Welsh is a lovely language. When spoken, it has a lilting, almost musical sound. I could fall for a man just because he spoke Welsh. I really could.  In fact, I did once (it was the actor Richard Burton). But when you look at the written language — there is one thing that leaps out…

Rwy’n codi’n gynnar bob dydd.  That’s modern Welsh for I get up early every day (which I don’t — but that’s not the point). Note the vowel to consonant ratio. Not good. There are lots of double consonants, and it’s almost as if the vowels have to be carefully rationed.

And in Oz Speak . . .

Now Australian (and yes it is a language in its own right — or it should be) has the opposite problem.

Gordo is a drongo in his camo. That’s Australian for Gordon looks like a fool wearing camouflage clothing.  You will of course have noticed the surfeit of vowels.

As an Aussie, I am always getting teased about how the tone of my voice rises at the end of a sentence, almost as if asking a question. It’s those Welsh vowels, you see. They add that rising tone, but because they are in our language, rather than where they belong, they sound silly instead of musical.

And they are everywhere in Australian. We shorten every word we can and add a vowel or two at the end…

  • Arvo — afternoon
  • Barbie — bar-b-que
  • Blowie — blow fly
  • Cockie — a cockroach, a cockatoo or a farmer
  • Mozzie — mosquito
  • Rellie or Rello — a relative

…. And the list goes on and on.

speak oz? cockies in akkies at the ekka

Cockies in Akkies at the Ekka
[Farmers in Akubra hats at the Royal National Exhibition (a rural show)]

Not only that, most of our uniquely Aussie words are vowel heavy…

  • Drongo — fool
  • Doona — a duvet
  • Donga — No, not what you think. Dongas are small accommodation units provided at big mines for the FIFO workers (fly in — fly out).
  • Hooroo — Goodbye
  • Cooee — a call to attract attention
  • Yakka (or hard yakka) — work.

Those Aussie words really upset a spell checker.

An Oz Apology — sort of

Australian dictionary - to speak oz

dictionary with gum leaves on cover

So, I’m sorry Welsh speakers. I’d love to give you back some vowels. But I guess we need them all. We Aussies have our own language — and I for one am proud of it. It is unique and says a lot about us and our culture. It sets us up as an easygoing, casual people who take life as it comes.

If you are reading a book written in Australian, don’t confuse your dingoes and drongos, your doonas and dongas.

To help you out, there is an Australian language dictionary (shown above right). Mine is very well used as I try to explain to my editor that yes, ute is a word and no, it does not need a capital U.

(ute: utility or farm vehicle with a flat tray back)

utes in oz speak

classic Australian utes — the dog is a popular optional extra

Learning a new language is fun and — for most people — Australian is an easier language to learn than Welsh. It’s all about the vowels…

Many thanks to Janet Gover for her Speak Oz lessons

Janet has always been a writer. She started her career as a journalist — covering everything from politicians to murders and rock stars. She tells fantastic stories about her time as a journo, as many RNA members will attest, and this blog gives a flavour of how much fun she can be.

Her first fiction was a short story published in 2002, and her first novel was published in 2009. Her writing has won, or been shortlisted for, awards in the UK, Australia and the US, but her musings on language add a new colour to her Australian-set books (below). Although proudly Australian, Janet is now living in London — lured there, she says, by an Englishman with green eyes.The award winning Coorah Creek series - so farYou can find out more about Janet and her books on her website. She also tweets as @janet_gover and is on FaceBook too

Janet Gover’s Latest Coorah Creek Book is coming in August

Little Girl Lost cover smlLittle Girl Lost was in part inspired by an Australia song, released in 1960, called Little Boy Lost. The song tells the true story of a four year old boy who went missing in the bush, and was found safe and well after the biggest search in Australian history.

But there is more than one way to be lost.

Little Girl Lost is the fourth book set in the small outback town of Coorah Creek. All the books can be read as stand-alone stories.

Want to know more? It’s here for preorder.


6 thoughts on “Do you speak Oz? Guest Post by Janet Gover

  1. Sue McCormick

    Living in Midwest U. S. A., I don’t speak Oz, so I was glad to learn about it.

    I have a comment and a bone to pick. The comment — whatever the form of English, I believe ALL utes (trucks) come equipped with dogs as popular optional extras. We certainly find them everywhere here in our midwest.

    The bone to pick — nonsense — It’s just another form our our common English language, the language common all over the globe and totally not understood by any of us. Someone once wrote — English doesn’t borrow from other languages; it chases them down dark alleys, bludgeons them and steals the word. Your charming essay is just another case in point; more about pronunciation than word choice, but we ALL also mispronounce English badly.

    Thanks for a great read.

    1. Janet

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. And its nice to know the dogs are everywhere.
      I do think word choice is very different in different ‘English’ speaking countries. I lived in the US (New York) for couple of years, and often found myself misunderstood – petrol vs gas; sidewalk vs footpath, handbag vs purse – the list goes on. That’s not to say any of us is right or wrong – but we are different. And that’s one of the things I find so fascinating about people and about language. It’s one of the joys of being a reader and a writer.
      J C

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    So that’s where all the Welsh vowels went. I’ve always wondered and I’m glad to be enlightened. Oz is a fascinating language. What I want to know is whether NZ’s language is much like Oz. Interest there at moment as my bro is living over there with his NZ wife doing a PhD at Auckland uni.

    1. Janet

      NZ has a touch of the Scottish in it – a lot of settlers came from there. You will hear a NZ’er refer to you a ‘wee thing’… something an Aussie would never say. With the rivalry that exists between the two countries, getting the accent mixed and mis-identifying a speaker can lead to small wars or cricket games. Beware! 🙂

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