A mini-scandal was kicked off when an Australian “public speaking expert” claimed that the Aussie accent came about because the founders of that great nation were a pack of constantly soused alcoholics. Not true! In fact:
“This ‘theory’ about the sozzled nature of our colonial beginnings joins a considerable list of similar ideas about why the Australian accent (itself a shaky notion, since ‘Australian’ accents can vary even within the suburbs of cities) may have evolved the way it did. From ‘Australians never move their top lips’ to ‘settlers kept their jaws clenched so as to keep flies from flying into their mouths’, most have been revealed to be, well, about as grounded in fact as the enduring legend of the drop bear. The short answer as to why Australian English, in a broad sense, sounds the way it does is “it’s complicated” (which is, it must be said, not a very Australian thing to say) but it’s basically a mix of the cockney, Irish and other accents from early colonial times.
The continued implication that alcohol (or, for that matter, alcoholism) is somehow uniquely Australian is something I – a person who feels a bit sleepy after a single Pimm’s cup – have long struggled with. As you can imagine then, this week’s global glee at the alleged linguistic inheritance left to us by hard-drinking forebears went down about as smoothly as a cup of cold sick.
After all, we have far more fascinating linguistic traits: our way with a colourful metaphor (‘face like a bucket of smashed crabs’, ‘head like a hatful of cat’s arseholes’) and our world-beating and poetic grasp of profanity, employed by even the country’s finest wits. Indeed, it was both of those – not any habit of speaking, in Frankel’s words, as though ‘one third of our articulator muscles [are] always sedentary as if lying on the couch’ – that Americans found the most fascinating.”
Personally, I find Australian accents adorable and perplexing. There are plenty of them here in lovely South Korea, but there’s also a bias against them. North American English is, for a few reasons, considered to be the most “neutral” accent these days.