VCE English Language Units 3/4 – Interactive Course
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Introduction to Unit 4 – What Are Our Cultural Values?
In this unit students focus on the role of language in establishing and challenging different identities. Students examine both print and digital texts to consider the ways different identities are constructed.
Students explore how our sense of identity evolves in response to situations and experiences and is influenced by how we see ourselves and how others see us. Through our language we express ourselves as individuals and signal our membership of particular groups. Students explore how language can distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’, creating solidarity and reinforcing social distance.
Australia is often characterised as being fair, equal, laidback, egalitarian and hospitable. Australia is also known as having a ‘classless’ society – what this means is that we don’t value or respect the upper class (authority) as much as America or Britain does, and in fact, our lexicon and accents collectively reflect this value of classlessness.
Let’s first start off by defining some of these cultural values.
Egalitarianism: this is the belief in the idea of equality for all people; that all citizens should be granted a ‘fair go’. This idea should not be confused with socialism or communism, which is a political ideology.
According to Convict Creations, “in comparison to other English speakers, Australians tend to be far more informal readily using the same language when dealing with a boss, an elderly person, friend or rapscallion.”
This notion of egalitarianism can be seen in a famous example, when cricketer Dennis Lillee met the Queen, he greeted her with a handshake and a friendly: “g’day, how ya go’in?”.
However, while this notion of friendliness may seem harmless to the interlocutor, it can often be perceived as rude because this means treating someone of a higher status with lower respect. This is predominantly the reason why many Australians feel comfortable swearing and why swearing is more commonplace in Australian society than America or Britain.
Egalitarian cultural ideologies can also be reflected in certain lexical choices. For example, due to the widespread use of informality amongst most interlocutors, it would not be uncommon to hear many Australians use the lexeme ‘mate’ as a sign of friendliness and mateship.
Let’s briefly look at WHY many Australians believe in this egalitarian value. Australia became an egalitarian society because people who were treated as second-class citizens refused to accept that they were in any way inferior. This refusal to accept inferiority greatly differentiates Australia from its eastern hemisphere neighbours, where hierarchical thinking prevails. This notion is proven by Englishman George Bennett, who wrote in 1834, ”the English spoken is very pure, and it is easy to recognise a person from home or one born in the colony, no matter what class of society”.
TALL POPPY SYNDROME
The tall poppy syndrome is the idea that anyone who demonstrates superiority or flaunts their success will be ‘cut back down’ and often criticised for displaying this superiority. Again, as mentioned above, this value grew out of convict resentment and Australia’s penal colony history.
The linguistic tall poppy syndrome is the reason Aussies officially shrink more words than any other language. Linguist Professor Roly Sussex examined 60 languages and, although many shorten names, no other language abbreviates as much as Australian. There are 5000 Australian morphological diminutives – from “cushy” (cushion) and “dero” (derelict, for a homeless person) to “Cab Sav”, “soy cap”, “avo” and the gender-neutral “Firie.”
Kel Richards argues this is semantic solidarity but also the Australian way of using informality to puncture affectation and undercut authority “This is verbal signage we belong to the same mob. Many an inflated, smug, syllable-heavy word gets a quick snip with the Aussie verbal scissors to reduce it to a bonsai version of its former self.”
This would explain why many Australians refer to politicians are ‘pollies’, which could indicate the intended undercutting of authority, and disrespect or authority figures.
I am sure many Australians would realise that we can be a very laid-back bunch. This notion is very clearly evident in the colloquial phrase ‘no worries mate’ or ‘she’ll be right!’. While the term ‘no worries’ can be heard overseas, Australia has the largest usage of this unique phrase!
According to linguist Anna Wierzbicki, this colloquial expression exemplifies Australian culture and identity, including “amiability, friendliness, an expectation of shared attitudes (a proneness to easy ‘mateship’), jocular toughness, good humour, and, above all, casual optimism.”
Entirely new forms of Australian language are emerging as our accent adapts to the growing value of multiculturalism, says Fiona Cox, a phonetician from Macquarie University in Sydney.
“Changes in accent parallel sociocultural changes because the accent is a fundamental marker of identity,” she says.
“Our dialect is still quite young by global standards but as it matures we can expect some more regional variations and ethnocultural variations to come into the language.”
This would explain why Australia nowadays has a variety of ethnolects such as ‘Greek Australian English, ‘Chinese Australian English’ and so forth.
These are just some of the key Australian cultural values – I am sure there are many more. Can you think of any others?
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