Friday, September 7, 2012


I must say, I have never loathed my own accent more than when in Australia.  That flat, nasal twang alongside the playful kineticism of the Australian dialect is like listening to a cat yowling in heat. When Paul talked about clanging cymbals, I think he had us in mind.  (I would be willing to bet he visited the Midwest. And then he wept.)

And some of the differences you don't even notice until you're back. I went to Mass last night at our community, and over and over again I heard "Ay-men," and accent on that "Ay".

Australians don't pronounce the word that way.  For them, it's the dentist's bit, open your mouth and say Ahh-men. And whether it's because the vowel is short rather than long, or the accent is on the last syllable rather than the first, or something else, the word presents quieter somehow, not in volume but in intensity. When you say "Ay-men", you're taking a stand, you're making a public commitment.  When you say "Ah-men", you're more accepting something that's being offered, you're acquiescing.  It's the difference between "Yes" and "Let it be so."

It would be dangerous to use that one word to draw any conclusions about the differences between Australian and American culture. Ridiculous.  And yet, as I watched bits of the Democratic National Convention last night, the President's evangelical style, the audience's hunger to leap up in adulation -- all of which is pretty puzzling for Australians -- I couldn't help but think that perhaps there is more to this than pronunciation.


Carol said...

Of course the Australians are puzzled about our conventions. They have a parliamentarian democracy, meaning that at any time new elections can be called and the entire legislative body can be summarily fired.
I'm envious: We the taxpayers should not have had to pay for the stonewalling antics that had no purpose other than to try to keep the current president to one term.

I'm registered as an Independent, and have no particular party loyalty. I like many of President Obama's efforts, deplore a couple of them, but no government that wants to be taken seriously ought to be permitted to engage in the kind of passive aggressive nonsense that we have had to put up with for the past four years. I hope that in generally ignored congressional races, people remember this and vote their outrage.

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