Immigrants who speak English as a second language are more likely to pick up Aussie lingo
Esky or cooler? Torch or flashlight? Lollies or candy? If you’re an immigrant, which of these words you choose to use can be a sign of how well you have “linguistically assimilated” to Australia.
You might expect immigrants from English speaking countries to more readily pick up the Aussie lingo. But new research suggests the opposite is true — that immigrants from non-English speaking countries are most likely to snuggle under a Doona rather than a duvet and pour tomato sauce on their sausage sangers rather than tomato ketchup on their banger sarnies.
Bilingualism and accent specialist Dr Ksenia Gnevsheva from Australian National University said when it comes to Australianisms, immigrants who have only used English in Australia are as true blue and dinky-di as people who were born and bred here.
Yet, immigrants who arrive here already speaking English were sometimes dead set against adopting many Australianisms because they saw it as being a “traitor” to their home nation. Strewth!
But there’s one Australianism that’s deeply unpopular with immigrants — and it doesn’t matter if they speak English as a first language or not.
ESKY OR COOLER?
Dr Gnevsheva interviewed fours groups of people — native Australian speakers, Americans who had emigrated to Australia, Russians who had only used English day-to-day once in Australia and Russians who had lived in the US before reaching Australia.
She said she chose to contrast Americans and Russians as there were large groups of both in Australia and because American and Australian English had significant differences.
The groups were shown pictures of 50 items that have alternative Australian and American names such as jam (jelly in US English), Esky (cooler) and rockmelon (cantaloupe).
“The results were surprising in that the local Australians used 80 per cent of the Australian words and 20 per cent of the American words, the same results as Russians speaking English as their second language,” Dr Gnevsheva said.
“The American group only adopted 20 per cent of Australian words and the Russian speakers who had lived in the US first kept half of the American words they’d learnt and adopted 50 per cent of the words in the local Australian dialect.”
The most popular Aussie-ism used by immigrants was the word capsicum which is known as a bell pepper in the states and simply a pepper in Britain.
Lift rather than elevator and lollies rather than candy were also high on the list of easily adopted words.
Esky, however, was less popular with only half of immigrants using the term.
But there was a particular Aussie-ism that was the least adopted by the test subjects — and that’s despite almost everyone owning a pair.
“Lots of people went for flip flops rather than thongs,” she said.
Thongs are better known globally for being intimate underwear than everyday footwear.
Dr Gnevsheva, whose research included input from academics at Macquarie University and Germany’s Paderborn University, said there were a couple of explanations as to why Americans were less inclined to use Aussie lingo than Russians.
“One is cognitive, it may simply be the amount of exposure to a word. An American might have had exposure to American words for 30 or 40 years before they move to Australia.
“For Russians that move straight to Australia they might not have had any exposure to the American words and even those that lived in America may only have been exposed for a few years.”
But the other reason was more emotional in nature.
“Many of the Americans in the study said they knew Australian words like ‘nappy’ but just couldn’t bring themselves to use them because they felt like a traitor to their country and culture if they did.
“This also shows us just how strongly a person considers language a part of their identity and how big an ask it is if we demand they give up their native tongue,” Dr Gnevsheva said.
“For Russian speakers there’s not so much of an emotional connection, words are just a means of communication and not as tied up to identity.
“I expected English speakers to be more assimilated in terms of languages and Russians would find it a handicap. But it turns out having English as a second language can be a benefit as their English is more malleable that native speakers,” she told news.com.au.
But even Americans find themselves adopting some Australianisms, even if more out of necessity than desire. Again, “capsicum” is top of the list. Perhaps because they were getting blank stares at the supermarket when they asked where the bell peppers were. Well, stone the crows.