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The Scrivener: Warm Dubban Budder?

"Wordsmiths are fascinated by the history of English. Some of us are also concerned about its future, in Australia at least,'' writes columnis Brian Barratt, a writer with the gift of being able to make words dance, sing and royally entertain.

To read more of Brian's words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

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One of the delights of listening to non-English speech on TV documentaries is that you can hear the words. You might not understand them, but you can hear them. How satisfying it is to listen to German and French people, for example, speaking their native tongues so clearly. Danes and Swedes speak less clearly. They seem to be enunciating, in a friendly way, only the top half of each word along a printed line.

British regional accents are sometimes difficult to follow. One Melbourne TV reviewer declared that she hates them. Hate is a strong word. Perhaps she doesn’t know how to switch on the captions (sub-titles) when she’s watching a police drama made in Glasgow or a comedy from Liverpool. On the other hand, some of our commercial TV channels don't bother to provide closed captions.

Mind you, some of us would be grateful for captions when there’s an American film on television. However, as the scripts are sprinkled liberally with cliches — ‘Oh my God’, ‘Hey you guys’, ‘Let’s go!’, ‘I’ll bust your ass’ and ‘Wanna tell me about it?’ — we probably aren’t missing much.

It’s a pity they don’t have captions at the local shops in this part of Australia.

This morning, the polite request ‘Please may I have a savoury muffin?’ gave rise to the response, ‘Warm dubban budder?’

I replied, ‘Yes please.’ Muffins are nice when they are warmed up and served with a pat of butter, even if some of us should not eat butter.

The task of warming up was given to another young person. She handed over the results with the comment, ‘Padder budder’. There wasn’t even a rising inflexion to indicate that this was a question. We’re multilingual down here, you know. Instant translation, without captions, is necessary when you hear Strine. The question was actually, ‘Would you like a pat of butter?’ Not only was it asked twice, but the item was already on the plate being handed over.

Then again, those of us who have been away from England for nearly 60 years might still have traces of our original accents and are unintelligible to some shop assistants. We need reciprocal captions in encounters such as:

‘I’d like two small packets of X please.’ (Substitute anything you like for X, but don’t be rude.)

'Owmany yerwann?’

‘Two, please.’

''Owbig yerwannum?'

'Small, please.'

Wordsmiths are fascinated by the history of English. Some of us are also concerned about its future, in Australia at least. A leaflet arrived in the letter-box last week. It advertised a dry-cleaning service. Attached to it was a scrap of paper with the message:

Present this voucher with 3 garments & recieve 1 garment free (every day garments only)

We’ll grimly accept the spelling of receive. That is a common error. Can we overlook the adjective everyday becoming two words? This has crept into our written language in recent years. However, the real howler is the implicit offer: If you take three garments for dry-cleaning, they will give you another garment.

One of our Federal Government coalition parties appointed a new leader (at the time of writing these notes). His speech to media reporters included something like, ‘Myself and my colleagues will continue to…’

Myself hopes that himself’s knowledge of politics is not as poor as himself’s use of himself’s native tongue.

Wanna padder budder withat?

© Copyright 2005, 2007, 2011 Brian Barratt


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