Daily Archives: December 23, 2015

Hearing voices

All of my research of Upper Canada, British Guiana, Sydney and Port Phillip has involved written documents: letters, court documents, despatches, newspapers, diaries.  It’s a rather quiet world.  You can detect voices in letters and the court depositions perhaps, but generally you’re hearing with your eyes, rather than your ears.

I’ve long been fascinated to know what those early generations of settlers sounded like.  For those settlers who came from the United Kingdom, where accents can be pinpointed to a small, particular location, how long did such a distinctive accent last?  Crikey’s Full Sic blog today has an article by Richard Ingold ‘So where did the Aussie accent really come from?’ He draws fairly heavily on Bruce Moore’s book Speaking Our Language, the introduction to which you can read here, and which was reviewed well by Mark Bahnisch on Larvatus Prodeo.

Moore, who is Director of the National Dictionary Centre at ANU,  argues in Speaking our Language that convicts, administrators, military personnel and later, free settlers, spoke a variety of accents, especially from south-eastern England.  In such an environment, the elements of pronunciation that were especially associated with a particular dialect were eliminated, often within a generation.  This ‘levelling’ process led to an established Australian accent by the early 1830s.  It was only then that dialectical words that were marginal in British accents became incorporated into Australian English, especially during the tumult of the Gold Rushes and afterwards.  But importantly, these words were superimposed onto an already existent, levelled Australian accent. The negative reaction to the Australian Accent, particularly in the wake of the creation of Received Pronunciation in England, did not arise until the 1880s. This fits in with the emphasis on elocution in Joy Damousi’s book Colonial Voices, and rings true when I think of that peculiar, strangled, rather British accent that is heard in old Australian documentaries.

Ingold’s article also cites Peter Trudgell’s far more technical book New-Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes. Published in 2004, Trudgell concentrates particularly on Australian, New Zealand and South African English and argues that these varieties of colonial English are similar to each other because they were formed out of similar mixtures, according to the same principles.  He stretches the process out over two generations, but it is still, nonetheless, a fairly rapid process.

My research based in New South Wales centres on the years 1837-1843. If Moore is correct, then the voices on the street would be levelled Australian voices, although in circles being supplemented by a succession of appointments from elsewhere in the empire, this may have been less apparent.  Interesting thought.

Movie: ‘Truth’

I was disappointed in this one.

Based on her book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power (2004), this is the story of Mary Mapes, the producer of Sixty Minutes in America. She produced the segment, presented by Dan Rather, that questioned  George W. Bush’s selection for enlistment and later performance in the Texas Air National Guard which allowed him to avoid being drafted for Vietnam.  The film follows the uncovering and verification of documents and the search for evidence to back up the story. After the segment was aired, questions were raised about the authenticity of the documents, and three CBS producers, including Mapes, were fired. Dan Rather resigned soon after.

I must confess that I’m not particularly aware of the role of producers in news programs and the distinction between a producer and a presenter.  I looked through the list of producers in the Wikipedia entry on Four Corners (probably the Australian program most comparable to that depicted in the film) and while some names were familiar, others weren’t.

I had been hoping that this film would be more like the excellent BBC Series The Hour  (alas, we’ll never know what happened to Freddie…) or Good Night and Good LuckTruth did not have the tautness of either of these programs and was too schmaltzy. Although you’re left with questions at the end of the film, you feel more suffocated than lacerated.

It’s a brilliant cast, with Cate Blanchett and an increasingly wrinkly Robert Redford, but the roles didn’t seem to stretch them at all. It was a surprise to see Noni Hazlehurst there- yes our Noni- and she played her small role really well.

So, a rather lukewarm 3/5 from me.