Thursday, June 18, 2009


One of the curious aspects of regional variations in the English language is that some people who move from country to country evidently retain their original accent far more effectively than others. Certainly, more than six years since taking up residence in New England I seem to be speaking with a more or less unaltered Australian accent, at least in its comparatively soft Melbourne iteration. There have been some changes creeping in, however, mostly in the interests of basic comprehension. The “–ile” and “–ess” words are good examples. In America, agile and fragile are pronounced like Mr. Justice Tadgell; facile like vassal; missile like epistle; hostile exactly the same as hostel; docile like fossil; (in)fertile like hurdle; (im)mobile like (ig)noble; and futile like feudal. Textile, juvenile, reptile, and volatile follow suit. Meanwhile congress, duchess, heiress, hostessabscess, and so on, lean much farther towards mattress than undress. Unless you utter these words in the manner agreed locally you will not be understood any better than if you stubbornly persist with flat for apartment, boot for trunk, lift for elevator, trolley for hand truck, tram for trolley, cable car for tram, aluminium for aluminum, biscuit for cookie, a quarter to ten for a quarter of ten, ground floor for first floor, one hundred and three for one hundred three, roast chicken for roasted chicken, basil (like dazzle) for basil (like hazel), solicitor for attorney, grill for broil, patience for solitaire, take for bring, i.e. from here to the airport, and so on ad infinitum. The only problem with these slight adjustments, even if they do not really alter the way you pronounce vowels, consonants, and dipthongs, is that from time to time, upon going back to Australia, friends and relations tend to pounce with excessive vehemence upon the slightest verbal tics, form of words, even points of emphasis, as if these reflect some gradually deepening disloyalty to home and hearth—and are not the natural consequence of living and working abroad. Sorry, overseas.

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