OPINION: Linguists lending an ear to the streets of South Auckland have detected a new dialect, much like Southland's celebrated R.
Or so they say. We'll have to take their word for that because for the life of us we can't hear it.
Perhaps that's just us. As the saying goes, there's none so deaf as those who will not hear.
It doesn't quite go without saying that young Aucklanders haven't been ardently setting out to copy the speech of rural/provincial Southland because they reckon we're so cool.
They're just doing as kids do and trying to be different from their parents.
By their own accounts, or at least some of them, they have been steeping themselves in American culture. Strictly speaking, it appears that if the goal was merely to replicate those particular sounds, they have been getting it just a bit wrong.
Regarded in more benign terms, perhaps what has happened here is a bit of cultural cross-pollination. In any case, the Aucklanders have independently hit upon sounds that, it would seem, please them.
Fair enough. Ours is a living language, as they say. And alongside new accents we inevitably and rightly encounter new vocabularies.
If the dynamic has been a familiar one through the generations, the scale has surely changed. The whole planet is now more interconnected and powerful influences are just far more pervasive.
Southlanders used to be more isolated; we used to hear one another far more than we heard anyone else, save in the movies, TV, radio and record collections.
Now we are a less homogenous society, so there are more interesting accents on the footpaths as well as all our assorted electronic paraphernalia.
In the midst of all this, it's curious how the Southland accent, itself, will survive. There is a school of thought that one important factor in this is what we, ourselves, really think of the way we sound.
If we're even faintly uncomfortable or self-conscious about it, it will be all that more readily shed.
Which would be a great shame. We should be proud of how we sound.
For one thing, it contains an echo of how our Scottish forebears spoke. The reports are still calling it the "rolled" Southland R. We have long been saddled with that description even though our accent is more properly called rhotic. We don't whirr our Rs. We savour that sound, rather than let it sort of evaporate into the nearest vowel.
In past times, southerners were gently teased for their accent on the grounds that it suggested a sort of country-yokel slowness.
Not so much nowadays. Perhaps amid what feels like the increasing gabble and babble of the modern age, the slower cadences of the southern dialect start sounding increasingly thoughtful.
Or maybe not. You'd like to think it still makes a difference whether or not the speaker is talking sense.
The argument has been put before but bears repeating: when we hear our accent used to give voice to great thoughts, great songs and great performances, it's easier to think of it as something to be proud of.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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