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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Is there an “Asian-Australian” accent?

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At university, he researched the phenomenon. When he asked people to listen to voice recordings of Asian and non-Asian Australians without any context, most were able to distinguish between the two. It was part of his undergraduate degree in linguistics, so not definitive by any means, but he thought it indicated the possibility that such an emphasis existed.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I have always believed that for those like me who don’t ‘look Australian’ a distinctively Australian accent is one of the best ways to prove we belong. He says: Just like the rest of you, we probably know how to have a soccer conversation and are well versed in throwing shrimp at the barbie (to be honest, I can’t do any of those things). He says: We have evacuated our alien character enough, so please accept us into the mainstream. It is, of course, a very minor way of thinking.

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“There’s this ingrained idea that focus binds us together,” Baopu said. “So to say, no, we don’t share the same accent, there is something unsettling about it.”

He had some hesitation during his research. What was the benefit of looking for points of difference? Was it creating more possibilities for division? I had similar doubts while writing this – especially when Baopu didn’t recognize the Asian-Australian accent in the reality TV contestant I thought I heard him in.

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We can hear accents where there aren’t due to someone’s appearance, and it’s easy to venture into the realm of stereotypes, said Catherine Travis, professor of linguistics at the Center d. ARC Excellence for Language Dynamics at Australian National University.

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Professor Travis has studied modern Australian speech, and although her research so far has found nothing quite similar to the type of accent Baopu and I were talking about, she said there was something notable about the way second generation Chinese-Australians speak.

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Australian English had a great class distinction – from something like your stereotypical Crocodile Dundee accent on one end to something resembling a posh British accent on the other. But that gap has narrowed in recent decades, she said. There has been a shift towards a more universal middle class accent, and Chinese-Australians have been at the forefront, sometimes adopting new ways of speaking before the rest of the country catches up.

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