How do you say that? Oh, doesn’t really matter, mate
Australia, we suck at pronunciation. After all, we’re the country that can barely pronounce its own name. Aus-tray-lia? It’s Straya, mate. Love it or leave it.
Peoples’ names? Nope, too hard. Yesterday, Puncher Anthony Sharwood took to the streets to conduct a hilarious survey for News.com.au about our seventh most popular last name: Nguyen. Most streetfolk challenged to say the name properly answered with some variation of neg-ewe-yen (proper pronunciation right here). One bloke even asked if the Vietnamese surname was Aboriginal.
Riiiiight. And Nguyen’s just the tip of the iceberg. People often say the Chinese surname, Zhang, as zang. It’s jung. I can name at least two Greek families I know who have last names six syllables long. Most people can’t say them - and most Greek surnames are fairly phonetic.
We haven’t even gotten to the elephant in the room yet: Eastern Europe. As someone with a Polish surname (Piotrowski) pronounced in a distinctly Strayan way (pet-trow-ski), I’ve got the authority to say: My god.
Let’s start with Jurkiewicz. That’s the maiden name of Gosia Hill, the honourable consul for Poland in South Australia. Throughout her life, plenty of people have pronounced her name JERK-er-witz.
“You can imagine, JERK-er-witz, how awful that sounded,” Ms Hill told The Punch. She was elated when she found her future husband was capable of pronouncing YOUR-kev-VICH from the get-go. “I was quite happy to marry a Hill,” she said.
Then there are place names. We’ve got some real mouthfuls because our country was cobbled together from the heritage of the indigenous, the British, the French, the Dutch and more.
Did you know that the proper way to pronounce Wagga Wagga, everyone’s favourite town west of Gundagai, is ‘whaka whaka’? So says Andrew Butcher, a Flinders University guru of indigenous languages who rarely butchers his pronunciation.
Not to bang on about Polish causes, but technically us Australians mispronounce Kosciuszko, our tallest mountain. It’s really should be Kawsh-chush-kaw, after the Polish hero General Kosciusko, who fought in the American revolution. Our mountain only got its anglicising “Z” in 1997.
We can’t pronounce towns like Exmouth correctly either. You probably read that as Ex-mouth, whereas the poms who named it would say ex-muth. As the ABC presenters who copped grief from listeners covering the cyclones of 2011 learned when they used their High English to dub the town just that.
“A lot of English names taken from English towns get pronounced with full vowels in Australian English,” explained Mr Butcher, a professor in communicative disorders (not that the way we speak is a disorder).
By that rule, Cairns has had all the “air” sucked from it, we just call it Cans. Lorn-cest-ern should probably be Lonce-ston.
And Booroondara Council in Melbourne has a unique problem where it’s confused with the suburb of Bundoora, just a half-hour’s drive away. Goodness.
But hey. With places, at least, it’s fine we butcher every other language in the world. The way the locals say it is just the way it is.
And at least we don’t speak like the Kiwis, where Whakatane is pronounced Fukatane, with a strong fuk. Nah, eff that.
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