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Australian English

Feb 20, 2013

Abbott voices his opinion on accents and politics

Tony Abbott claims that the Liberal and National parties will always have a 'strong Australian accent'. Can he be serious? Aidan Wilson sounds things out.

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In an apparent swipe at an ALP member with a thick Scottish accent, Tony Abbott yesterday made the bizarre claim that the Liberal and National parties will always have a ‘strong Australian accent’.


Here’s what he actually said, as reported by news.com.au (emphasis added):

We believe in a strong, home-grown policy. We believe in strong local candidates. That’s what you’ll always see from the Coalition under my leadership. We will always speak with a strong Australian accent.

It’s likely that he’s using the term ‘accent’ as a metaphor for something like focus, orientation or emphasis. Indeed, my computer’s built-in dictionary gives ’emphasis’ as the third definition for ‘accent’, after the two more fundamental senses that we all know; a distinctive, usually regional characteristic of one’s voice, and a prosodic emphasis placed on a syllable in speech.

So he means that while the ALP imports its politicians and therefore presumably, its politics from the UK, the Liberal and National parties are home-grown, and are made up of local people with local interests and concerns.

Others may want to comment on that, but I’m a linguist; not a geopolitical scientist. So for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to assume he meant ‘accent’ in the first sense.

Clearly, this is silly. This is a coalition of parties that comprises parliamentarians such as the Oxbridge-esque Christopher Pyne, Belgian-born Mathias Cormann who sounds like the villain from Lethal Weapon 2, and of course Abbott himself who was born in the UK!

The ALP of course can’t claim exclusive Australianness in their ranks either, what with MPs such as John McTernan and Doug Cameron. And Gillard herself was born in Wales as we all know – although her thick accent more than makes up for this.

I am of course being facetious in the above two paragraphs. The reality is that discussing what accent a politician has in their voice, or an entire party for that matter, is totally irrelevant to their ability to govern. We saw a similar discussion back in 2010 when Rudd was challenged and deposed as Prime Minister by Gillard, which brought her, and her voice, under more intense scrutiny than anyone has faced before or since in Australian politics.

Fully (sic) ran a couple of posts about it at the time (here and here); the overall point of those posts, which I reiterate here, is that one’s accent, just like their attire, the size of their derriere, marital status, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and so on, are totally irrelevant to their politics.

Aidan Wilson —

Aidan Wilson

Aidan Wilson is sometimes a linguist and sometimes a cyclist, and occasionally both. He was born and raised in Sydney but now lives in Melbourne and is currently a graduate student at the University of Melbourne. He has worked on two Australian Indigenous languages over the past six years and is keenly interested in Indigenous Language Education. Views expressed here are his own and are not necessarily the views of the University of Melbourne.

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20 thoughts on “Abbott voices his opinion on accents and politics

  1. Aidan Wilson

    Thanks Jason; I’d wrongly assumed McTernan was an MP without checking (although I didn’t explicitly name him in the post, it was clearly in reference to him).

    I’m told he’s our answer to The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker, which I find quite amusing, as ever since I watched that series I can’t shake the thought of there being a Tucker-esque advisor maintaining tight control over the PM and cabinet.

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