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Nov 23, 2010

Walcome to Malbourne

Debbie Loakes, John Hajek and Janet Fletcher write:...A curious transformation is happening to Victoria's vowels, and it's not going unnoticed. For a while now, many Victorians have been confusing "el" sounds with "al" sounds, so that celery sounds like salary, pellet like palate and telly like tally. In other words, Victorians don't know if they're Allan or Ellen.

Debbie Loakes, John Hajek and Janet Fletcher write:

A curious transformation is happening to Victoria’s vowels, and it’s not going unnoticed. For a while now, many Victorians have been confusing “el” sounds with “al” sounds, so that celery sounds like salary, pellet like palate and telly like tally.  In other words, Victorians don’t know if they’re Allan or Ellen.

The tendency to pronounce “el” as “al” has been heard before in places like New Zealand and Norfolk Island. Linguists call this the /el/-/æl/ sound change, and from a physiological point of view it’s not such a strange occurrence — when the tongue moves to form an “l” sound this encourages a change to the vowel that precedes it. But this is far from the whole story.

This sign on a business in South Melbourne draws attention to
A sign in southeast Melbourne. The play on spelling works only if the "el" in "celebrate" can be understood to be pronounced as "al".

There’s a related but contrary process  called /el/-/æl/ transposition. This is when people say words like “alcohol” and “alpine” as if the first syllable was “el”. A fine example of this can be seen in the name of a new café in southeast Melbourne (Elfresco, as opposed to Al fresco):malbourne-elfresco

You may have noticed this already. If not, listen to the difference in pronunciation of the words “helicopter” and “alps” between the NSW and Victorian speakers here.

The /el/-/æl/ sound change has received only a small amount of attention in linguistic research, but the phenomenon is being discussed with enthusiasm online.

A sample of comments:

Victorians can not say the letter e. You guys do not say Melbourne, you say Malbourne.… (WA)


Are you trying to say that the “e” vowel sound in Melbourne should be pronounced as it is in “pen”? No way buddy.
(Geelong, Vic)

The most obvious difference in Melbourne/Victorian accent is the “el” and “al” swapping. Just listen to Daryl Somers say, “Alvis Presley’s latest elbum!” or Graham Kennedy’s ads that he did for “PEL” dogfood!

One of the funniest things I witnessed was on a Melbourne quiz show where the contestants were not allowed to answer until their name was called. Unfortunately, one contestant was Allan and the other was Ellen. The host became quite annoyed when the wrong one kept answering! ….

I’ve noticed that Melburnites pronounce ‘el’ as ‘al’ as in Hallo, Walcome to Malbourne.

And just the other week, Ben Pobjie described Victoria as “the nation’s capital of over 70 different concepts, including sport, the arts, musical theatre, black leggings, and not pronouncing vowel sounds properly”.

So why is the  sound change occurring? While our research is in the early stages, we understand it to be “listener confusion” caused by an interaction between the changing vowels and the lateral (the “l” sound). That is, in “el” words, listeners hear vowels which sound very much like the “a” in cat and so they “correct” this in “el” words in their own speech. Our research shows that while many speakers in Melbourne still make a distinction between “el” and “al” it is not always very obvious to listeners.

That listeners should be influenced by what they hear around them is not surprising – we know that the way that people perceive language influences they way they use it. However, there are many questions that we don’t know the answers to, and we will be researching these in some detail soon. For instance, what are the social characteristics of the speakers who use this sound change? Is there a difference amongst males and females, young and old? What happens in border towns? Are other vowel sounds changing too? Please tell us your anecdotes and experiences.

You can read more about our preliminary work in this area here (pdf–link fixed).

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45 thoughts on “Walcome to Malbourne

  1. Walcome to Malbourne – | VCE English Lang...

    […] Debbie Loakes, John Hajek and Janet Fletcher write:…A curious transformation is happening to Victoria's vowels, and it's not going unnoticed. For a while now, many Victorians have been confusing  […]

  2. Walcome to Malbourne – | English Language...

    […] Debbie Loakes, John Hajek and Janet Fletcher write:…A curious transformation is happening to Victoria's vowels, and it's not going unnoticed. For a while now, many Victorians have been confusing  […]

  3. Billie-Jan Brooks

    Funny story-born in deep southern USA. Accent as a young child was so bad teachers thought I had a speech impediment and sent me for speech class. Around 11 years old migrated to MelbORN. Lived in Australia for just on 15 years. The accent became so convoluted I got asked if I was everything from South African to Irish, German to Canadian (the laDDer highly offensive to a Yank). Moved back to the northern United States and now my accent has automatically reverted to some type of hillbilly twang that I am constantly asked what part of the south I am from. (Have not lived in or around the south in over 50 years) I am a firm believer in the idea that you are born with a natural dialect. And I still call Australia home.

  4. Suburb names that have us stumped | LocalHero

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  5. Slindish

    I’m a Melbournian born and raised and I’m a serial ‘al’ user. I’ve been calling my good mate Elliot, Alliot for probably around 15 years now.

    I can hear that I’m saying it and I can hear the difference, but it’s just the way I pronounce things. I don’t say “Malbourne” but I do pronounce it “palate” and I get “Calum” and “Kelum” mixed up (although in the opposite way, i think). My mates point it out fairly regularly.

    On a side note, I read heaps of books growing up and so if I came across a word I didn’t know, I would have to guess at the pronunciation. A lot of them have stuck with me and so the first time I say something and stuff it up can be quite embarrassing (Calling a female hero a hear-oin for example).

    Great read, enlightening.

    -S

  6. Tweets that mention Walcome to Malbourne – Fully (sic) -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Georgia Webster and Luke Lum, Steve Pattison. Steve Pattison said: An interesting article about the Melbourne or should that be Malbourne? accent. http://bit.ly/fRlimB […]

  7. Byron Bache

    You mean I’m not completely alone in noticing this? That’s a relief. At university a few months ago, we were discussing a character in a novel whose name was Ellen. Everyone in the room kept saying ALL-en this, ALL-en that. I thought I was going mad. I even went so far as to check that I hadn’t accidentally read 330 pages about a man named Alan and foolishly mistaken him for a girl named Ellen.

  8. foxybill

    I’ve always wondered why so many Australians pronounce words like drawing and law as ‘droring’ and ‘lore.’ Any ideas?

  9. foxybill

    Vowels aside, I’ve always wondered why so many ‘Stralians pronounce words such as drawing and law as ‘droring’ and ‘lore’?
    Any ideas?

  10. Norman Hanscombe

    Because, in part, of the chance conjunction of a number of technological developments at the time Australia developed, we ended up with surprisngly similar speech across the whole continent. Don’t worry, however, because the balkanisation of Australian English has many working hard to bring about that ‘benefit’ as quickly as possible.

  11. anniegetchagun

    I grew up in a rural area in NSW halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, and then moved to Melbourne for study. The first thing I noticed was the pronunciation of Melbourne was either ‘MALBERNE’ or ‘MELBIN’ depending on which way you swing. The next was the weird anomaly pronunciation of castle to be ‘CASSLE’ like hassle, rather than like parcel.

    I personally had to ditch my NSW country accent in order to be understood by the Melbourne natives who understood my name to be Ian, rather than Anne (due to my rural pronounciation of Air-n). I soon changed my name to Annie to avoid confusion, although I do get a bit of ‘Ennie’.

  12. Rourke

    (tagliatelle -> Melbourne -> ‘tæll your tælly’)

  13. Rourke

    I found as a Melburnian learning Italian I had to pay close attention to saying ‘el’ like ‘eh-ll’ or risk derision. Try mangling ‘tagliatelle’ in front of an Italian! What I didn’t realise was that the rest of Australia wasn’t heading the same way in fusing the two sounds, I could hear the distinction in English English but not any Aussie accents.

  14. michaelallangrant1

    I am a Malburnian living in the Middle East and get asked on a regular basis what language I am speaking… and to make things even funnier, there was a question on the local “who wants to be a trillionaire” – what language is spoken in Australia? – English or Australian… the predictable answer by the contestant was Australian…ohhh the look of dismay when he found out it was English…

  15. Holden Back

    TheRealWoman how do you say ‘bye? Boi or bar?

  16. TheRealWoman

    I’m a Melbournian (yes, not a Melburnian) and I reside in Mouwlbin. So there.

  17. Holden Back

    Venise- There is an interview with (Melburnian!) Rachel Griffiths who says pretty much the same thing as your singer friend about Australian actors learning accents and dialects. We speak with a relaxed palate compared to most of the rest of the world, so there’s not a fixed position to ‘unlearn’. With a little effort an Australian with a good ear can pretend to just about any accent or even pronounce foreign words perfectly. Most choose not to make the effort.

    That said, what much of the cast of the OA Figaro I saw Saturday in Melbourne were doing with the Italian left much to be desired. Che? And Our Joan may as well have been singing in Hottentot, or some language without consonants, for much of her career. Lovely noise, but.

  18. Aidan Wilson

    Interesting, Stompy. But note that the vowel in ‘also’ isn’t the same as the vowel in ‘salary’; it’s the same vowel as in ‘mall’ (unless you come from Bendigo, apparently). But it still could be transposition being overgeneralised.

    If he grows up still saying it, then he’ll quickly learn not to when no one around him shares his pronunciation. Accents are mainly a numbers game after all.

  19. wilful

    Quick anecdote, I asked my three year old a question sitting around the pool in Bali, he yelled back “naaaaaaah”, the lady nearby said, “ah, so you’re australian then”

  20. links for 2010-11-23 | Gamer/Learner

    […] Walcome to Malbourne – Fully (sic) (tags: language boonsville bigg) This entry was posted in Delicious links. Bookmark the permalink. ← links for 2010-11-22 LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  21. Stompy

    Interesting… my 4 year old pronounces the word ‘also’ as ‘elso’. And although I say ‘also’ correctly, I have just realised that I do say ‘Malbourne’, ‘salary’ for celery, etc. So perhaps he has learned the pronounciation from me?

  22. Venise Alstergren

    Why is everyone in a twit? The whole of Oz must be a nightmare for people learning to lip read. Strylianese is best spoken with a almost closed mouth. People from the land of the Poms articulate well, and move their mouths properly. Strylians keep it closed. HTF does anyone think the Oz accent came about unless it was because of not opening their mouths properly. Too lazy to open them perhaps?

    Holden B: FWIW I asked an Opera singer how our Oz lots coped with singing in other languages. She said when it came to French the semi-closed mouth of an Oz person was peculiarly suited to that language. ¡Hall! ¡Håll!, I give up.

  23. Rossie

    Does this also explain why Melbournians totally hot?

  24. dam buster of Preston

    My goodness Daryl Somers and Eddie Maguire? Seriously.

    Eddie was brought up in Broadmeadows (you have to say it while holding your nose).

    I could bring up great NSW linguists such as Jeff (I Luvs Yuz All) Fenech in response.

  25. Holden Back

    Socratease, you’re turning it into a Channel Nine problem! I remember first noticing the pronunciation by Rosemary Margan using the phrase “Right here, on tallavision!”, back in the early fourteenth century.

  26. Socratease

    Two “Malbournians” who infest TV screens in the shape of Daryl Schultz/Somers and Eddie McGuire both insist on pronouncing album as “elbum”.

    Then we have Malbourne’s favourite son Bert Newton who tries to sound like a Pom, but ends up sounding like a ponce.

  27. Holden Back

    On a broader canvas, anyone like to explain why it is almost a point of honour with Australians to mispronounce words from languages other than English? FFS Italian is the easiest language to speak.

    wilful, like Arfghanistarhn vs Affghannistann? It’s actually easier to say it the first way.

  28. SBH

    I blame Angie Hart and ‘Kally Street’

  29. wilful

    from that link to Macquarie Uni, i was always taught that the correct (‘received’/ABC) way of saying France was the way South Australians do, and that the Queensland example was boganish, uncultured, ‘broad’. Of course, I’ve given up the class based bit now, but even so, fraaaance sounds awful to me.

  30. dam buster of Preston

    Aidan – I have been working and living in Sydney for the last two months and have not noticed a difference.

    I have noticed that Sydney people ‘loike to talk loike they moight’ be happy. Maybe that is a difference?

    I grew up in regional Victoria and I can tell you there is a difference there to Melbourne.

    Have you checked to see if it is people from Sydney who have an issue? rather than Melbournians?

  31. Aidan Wilson

    Dam Buster, I can assure you that the research isn’t based on a couple of signs from ‘obviously bogan suburbs’; they’re clearly meant to illustrate the phenomenon, which is very widespread indeed, and nothing to do with laziness; it’s just a regional variant.

    Linguists have known about this phenomenon for years, and as someone who has recently moved to Melbourne from Sydney, let me tell you it is absolutely ubiquitous, irrespect of whether you’re in Fitzroy or Franga.

    I was out at dinner with a group of people, one of whom happens to have been called Ellen (who is not from Melbourne). She remarked that since she moved here, she’s noticed a lot of people calling her Allan. To which someone else (who was from Melbourne) responded that she couldn’t even hear the difference between the two. Being the constant documentary linguist that I am, I asked her for a couple of more words.

    What’s the green stalk-like vegetable that people put peanut butter on? I asked.
    Salary she replied.
    Where do evil people go when they die? I asked
    Hal she answered.

    If you can’t hear this, Dam Buster, it’s probably because you’re from Melbourne (Preston, for example) and you don’t have the contrast in your own dialect. No one’s picking on you; there are no value judgements here, just observations. In fact I happen to know that at least one of the authors also does this, so you’re in good company.

  32. Rob Mailhammer

    It’s definitely true; do you think then that “el” in VIC is lower than in the rest of the country? Considering that “aC” in general seems to be raised and fronted in comparison with other dialects could this possibly result in confusion with the potential for an effective reversal of pronunciations?

  33. Holden Back

    As the shifting vowel sounds in the hourglass, so are the Dags of Our Lives.

  34. dam buster of Preston

    What a load of rubbish.

    Look at other cities in Oztrayla and tell me that this is a big issue. And goodness using Daryl Somers (Shultz of german immigrants) as an example? You make us sounds like New Zealanders.

    it comes from being lazy talkers. If you are using two signs from obviously bogan suburbs then i am afraid your research is very flawed.

    Does everyone in Sydney talk like John Laws, or Allan Jones? Didn’t think so.

    What about Brisbane who end every sentence with ‘aye’ or ‘hey’?

  35. Holden Back

    What’s yer control luv – RP or ‘educated Australian’?

  36. Mel Campbell

    I want to know why so many people talk about “colture” rather than “culture”. Since I have a cultural-studies background, I’ve had to sit through dozens of conference presentations about the coltures of this and that.

  37. coconaut

    Voting Green, barracking for the AFL, almost voting for the Republic … and now this! Melburnians really are trying to get away from Sydney.

  38. Dalexan3

    Is this the opposite shift to Sydney, or are the two city’s pronunciation used as evidence for shifts in each?

  39. buck

    yes, yes and yes. i have been banging on about this for years.

    (admittedly obscure) example: there is a TISM elbum called ‘Machievelli and the four seasons’ that only makes sense as a pun if your from Malben (Franky Valli and the ….)

  40. Tweets that mention Walcome to Malbourne – Fully (sic) -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by eatnik, Tanaya Q, Belinda McReynolds, zerogeewhiz, Emily Sexton and others. Emily Sexton said: My whole life I have been teased for saying "malk." Now there is research! http://bit.ly/gWNaZ2 […]

  41. martin.mcmullen

    My girlfriend is from Melbourne. She has one friend called Sel, which she pronounces as “Sal” and one of her girlfriends, Allie, she pronounces as “Ellie.” I’ve stopped correcting her on it because it doesn’t go down to well!

  42. pk

    I don’t know about /el/-/æl/, though I may well do it after 25 years here, : but /el/-/æl/ is the defining motif of the dialect known as ‘Edinburgh posh’ so maybe it’s a colonial thing…..maybe in a thousand years we’ll sound like Geordies to other Australians.

  43. Aron

    Personally I find that all Australians wherever they are from speak funny.

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