May 4: Variety of English Day

On this day in 1976, Australia adopted “Waltzing Matilda” as its national anthem(1).

Original Waltzing Matilda manuscript.jpgAccording to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the official national anthem became “Advance Australia Fair” in 1984 and at various times in Australian history the nation adopted the British anthem “God Save the Queen.” However, whether or not it is the official anthem, few would argue that at the very least “Waltzing Matilda” is the unofficial anthem.

The lyrics were written by Banjo Paterson in1895. However, like many folk songs, it’s virtually impossible to document the time or place of the tune’s origin.

The song is a reflection of the unique variety of Australian English that springs from three main sources: borrowed words from the Aborigines, archaic British words, and finally words that have evolved out of the unique geography and history of the Aussies.

The British first established a penal colony at Botany Bay in 1788.  Additional British colonies were established up to 1901, when the colonies voted to unite into a single nation, independent of Britain.  In both World Wars, Australia fought on the British side. Since World War II, Australia and the United States have been strong allies.

Unlike the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem, the words to “Waltzing Matilda” are not exactly clear.  In fact, for someone unfamiliar with Australian English, the lyrics of “Waltzing Matilda” read like “Jabberwocky.” With the glossary of key terms listed below, from the National Library of Australia, you can begin to make sense of the song’s story.

Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,

Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled

“Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me

And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled,”

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Along came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,

And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me

And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”.

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,

Down came the troopers, one, two, three,

“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?”

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

WALTZING MATILDA: The act of carrying the ‘swag’ (an alternate colloquial term is ‘humping the bluey’).

BILLABONG:  A blind channel or meander leading out from a river.

COOLIBAH:  Sometimes spelled coolabah: a species of gum or eucalyptus tree.

SWAGMAN:  An Australian tramp, so called on account of the ‘swag’, usually a chaff bag, containing his ‘billy’, provisions and blankets.

BILLY:  An open topped tin can, with a wire carrying handle, used as a kettle for boiling water into which tea was thrown.

TUCKER BAG:  A bag for ‘tucker’ or food; part of the ‘swag’.

JUMBUCK:  A sheep. The term is a corruption of ‘jump up’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd rev. ed. Sydney: Macquarie, 2001)

SQUATTER:  A grazier, or station (ranch) owner. Note that the meaning of the word changed later in the twentieth century to mean a person who occupied or resided at a property illegally. (2)

Today’s Challenge: Variety is the Spice of Language

What are some examples of the subcategories or dialects of the English language?  The English language has grown to become the dominant world language through two historical movements.  First, there was the expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century. Second, there was the expansion of the United States as a world economic power in the 20th century.   Although there are more native speakers of the Chinese language than native English speakers (982 million for Chinese versus 375 million for English), there are more total speakers of the English language than any other language (1,500 million).  The next closest for total speakers is Chinese with 1,100 total speakers (2).

David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, identifies eight distinct varieties (or dialects) of World Standard English:

American English

British and Irish English

Canadian English

Australian, New Zealand, and South Pacific English

East Asian English

South Asian English

West, East, and South African English

Caribbean English (3)

Research one of these varieties of English and write a brief report on what makes this variety distinctive from other forms of English.  Include some details on the variety’s historical influence and evolution as an English dialect, as well as some examples of specific words from the dialect. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. -Walt Whitman

1 – Frewin, Anthony. The Book of Days. London: Collins, 1979.

2-https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/

3-Crystal, David. Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 1995.

 

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