Is there an Australian style?
by GEOFFREY HUTTON
Australian Pronunciation, by Sid-
ney J. Baker. Sydney : Angus and Robertson; 6/.
Twenty Australian Novelists, by
Colin Roderick. Sydney: Angus and Robertson; 10/6.
IF Australian writers can
point with satisfaction to any achievements in recent years, as solid work done without
self-conscious or experimental grop- ing, it will be in the field of realistic fiction. The production of novels and short stories in this country has become a reputable profession, like painting portraits. They are sound enough by world standards, regional in flavour and setting, but conform- ing to the canons which govern realistic fiction, whether it is pro- duced in Manchester or Montreal.
Australian fiction has produced many considerable names, but it has not yet produced a figure of the type of Hemingway or Falkner. You may say God forbid, but the point I want to make about these two writers is that they built a literary style out of the speech-habits and speech-rhythms of the American people, which is as distinct from the metropolitan English style as it is from Hardy's Slow-moving Wessex dialect. Even when they are not talking local slang or describing
canyons or skyscrapers, their writing has an un-English, a specifically
This something which is de- veloping in the work of some Aus- tralian novelists and short story writers, although I think it is still true that the distinctively Australian character of most Australian fiction lies rather in subject-matter and outlook than in style or method.
There is usually some first-hand re- porting of characters who say good oh and bonzer, but indigenous slang has not been assimilated into literary
EDWARD BAWDEN'S striking jacket design for Jacques Lemarchand's novel Gene- viève, translated from the French by Rosamond Leh-
mann and published by her brother John Lehmann
(London price, 7/6),
English and it probably never will
To begin with the language, which is the raw material, I think we should welcome as an event of some importance another book by Sidney Baker, whose The Australian Language stands as the only thorough, up-to-date analysis of the Australian idiom, and, an analysis made with such unpedantic good
sense that it can serve as a reference
book for Australian speech and writ- ing for a long time to come.
The new volume is not strictly a writer's book, because its subject is the spoken language, but it carries on the argument begun in the major volume, and expresses a point of view which every Australian writer should think about.
Mr Baker's principal thesis is that both in our choice and our pronun- ciation of words Australia is natur- ally veering away from English usage, but that there is still an expatriate feeling for English word associations and for English pro- nunciations hanging around like a ghost at the back of our minds.
This "romantic inheritance" be- mused early Australian writing, as it did early Australian painting, and even today it has not yet entirely disappeared. Mr Baker is against it because it is sentimental and un- real, and because it hinders us from developing and attempting to stan- dardise a "national form of English -in particular, a national pronun- ciation which will be as "correct" as educated American.
Pattern for our English
THE bulk of this book is a careful
and scholarly analysis of the dif- ferences which have grown up be- tween educated Australian speech and BBC English, and an attempt to define a norm- or pattern, for Aus- tralian English. Mr Baker does not believe in letting things rip; he is an active propagandist for a stabi- lised and academically approved English, which will certainly do no more violence to purists than the standardised BBC dialect, and at the same time will not be unaccept-
able to Australians.
Mr Baker's main concern in this book is with phonetics, which will not interest writers unless they are attempting to transcribe Australian speech exactly as it sounds. I am not an expert on phonetics, but I gather that most of Mr. Baker's ground has been covered with pre- cise scholarship by Dr A. G. Mitchell. His approach to the ques-
tion of the Australian idiom, how-
ever, is fresh and realistic, and I think, extremely fruitful. Stocktaking of our fiction
SO much for the raw material; Mr
Roderick's book, which is a con- tinuation of his The Australian "Novel, is, a careful stocktaking of our
national fiction from colonial days to the present. This is a job which
needs doing, and he has done it with such painstaking industry that I must refrain from criticism of many of his judgments, out of sheer ignorance.
But his writing has its limitations, and they are far from trivial. Mr Roderick's study of the trees has little reference to the wood, and although you may say that the wood is only the sum total of what grows in it, there is a great difference be- tween a tree that grows on its own and one that grows in company. Specifically, Mr Roderick gives little or no indication of the development of the Australian novel out of the colonial novel; he does not place his novelists or satisfactorily estimate their relative significance. He has done useful work, but the growth of the Australian novel is another story.