Brian Edwards Media

Posts Tagged 'The Schwa'

Um, er, like, y’know and what the hell happened to the schwa?

schwa

We Kiwis are as a rule not a highly articulate people. We tend to the taciturn and, when we do have something to say, struggle to get the words out in a coherent flow. We ‘um’ and ‘er’ our way through the simplest proposition. Even those in the speech-making business, whom you might expect to be fluent  –Trevor Mallard, John Key and the lovely David Shearer come to mind – pepper their responses with time-to-think, space-filling noises. And you could have driven trucks through the late lamented Rob Muldoon’s rasping ‘ers’.

I sometimes think that this phenomenon may reflect the emphasis placed in Kiwi culture on the virtue of humility. Our heroes blush when praised and pronounce themselves “humbled” by the nation’s applause. The word seems to indicate they feel their success wasn’t  deserving of such acclamation. Overt celebration of a win or achievement might suggest vanity. People might think they were “up themselves”. So they keep their heads down and communicate through half-closed mouths and clenched teeth.

To be absolutely fair, the fear of public speaking – from making a two-minute speech at an office “do” to addressing the United Nations – is recognised as being near the top of the commonly accepted list of debilitating phobias. But our Kiwi inability to express ourselves fluently can be observed in everyday conversation and not just in those scary situations. We stammer and stutter, mutter and mumble.   Read the rest of this entry »

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