Pondering Pronunciation

I’ve lived in Minnesota as an adult longer than I lived in Australia as a child. Most of my American friends would say I still have an Australian accent (at least until they meet my dad), but most of my Australian friends would probably say I have an American accent by now.

I guess that means it is neither one nor the other. There are still words I tend to say the Australian way, words I make an effort to say the American way, and words that now come naturally the American way. When I visit Australia, or even talk to another Australian some of those words slip back to the Australian pronunciation, and some remain American.

Some years ago I read a book titled Digging to America, and I wrote down this quote:

“. . . how long had she been in this country? And did she like it? Maryam hated being asked such questions, partly because she had answered them so many times before but also because she preferred to imagine that maybe she didn’t always, instantly, come across as a foreigner.”

Wherever I go, I am that foreigner. Language is a funny thing. A series of things, though, have perhaps made me think about this more lately than usual …

  • Last summer I took my family to our first ANZAA event. It was so surreal to be surrounded by Australian and Kiwi accents and food after an hour in a car rather than a day in a plane.
  • In December my girls and I were hooked on Call the Midwife on PBS. So much so, that when one of them had a gift certificate to spend at Buffalo books, this is what she selected. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, just as I did the mini-series, but perhaps my favorite part was the unexpected appendix, ‘On the difficulties of writing the Cockney dialect‘. It made me think about the great similarities between Cockney and Australian, and it was interesting to see the hallmarks represented in that way.
  • In January I was able to be a guest speaker at a local elementary school when they were studying Australia. That always brings up both great questions about the language, and attempts by the kids to mimic my accent with varying success. Here are the slides from my presentation.
  • I’ve recently had cause to speak more regularly to an American Natalie, as I did yesterday, and every time I say that name it sounds foreign coming out of my mouth. Each time I think of my Australian childhood friend Natalie, and how the two names are so NOT the same.

Before I go any further, let me be clear with a couple of disclaimers

  • I don’t know nothing about the ‘right’ way to notate phonetics.
  • Language varies all over Australia, and even more so all over America. It is probably different where you are. This is just my own experience.

Anyway, to me there are a few words that come to mind which illustrate some pronunciation differences.


Australians have a tendency to shorten some 3-syllable words into 2 syllables. Natalie falls into this category (nat-ah-LEE vs NAT-lee), but rotary is the first one I dealt with. I was a Rotary exchangee, so had to say that word a lot! In Minnesota it is pronounced RO-tah-ree, while in Australia it is ro-TREE.

Now, even when I go back and visit my sponsor Rotary Club, it comes out as RO-tah-ree and I feel like it is the thing that immediately marks me as an American. The town of Westbury is WEST-bree, not west-BUR-ee. My childhood friend was NAT-lee, and my more recent acquaintance is NA-tah-lee.


While we’re on names, there’s also Barb. For years when I would refer to one set of my host parents as Mike and Barb I got confused looks. Eventually I came to understand that when I thought I was saying Mike and Barb, others were hearing Mike and Bob. It took several years longer to learn and remember to pronounce the R in Barb.

Now, my Australian friends can maybe not comprehend how Barb becomes Bob. Because Australians would put a short O in there (just the way it looks), but Americans make it sound more like Bahb.

By the way, here’s a fun post I found on the pronunciation of names with accents. Makes me wonder what my own family thinks of my weird pronunciation of their names, especially the ones with Rs in them … wow, I never thought about that before …


Here we go with the Rs again. I live on a farm within sight of a barn. My brother farms in Australia (not so many barns there though). In America the R is right there, jumping out at you … this time they are the ones who pronounce it just how the word looks. In Australia the R almost disappears, and becomes fahm. Barn becomes bahn.


This is one that still gets me … no one understands me at all if I don’t remember to say it the American way, and I don’t always remember. If you have ever served me in a restaurant or offered me a cold drink in your home I apologize. There are actually two separate issues with this word. Dictionary.com lists the pronunciation of the word as ‘[waw-ter, wot-er]’, and I think in these parts (Minnesota) it sounds to me more like ‘WAH-ter’. To make things fun, I have ‘issues’ with both parts.

The ‘wah’ comes out ‘wohd’, but not exactly. I’m sitting here saying it aloud over and over (good thing no one else is home)! Maybe ‘word’ … but it isn’t like the word ‘word’ at all because there is no ‘er’ at all and barely an ‘r’ … and I’m trying to think of another example, but if there is another word that starts like water it is eluding me …

The ‘ter’ is perhaps easier to explain. Just like barn and barb, the R disappears an becomes more of a ‘uh’. Butter becomes BUD-ah, hammer becomes HAM-ah, mother becomes MUTh-ah and so on.

Put them together and WAH-ter comes out WOHD-ah … or something like that. No wonder I confuse servers!


All of the other days essentially translate just fine, although in Australia they all end with a ‘dee’ instead of a ‘day’. Tuesday is particularly odd, usually pronounced CHEWS-dee. Australians think TOOS-day is equally odd. Same goes for tuna, TOO-na in America and CHEW-na in Australia (and sometimes in my kitchen). Other examples would be tune (CHOON) or tube (CHOOB) A similar thing happens to some D words … due is d-YEW in America but JEW in Australia and dune is pronounced d-YUNE while in Australia it sounds exactly the same as June.


I don’t say it often. It happens that I don’t tend to use even mildly questionable language much at all. But, there is something lovely about a word that sounds so coarse in American English becoming decidedly more refined. Almost like Violet Crawley might say it … almost.

Oh, and isn’t the class that rhymes with arse so much classier than the class that rhymes with ass?*

I love this blog post on Ass vs Arse🙂

Although the spelling doesn’t change, there is the same difference with grass.  The first time I realized my eldest child had noticed my accent she was about 3, we were walking along a grass roadside and I heard her singing to herself grass-grahss-grass-grahss.


Today, I was asked the inevitable question, “so where are you from.” I resisted the urge to say “Buffalo.” Yes, sometimes that is my actual answer, which never actually avoids the question they are really getting at. So, I  say “os-TRAIL-yah” … somewhere between the hos-TRAY-lee-ah I think people expect, and the uh-STRAY-uh inside my head. Of course, the one-syllable STRAYA also makes perfect sense to me, although I imagine that would be completely unintelligible to an American.

Assorted Links

* added 3/15

Cherry Ripe Bars

closeupOne of the standard Christmas goodies around here (that is to say, in my house) has been Cherry Ripe Bars (‘slice’ in Australia, but I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to call them ‘bars’ now). As an Australian expat Cadbury’s Cherry Ripe chocolate bar is a little taste of ‘home’ which isn’t practical to have too often. For years I’ve made a variation on the recipe in one of the two cookbooks that moved to the US with me, The Esk Valley CWA cookbook (1986), as my go-to substitute. The filling has always been a bit squishy making the finished bars hard to cut and handle, so this year I went looking for alternative recipes.

I found a few recipes with a cooked filling, but some didn’t look right (beige with a few cherry bits instead of really pink) . The recipe at My Kitchen Stories seemed like a good starting point. I combined a filling based off this new recipe with a crust based off my original recipe.

This recipe makes a lot. I make it in an 11×17 inch pan. I’m sure you could make a half recipe in a smaller pan, but this just works out well as it uses a full can of sweetened condensed milk and a full package of cherries. I cut the edges off (for immediate sampling) and then get about 112 (or 8×14) bite-sized pieces from a pan this size. It freezes well though, so plenty to pull out for a special treat here and there 🙂

Ingredient and equipment notes:

You’ll want a food processor for this recipe. I’m sure it could be done without one, but I wouldn’t want to. There is no need to wash the food processor between steps.

I like to use a pastry roller (mine is from Pampered Chef) for the base, but you could use a drinking glass if needed.

Australian recipes often call for dessicated coconut, which I’m not able to purchase in my local grocery store, so I use shredded coconut which has been through the food processor. Note that the volume reduces quite a bit, so if you are using this substitution in another recipe, process it before measuring. This recipe uses one 5-1/3 cup or 14 oz package. The picture shows before and after processing it.dessicated coconut in the food processor

Candied or glacé cherries are the ones that are available around Christmas, but not during the year in some stores. One of the main ingredients in US candied cherries is corn syrup. These are not the same as maraschino cherries … or pie filling … please don’t try to use either of those 🙂

Line a 10×15″ cookie pan  (the kind of pan that has 3/4″ sides) with foil or parchment paper.



1 C walnuts
1-1/2 C shredded coconut
2 sleeves graham crackers
3/4 C butter
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C cocoa
2 eggs

16 oz candied / glacé cherries
(approximately) 4 C shredded coconut (the rest a 14 oz package)
1 tin sweetened condensed milk

1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
2-3 TB coconut oil (or butter)

three bowls


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 11×17 pan with foil or parchment.
  2. Crush graham crackers in food processor and put in a mixing bowl.
  3. Pulse walnuts in the food processor until finely chopped and add to the large bowl.
  4. Process 1-1/2 C coconut in the food processor and add to the large bowl.
  5. Melt butter, add sugar & cocoa on the stovetop, bring to a boil.
  6. Remove from the heat and whisk in eggs until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.
  8. Press into prepared pan as evenly as possible
  9. Process the candied cherries until they are a gooey mess, and put them in a second bowl.
  10. Process the remaining coconut in the food processor, and add to the bowl (the coconut will help pick up the remaining cherry goo, and will turn slightly pink.
  11. Add the sweetened condensed milk and combine.
  12. Gently spread the cherry mixture over the base.layers1000
  13. Bake for 30 minutes until it is slightly brown and slightly puffed.baked1000
  14. Cool completely.
  15. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil or butter in a microwavable bowl for 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
  16. Spread chocolate over the bars as evenly as possible. It sometimes helps to tap the pan or drop it from a few inches onto the counter.
  17. Let set overnight at cool room temperature  or in the refrigerator to hurry it up.
  18. Remove from the pan and sandwich the uncut bar between two cutting boards to turn upside down and peel off the foil or parchment, then turn right side up again before cutting.
  19. Wipe the knife off with a spatula or damp cloth if needed between cuts.