Monday, August 16, 2010

A choice holiday bro

And so in a blink holidays are over and I'm back on campus as though 10 days in New Zealand were nothing more than a Pinot induced hallucination. It was a very relaxing time. I did take a while to switch off from work; at one point I thought it would be fun to figure out Mauri phonology and phonotactics based only on the bilingual public signage and river names but the handsome penpal who was also chauffeur for the holiday rolled his eyes and I realised that maybe it would be good to not think about linguistics for a few days.

And so the road tripping was punctuated with handsome trying to explain what high octane fuel is (it has eight hydrocarbons, hence the 'oct'- you can get septane too, who knew?) and me trying to explain what backformations are.

Ok, so I didn't do too well at not talking linguistics - but honestly the conversation came up because of something both of us had noticed while chatting with a number of locals. The New Zealand term of affection for Australia is to refer to it as "Aussie" as in:

"Where abouts in Aussie do you live?"
"How long are you over from Aussie."
"I have a friend visiting Aussie at the moment."

This coinage flummoxed us. I don't know anyone in Oz who would refer to the country as Aussie (and my survey of 3 gives highly significant statistical data to back me up with 100% of Australians agreeing).

What's it all about then? Well, my hunch is that it's a backformation. A backformation is where people look at a word and assume (often incorrectly, although that's not really a problem) that there's some kind of analysable structure to it. For example - if a bikini is a two piece bathing suit then in some line of logic you can call a one piece a "monokini".

And so, the only reason I can think of for referring to Australia as "Aussie" is that Australians are referred to as "Aussies" and so to be "Aussies" they must come from "Aussie."

It's not really the most sophisticated example of a backformation - but for a country that is so linguistically similar to ours it was a rather interesting difference.

1 comment:

  1. A visiting Italian friend of mine kept calling this country 'Aussie' too. She didn't come via NZ though. I just thought it was mistake on her part.

    Maybe we should start calling NZ 'Kiwi'.