'Uni study probes why 'Aussies' shorten words
Fri, Jul 23, 2010

SYDNEY - An Aussie university is probing one of the most prominent features of Australian life: the national habit of shortening words.

From "barbie" (barbeque) to "arvo" (afternoon) and "rellies" (relatives), University of Tasmania (or Uni of Tassie) researchers are hoping to find out what lies behind the widespread abbreviations.

"What we'd like to find out is how people feel when they're listening to someone using those kinds of shortenings, compared to someone who's not," doctor Nenagh Kemp told AFP from Hobart.

"It might tell us more about whether people think it makes you sound more friendly or more intelligent or more casual, and also differences."

Kemp said while abbreviations were present in all forms of English, they were more common in Australia, where tradesmen are "tradies", firemen are "firies", ambulance workers are "ambos" and service stations are "servos".

She believes that the shortenings are a way of conveying a sense of informality in a country known for its egalitarian ethos.

"I think it does set up a feeling of companionship or casualness and friendliness," she said.

"You might use that to say, 'hey, I'm on the same level as you. I'm not being too pretentious."

Kemp said young people had their own set of abbreviations, while she has also observed gradual globalisation of short forms.

"Young people are more likely to come up with abbreviations for the technology they're using, such as 'mobes' for the mobile phone and 'lappy' for their laptop (computer)," said Kemp.

"Many of the (abbreviations) that older Australians use are not used so much by younger Australians, who might be adopting more American diminutives," she added.

"I think that the more TV shows and the more movies, when everything's becoming more globalised, the Australianness of many of them might diminish."

Kemp and her colleague Jo Underwood will play recordings of people using abbreviations to volunteers and gauge their response, with their study due for completion in October.

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