Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Prime Minister's Speech

I don't know why it is that some people have an irresistible impulse to imitate funny accents and funny voices the very instant after they've heard a novel way of speaking. It was during one of these childish moments that I stumbled across an explanation for the the strikingly gauche way that Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks. Her supposedly broad Australian accent has been much celebrated and hated, and is as much a part of her personal mythology as her famous but no longer authentic red hair. I have for a long time wondered about her accent. I have travelled through all of the states of Australia, with the exception of Tasmania, and there are definitely many subtle regional variations of the Australian accent, some from rural Victoria being particularly different, but I don't recall running into anyone with an accent reminiscent of Gillard's. When I watched the story about Julia Gillard's personal background on Australian Story on ABC television which was broadcast only days before Gillard's political assassination of the then-PM Kevin Rudd in 2010, I was fascinated to note that none of her family members shown on that show seemed to have the same strange accent as Julia's. So where did this accent come from? My best guess was that Gillard's accent is not a regional variation, but something peculiar to some union or some political group that Gillard has at one time been a member of.

By some unknown neurological mechanism I find that I have the gift of perfectly imitating any weird accent immediately after hearing it, but not if I delay the imitation for more than a second or two. So there I was speaking like a Julia, and I was surprised at how easy it was. I was really on a roll. I simply pushed my chin in a particular direction as I spoke, as though I had some type of fine motor defect that skewed my perception of the position of my chin. It felt much more like a speech impediment than an accent, so simple was the genesis of this odd mode of speech. The famous Gillard accent isn't an accent, it's a speech disorder. I guess I shouldn't complain that we have a PM who can't speak properly. I do sincerely believe that disabled people have as much of a right to a place in society as anyone, but by cripes, I wish she'd get some speech therapy.

She who waits.
Australian Story.
June 21 2010

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