Purpose and reason for this project.
The purpose of our website is to educate the foreigners who are interested in all spheres of Australian studies, about our vernacular and culture. We aim to achieve this through a series of web pages dedicated to exploring the complex nature of Australian English and slang. It has been brought to our attention that ASL (Australian as a second language) students from abroad, including those from other English speaking countries, have little knowledge of the little idiosyncrasies and subtle nuances in relation to this particular topic. For example those who have been taught English in a class environment are often ill equipped to tackle the difficult terminology used in the day-to-day banter of most Australians. This site is dedicated to remedying this problem by providing examples of the words that we use and the context in which they are used.
Australian words are those that have either been adopted from other variations of the English language to fit an Australian context or simply those words that do not exist in other countries. For example, "cobber" or "sheila" would not be understood by even the most competent of ESL/ASL students who have learnt their English in a sanitised classroom environment. Furthermore broad occer accents could startle even the most conscientious of ASL/ESL students. With our website we aim to soften the impact of potential culture shock by including the most extreme of Australianisms with such notable figures as "The Crocodile Hunter" - Steve Irwin - and food such as the pie floater (which may even come as a shock to some seasoned Australians). We have even gone so far as to include a taste of the political cynicism found in Australia by poking fun at a politician or two as we feel that it is a noble and undeniable feature of our Westminster system.
This site is a passionate and ultraistic (not taking into account the mark that we hope to get) attempt at using multi-media media to help newcomers prepare for the barrage of colloquialisms that they will undoubtedly receive upon arrival in this fair country. As a migrant myself I (Toby) know the value in a site like this and hope that people who are going through what I did as a "little nipper" will use it. Had this site, or one like it been available for my perusal as a child, I would have undoubtedly enjoyed my first few adjustment years a little more. Ultimately, our aim is to prepare travelers and equip residents with the tools to contribute to our nations language and identity.
Use of Technology
To construct this web site we used all of our combined expertise in the areas of program writing which, until July was very close to nil. In fact, we initially thought that for the purposes of some of our more ambitious ideas, we had aimed too high and would have to scrap them. This was not the case and we have fulfilled all of our original tech-goals albeit in a crude form. Our first, and certainly most difficult task, was to construct a translation template. For this we used Microsoft Access. We entered the words to be translated and their Australian equivalents into a template and transferred them onto an engine capable of lightning-speed computations. This worked and the subsequent translator, although still in its infancy, is able to translate emails and random text into Aussie vernacular. We hope that through contributions via the new "word drop-box", we will be able to constantly improve upon our initial design and modify the translator until it becomes an indispensible ASL tool.
Our second major coup was the political component of our site, which has a caricature of John Howard that can be manipulated to perform dance maneuvers for the person in control. To get this (or any similar program) we wrote tens of emails to various animation companies requesting a dancing, loving, caring, sweet or just plain ugly Australian politician. We received one positive response from www.miniclip.com who wanted to charge us US$188 for the service. We explained that we were students and not the corrupt politicians or media moguls who could afford such fees. The next email asked for US$20, which was still out of our reach. He finally did it for free after we assured him that it was for a good cause and he now offers the same service to other customers at a premium price but I am sure that we could bargain him down for you if you want a dancing Beasley or Hanson for your own web-site as he owes his idea to yours truely.
Our follow-up projects are less glamorous, including uploads and downloads of; Mpeg, Jpeg, Avi, wav, exe, doc, HTML, mp3, PowerPoint, cool edit, page authoring and creating links to other sites. Included in the above-mentioned site additions are a "Crocodile Hunter" animation and sound, the VB beer song, pictures of stereotypical Aussies and a various useful links. We feel that storing these various Australianesque programs in an easily accessible and understandable form will help to provide quality information to potential travelers who seek a glimpse into our culture at the click of a button. The web certainly provides the opportunity to reach a huge target audience with less logistical effort than other means such as hardcopy published works and also puts it in a convenient and entertaining context. Downloading Mpeg files presented us with a new challenge as the amount of space needed to store such programs exceeds the limits imposed by some free web space providers, including the one that we had initially chosen and undertaken to work with. We did not let this little inconvenience stop us, "the little Aussie battlers" and we simply signed up to Geocities.com and linked the two web-sites to produce the finished product. Although putting the whole site on geocities would have been better, we had already invested a large amount of time getting Tripod to do what we wanted so we decided that a mongrel site was the only real option open to us if we were to get our site finished by the due date.
Putting the VB song online was initially a painful experience. It was a 2mb wav file, too big to be of any use to us in that form. We later, after numerous attempts to attach this essential bit of Australiana to our site, found the Mp3 format more to our liking. 500K of drinker anthem pleased our computers and we were again on to our next task. The use of mp3 was a tough decision though, especially considering that most people do not know how to download mp3s. To overcome this problem, we stored it on our remote server, with the additional drivers available for those without mp3 compatible computers, essentially eliminating the compatibility problems potentially faced by our off-shore audience.
Our Crocodile hunter wav files were small enough to bung straight onto any page. As were all of the jpeg files, which nevertheless had to be edited (cropped) in order to fit into the space provided. This was more time consuming than we had previously envisaged as some free software had to be downloaded from the net and with my 33K modem the cows were coming home before we could get started. Power-on we did, and the pictures are now there for the whole world to see.
We believe that although our site is easy to use, it is still not much to look at, as we have had to use both Geocities and Tripod as web tools to post the various pages that make up our site. Given the different nature of the programs such as the translator and the pictures, we found it to our advantage to use geocities, for the uber-tech gear, and Tripod for simple text and Jpeg file storage. Given more time, we would have posted all of our pages online using the HTML code transfer on MS Notebook and made it pretty, smooth and easier to use. Somehow, though, we believe that there is a certain rustic Australian quality to our site in its current form, best summed-up by the folkloric Aussie phrase, "don't fix it if it ain't broke" and we might just leave it as it stands currently to fulfill this prophesy.
We feel that technology in the form of the multi-media programs contained on our site will be a better way to educate people on the Australian way of life than other means as it provides useful information in a form that will not lead to distraction. We have used technology to fuse education with humor and interactive activities. Technology provides the means by which any information provider can make their program or course less of a bore than simple rote learning and hopefully we have fostered an environment on our site in which any interested party can peruse the pages, learn a little and chuckle a bit along the way. As this site will evolve constantly we expect interested parties to log on regularly to check updates and additions and keep a keen interest in the direction of the site.
Our sites innovativeness comes in the form of providing a broad taste of stereotypically Australian culture that transcends the boundaries of culinary, verbal, ethnographic and satirical Australian web-sites out there, most of which have a single focus. We felt it necessary to bring these points together in a broader format in order that we might sit back and watch in awe as a barrage of Australianism after Australianism impresses on the viewer just how strange this country really is. By incorporating the eccentricities of our language and our people in a multi-media package we feel that we are playing our small part in contributing to this conversation.
Further innovation comes in recognising certain things that already exist on the web to be golden opportunities to exploit as typically Australian, pertaining specifically but not exclusively to language. Take for example the Crocodile Hunter or the Alby Mangles voice clips. They are on other sites to either promote their respective ventures or to ridicule the protagonist. We take these samples, not as a marketing or slander tools but rather as prime examples of how Australians see themselves and how we, in a mucho-nationalist kind of way, want others to perceive us. We put a bit of Mangles on our site and hit three emus with one can, firstly as an example of how the broad Australian accent sounds, secondly as an example of how the Australians want to be perceived and finally as an example to all Australians how not to act if you want some respect.
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of this project is the Aussie Translator which is the first online Australian vernacular translator in the world. We believe that this is not for lack of interest in the Australian vernacular as the Macquarie Australian Slang Dictionary is a best seller amongst our friends and all Australians love to use some slang, even those who claim that they do not. We have caught-out our critics on this point several times and let them know about it as often as possible. The uses of an Australian translator are many and distinguished. If a boring email needs some jazzing-up, simply paste it to the Aussie Translator and let the engine do the talking or use it to discover new insults or terminology that you were not aware of. Slang is a constantly evolving and often overlooked form of any language, particularly in a learning environment as it is often, wrongly, put down as an incorrect usage or even an abomination of any given language by those stoic figures behind traditional language preservation. English, thankfully, is a sponge-like language that over the centuries has evolved into the most prolific and verbose of all of the worlds languages (followed by Russian), due in no small part to the willingness of English speakers to adopt words from all other languages. In fact all words originally stemmed from a need to explain the world in a tangible and socially compatible manner. The accepted dictionaries of a given nation canonize words, all of which originated in vernacular at one stage, after sufficient time, and authors of sufficient standing include them in a sufficient number of citations. The Macquarie Dictionary, our national dictionary, is one of the few world dictionaries that will accept almost any bloody word, including some that we would probably lose marks for mentioning in this essay. Our point here is that the real innovativeness comes from Australian English itself, a most wonderfully avant-garde and accomodating language. Our real innovativeness is realizing this point in an Australian context and putting into an HTML format.
This evaluation is the preliminary evaluation based on our personal and heavily biased opinions. Subsequent to this evaluation we intend to look at the feedback on the message-board that we have appended to our site for feedback from both our class and from customers served. Until then the heavily biased opinion will have to do.
In evaluating this site it is essential to point out the pros and cons of each feature and how this will impact on the potential users of the sites material. The translator is the most poignant example of an area that needs improving as its 400+ vocabulary is insufficient for it to be considered the Shakespeare of Aussie translators and it really needs an additional 300 words to be excellent. This problem comes as a result of the time needed to program Access. Entering the words and emailing them to the remote server takes a long time. To overcome this problem the translator has a suggestion box, in which interested parties can contribute words to the translator, thereby taking some of the pressure off of us.
Secondly, the fact that the site is stored on two separate servers is only a psychological problem for us. We could not figure out how to copy and paste entire pages in order to keep the web addresses with the same prefixes but that in no way compromises the look or the workings of the site from the perspective of the user. As mentioned above, we believe that this aspect of our site adds character to it and we may not try to remedy it at all.
Thirdly, the sound bites are not arranged in a completely useful order and their content is purely aesthetic in its current form. We intend to expand upon the list of sound bites to include more sentences that are in every day use in Australia. I suppose that if one were to come to Australia in the hope of wrestling some of our native fauna then the current bites would be of great interest but we agree that recording someone while they purchase iced coffee at the deli or pay for petrol would be more useful.
Although much of this essay has already been dedicated to evaluating our site, it still seems self-serving and a little harsh when the question must be answered head-on like this. Nevertheless, we think that our site is great, in fact it is just terrific, and we are sure that you will agree with us when it grows on you too, give it time.