Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Torrey Orton
Dec. 24, 2013

On the road again…slow vehicles

“CONSIDER FOLLOWING VEHICLES” the bright black on blue sign says along the Great Ocean Road. Then another sign says (in stark black on white) “SLOW VEHICLE TURNOUT” about 300 metres down the road, another few metres beyond which is the turnout. Having taken it or not, you are then greeted with SLOW VEHICLES THANK YOU in the black on blue idiom of the initial challenge. If you are a native born Ozzie, you know what a turnout is, but no amount of nativity will gloss the other two messages, even given the contextual background birth has given you. This is bureaucratic English of a high order, aggravated by the fact that the actual targets are non-native English speakers – tourists who rock up and down the famous Road, presumed to be without our inbuilt (though increasingly corrupted) regard for civility on the road.

On first encounter a couple of years ago, it took me a while to work out the syntax of CONSIDER FOLLOWING VEHICLES. ‘Consider’ cut a few ways at once, none of which easily self-selected out of the sign. Should I care for those vehicles if they are following me or notice more clearly that I was following them or should I be following them? The more I worried this linguistic bone the more the initial confusions returned. The attention to the possibilities lifts them all off the solid ground of shared realities which give easy meaning to most of life. The formulations take on their own life, unanchored, floating into a mildly paranoid verbal ether. Even my wife who is no mean linguist and a native Australian English speaking one to boot couldn’t provide definitive help with these options.

A XXL slow offense without intent

In the course of 9 days at the beach I traversed a handful of these linguistic suites a day, barely noticing their offer of driverly civic-mindedness. They were only brought sharply back into my awareness by a new set of them appearing on one of the inland approaches to the coast road. And then my awareness was tightened another notch by having the desired behaviour (in both my mind, and the presumptive sign writers I guess) demonstrated by a slow vehicle (a size XXL self-propelled accommodation variety vehicle) which appeared in front of me along one curvy stretch between Eastern View and Lorne.

Said XXL suddenly pulled off into an unmarked turnout (on other days it would just be a wide shoulder), no indicator of intent given. I was pleased for the release and irritated by the surprise move which required a bit of preventive braking on my part. Wife Jane thought I should have offered an acknowledging toot in passing, as one offers an acknowledging wave to someone coming who makes way for one on a single lane street. I thought not because no indication of intent had been given, implying to me that the turnout was gratuitous and not considered. It was a moment of that low grade moral conflict which makes marriage memorable for the often equal spread of justice between both our perspectives.

Another what’s normal now challenge?

As often, a linguistic detour turns into a challenge for action. For example, I haven’t even gotten to the question of what “slow” means. The practical implications of this potential for differentiation will be apparent to anyone living in a family situation, not to say the “loving family” of death notices and similarly human newsworthinesses! Who would self-identify as “slow” to start with? Then, what’s “slow” to them if they do, or are badgered into doing so by caring others? And, then, what’s their slow got to do with the “SLOW” on the instructional sign set? This is, perhaps, why instruction leading to discretionary, self-designed performance outcomes often induces indulgences…

…and a very merry Xmas to y’all.

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