Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Slanging It in the UK

The BBC last week had an interesting article on what public is saying about slang in the UK.

"Paul Kerswill, professor of sociolinguistics at Lancaster University, is studying street language in London. He says an entirely new dialect is emerging. "Young people are growing up with a new form of composite language. It's a bit cockney, a bit West Indian, a bit West African, with some Bangladeshi and Kuwaiti - and it seems to be replacing traditional cockney."

KUWAITI??? Hold on. They speak Arabic. Is the BBC writer a bit hard of hearing, or has Prof. Kerswill become a professor without knowing which language is spoken where. What is West African? Is that English as spoken in "west Africa" (which is what, exactly?)And Bangladeshi? That's,I assume, Bengali? Because if it is English as spoken in the subcontinent, then the Indians, Pakistanis, and Sri Lankans all speak the same way to my ears.

This "multicultural English" is now the ordinary way of speaking for many young people, he says. Instead of just using it to be cool or to fit in with peers, they use it when they speak to everyone. And those who use it are losing any sense of "appropriacy" - the important skill of turning it on and off in different situations.

"Appropriacy simply means using the right variety of language for the right context - using business jargon in business meetings, formal English in exams or slang in school playground," says slang expert Tony Thorne. "Language isn't just about communication, there is a strong social, political and emotional charge to it."

If that does not sound like attempts to impose middle class lifestyle on the lumpen proletariat, then I don't know what does :-D But then, I am a fair dinkum Aussie. But let us look at this from the causes point of view, not the symptoms. Why are these kids speaking like this? And what are schools doing? And if both schools and society have failed to improve this, then maybe it is time for businesses to start speaking slang, too? After all, these kids will be the managers in 20 years, whether we like it or not, and this "slang" will become the new English.

"It was clear many students found it difficult to get through a sentence without saying 'innit' or 'do you know what I mean'," says Maria Nightingale, principal for operations at the Manchester Academy.

Amazing. Here we are preaching multi-tasking and working at the speed of light, and when the kids come up with an immaginative way of squeezing 6 words into 1, we complain?

"We're a business and enterprise academy. It is really important our youngsters go into the world equipped with the appropriate use of language so they are not disadvantaged."

Disadvantaged only for as long as the 50+ middle-class, public service dinosaurs are in the seats of power. And they have no one to blame but their educational policies - no grammar, everything goes, englishes versus English, lets revamp spelling, and "studgesRus" mentality. Play games instead of reading. Multimedia experience instead of learning, and who needs a brain when you can plagiarise and when your 1T hard drive costs less than a monthly train ticket. Polite, classy language comes with lots of class baggage, and we want to do away with class, politeness, decorum, etc. So why are we whining now?

One school even goes as far as to enshrine this new form of English:

"A-level students learn where slang comes from," says Dan Clayton, a teacher at St Francis Xavier in Clapham. "They analyse it linguistically and think about what function it serves in conversations, as well as its links to identity." Not bad. They will become the intermediaries of the future, the new interpreters and translators from and into Slangish.

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1 comment:

Ann Elle Altman said...

I think it shocking that the man couldn't even spend the time researching what languages they speak in the country he's referring to.