Identifying features

There’s

nowt – using example slang

wrong

with slang

Emma Thompson of

all people ought to

appreciate that

Shakespeare’s slang – comparing to what legends of language have done

became part of our

everyday language

!

!

Belinda Webb

Friday 8 October 2010 12.00 BST

!

That epitome of Hampstead luvviness, Emma

Thompson, has apparently started a campaign

against the use of “sloppy slang” and “street talk”.

It follows a visit to her old school, Camden High

for Girls. What’s to be expected from a

Cambridge graduate? It is still an institution of – rhetorical question

received pronunciation. She is not alone in this

call to arms against slang. Fellow north Londoner

Tom Conti agrees, as does Kathy Lette, that writer

of such timeless classics as Puberty Blues, which

is about “top chicks” and “surfie spunks“, and – alliteration

Alter Ego, about a “knight in shining Armani“. – pun

Lette attempts to show off her punnilingus by

calling slang a “vowel cancer” and urging teens to

study “tongue fu“. – pun

This kind of talk has got me well vexed. Listen up, – embedded example

yeah, there’s nowt wrong with slang, so you need

to stop mitherin’, d’ya get me? Those who are – omission

from the north will recognise nowt as nothing and

mitherin’ as bothering. And “d’ya get me?” is,

well, comprende? Slang has been around for a

long time. Far from showing the user as “stupid”,

as Thompson contends, it demonstrates

inventiveness and quickness of thought; a

language plasticity, if you like; a language on the

go, evolving not just from one generation to the

next, but one year to the next. Its use shows that

students are able to learn and speak a wide range

of vernacular. The British Library certainly seem to

think so, with its upcoming exhibition on evolving

English.

Types of slang can be seen as distinct dialects in

their own right. Yet there are those who would

complain that it excludes many more than it will

let in. The same argument has been made

regarding novels such as Irvine Welsh’s

Trainspotting – the use of the Leithian dialect a

clear statement that, to get “them”, requires work;

the same work it would take for them to learn RP.

British literature is served well by

slang – it can energise prose –

and there is also Will Self’s

“Mokni”, from The Book of Dave.

I remember reading Anthony

Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange,

with its “nasdat” and being so – neologism

blown away that I rewrote a

contemporary female-centric

version called A Clockwork Apple.

I used archaic and old Celtic

words in order to get away from

the language so favoured by the

Blytons (think Thompson). This

use was then mocked when a

middle-aged male reviewer

attempted to write a nonsensical

review on it.

What Thompson et al may be put

out at is feeling out of touch with

the reality of this younger

generation. Slang can be seen as

a sophisticated attempt to

communicate in a semi-private

language, only a step removed

from Wittgenstein’s “private

language”. Also a Cambridge

graduate, Wittgenstein came to

believe that the idea that

language can perfectly capture

reality is a kind of bewitchment.

Yet teenagers in each generation

seem intent on trying, which is to

their credit. They may not

consciously know this is what

they are doing, but they are

seeking a language that

represents their reality, and a way

of creating a private space for those with whom

they identify.

!

The issue is, perhaps, what makes people feel in

the right to say that anyone who does not speak

like them, or in the way they were taught, is wrong

and “stupid”? What is stupid is the ignorance of – rhetorical question

such highly educated public figures who seem not

to have realised that Britain’s greatest

writers used slang and those words became part – irony

of our language. Shakespeare helped popularise

words such as nervy, rancorous, puke,

assassination and sanctimonious. Allow me to

illustrate the use of these words:

Sanctimonious Oxbridge grads are rancorous at

the use of teenspeak and slang, which makes

them so nervy that they want to puke, which could

be avoided if they stopped the slang

assassination.

I am not saying that slang is a substitute for

“standard” English, but should be recognised and

capitalised upon for what it is – a love of

communication and an inventiveness of speech

that continues to make English one of the most

interesting languages.

 

Her points and examples are logical and I’m in complete agreement with her.

 

Quotations that are the most convincing:

have realised that Britain’s greatest

writers used slang and those words became part

of our language. Shakespeare helped popularise

words such as nervy, rancorous, puke,

assassination and sanctimonious.

 

I am not saying that slang is a substitute for

“standard” English, but should be recognised and

capitalised upon for what it is – a love of

communication and an inventiveness of speech

 

Slang can be seen as

a sophisticated attempt to

communicate in a semi-private

language

 

it demonstrates

inventiveness and quickness of thought; a

language plasticity, if you like; a language on the

go, evolving not just from one generation to the

next, but one year to the next.

 

Types of slang can be seen as distinct dialects in

their own right. Yet there are those who would

complain that it excludes many more than it will

let in.


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