Friday, 1 October 2010

Language is always changing innit?

Oh what a fuss the 'quality' papers seem to be making this week about the 'awful' language teenagers speak - how employers won't employ them because they can barely speak and have such a limited vocabulary. What's new?

Teenagers have always behaved in such a way that it is easy to assume they have a limited vocabulary. Alright, so some of them do - and the same applies to some adults too. When I was teaching I remember hearing that you only needed a reading age of eight years in order to read some of the tabloid newspapers. There will always be a section of the community that chooses to use only a limited vocabulary - the same section of the community I guess that has few or no books in the house. Well that is their choice.

But as for teen-language, isn't that one way of disassociating oneself from one's parents way of life? Hasn't it always been so - surely that is an essential part of growing up, stretching one's wings and leaving the nest? And it is also a way of being part of another group, speaking a different language and ganging up against adults. In my view long may it continue.

I tried thinking back to my teenage years - goodness what a long way back that is - to try and remember the words I used. I could only think of one instance and thinking of it made me smile. It was fashionable amongst the young to use the expression "I'll do you!" Oh how my mother hated that with its slightly suggestively sexual undertone. I used it regularly and rarely if ever without being castigated by my parents for doing so. How tame it now seems by today's standards.

Of course, it is also a class issue, isn't it? Only the quality papers seem to be making a fuss about it. And there is no doubt a 'class of teenager' who refuses to use such words as innit, but I doubt that they escape completely from teen-language.
Shakespeare is littered with 'yoiks' abd 'begad' and suchlike - the teen-language of the day???

I do remember my son as a teenager getting a particular word and using it whenever he could - the word 'banal' springs to mind; everything he saw was banal - in particular I remember the lovely fairy lights strung round the green outside his school at Christmas - if he called them banal once he used the word a dozen times in the same context. Ah what it is to be young.

We are never going to change things in that area any more than we are going to be able to get every child turning into an avid reader and user of language. And one thing is for sure - the more we complain about it, the more they will do it to aggravate us - isn't that what it is all about? Like dyeing ones hair red, or green or whatever it is surely a statement saying, "Look at me. I am an adult. I can do what I like and say what I like!" (that is until there is a crisis of some sort when the average teenager reverts to pre-bolshie days and asks for a bit of help).

Can you remember words you used and ways you used to nettle your parents? I do hope so.


Dartford Warbler said...

You are absolutely right about this, I`m sure. Each generation of teenagers develops its own linguistic "argot" to signify the breaking away from childhood. Even those unfortunate enough to be caught up in a war will use military slang to help them develop an identity.

There is currently a lot of criticism of the use of "like", which is peppered through the sentences of so many young people in Britain. I think it is just a way to find a bit of thinking time, while processing an articulate sentence out of a teenage brain. Teenager`s brains are different from those of adults. So many hormonal and neurological changes are taking place. We need to "cut them some slack" while they are thinking things out! Our own use of the "ums and ahhs" of normal speech are not so different in their function.

I think that the regional differences are interesting too. So are the influences that American and Australian soaps have had on young people`s language. The uplifting of sentence endings that is so common now, was probably an import along with "Neighbours" and "Home and Away"

Titus said...

Wise and wonderful post, Weaver. Leave the young to their things, for they join us soon enough.

Titus said...

And Good Lord, Warbler, are you really from Dartford? Was pondering only the other day the geographical make-up of the bloggers I, er, blog with. Lots of Ireland, some Scotland, USA and Canada but very few near the great rivers of the South East. And I was wondering why?

Rachel Fox said...

My Mum hated me talking like a Northerner (North of England that is)... especially saying things like 'our mam' and 'our kid'. So of course I said them all the time!

Arija said...

Sorry, can't help you there. When I was that age, I only had one parent and if anything, I was more concerned for her than wishing to irritate her.

Apart from that, I had only just attained a grasp of the English language and being the perfectionist I was, wanted to learn it and speak it to perfection. Naive, you might say but it stood me i good stead through school and uni..

Dave King said...

I go along with your comments, though I thought possibly the most important point being made was that of the loss of the second code. Youngsters have always had at least two languages (as have adults: I don't speak in church the way I would at the rugby club or the pub) and are in danger of losing the ability to distinguish and choose appropriately - as perhaps are adults. Whether - as is being said - it is all down to texting, I'm not so sure.

Gerry Snape said...

It's part of belonging I think. It was always to identify with the pack that you wanted to be part of and so the words were unwritten codes that you knew others could pick up on and know that you were thinking along the same lines. doesn't it happen in every "in" group whether young or older!!! Dave is right about church. i fight it all the time...rebel celt that I am!

Reader Wil said...

It's funny: as soon as we try to copy the language our children speak when they are teenagers, they rapidly change their expressions. They don't want us to speak their language.
Speaking of languages makes me always think of Professor Higgens when he complains that there is no common language in England. "Arabians speak Arabian with the speed of summer lightning, and Hebrews speak it backwards, which is absolutely frightning....."Wonderful, isn't it?!
Thanks for your comment about the Netherlands! You have seen a lot!
Next time the windmills!!

Heather said...

I think there may be a shortage of inspiring teachers of English. If there were more, perhaps schoolchildren in general would find language more interesting. I have read of authors and actors whose teachers invoked a love of language in them, through their inspiring lessons. I can't recall any favourite words from my youth - only that I was boringly conventional. Having brought up five of my own children, my parents didn't know how fortunate they were! I often notice grammatical errors in the press, even in the better newspapers, and some TV presenters and announcers leave much to be desired. There seems to be a general dumbing down of standards and we who like to see and hear the English language used well, are considered to be old fuddy-duddies. I don't want to return to the clipped tones of early BBC English but there is surely a happy medium. Perhaps there will come a time when there is no need to speak - a few indecipherable text messages, emails, and the odd grunt will suffice!! Heaven forbid!!

Gramma Ann said...

I don't really remember any words or sayings I said as a teen-ager. But, I have two I like today. One is "Whatever" and the other is, "Deal with it." And I never realized how often I use them until one day my daughter told me someone was complaining about something or other and she said, "I'm going to tell you what my mom tells me when I whine to her about something, she just tells me, Deal with it, there's nothing I can do about it."

However, since it was pointed out to me, I have been trying to correct my word whispers, and speak like an adult. hehe

The Solitary Walker said...

Considering the words Trinny and Susannah were coming out with on the telly last night... yes, things have certainly changed. I don't mind language changing - in fact that's exciting and natural - and obviously the younger generation have to shock. I did so myself. But, I must admit, even though I know it was a 'spoof' programme, to hear intelligent, grown women screaming 'f***ing ****hole and worse all the time just turned me off. Then, again, I suppose anything goes in the celebrity culture world of trying to revive your reputations.

Sandy at Teacup Lane said...

Growing up as a teenager in the USA I would call my parents "you guys" and my Mother hated it. Of course, I never stopped - I was a teenager. We called everyone "you guys" and it's still used today by teens and adults here. Another one that was used throughout conversations over and over was "you know". And I hate to admit I used "crap" alot as a teen too. Mother didn't like that either! It all seems so innocent now compared to how teens talk in today's world.

Derrick said...

Awesome discussion you've got going here Weaver! I mean, like, we should all speak however we like, you know? Don't sweat it! I think it's cool you thinking the way you do, you know?

Pondside said...

Neat, cool, hunk (for a handsome fellow)and the phrase 'Would you believe....?"
There's always been a language of the young and I hope there always will be.

Peter Goulding said...

Dear Marge,
My son has the annoying habit of calling everything not quite normal 'gay.'
This annoys me no end and I end up lecturing him about homophobia. To his mind though, gay doesn't mean gay.
What should I do?
Yours, Old fart, Dublin

mansuetude said...

Such great post and comments

It's such a complicated issue.
I Secretly Love your sons word, banal and agree so much of culture hangs in a rarified air of never reaching for more

Thinking of all the books banned for use of few slang words, like Huck Finn; also much research has been done in literacy about "allowing" certain inherent cultural markers to remain in Voice, writing voice, not to iron every unique jesture out and make a false uniform drone.

Dave is right too and the work world expects a certain professionalism.

Rare Lesser Spotted said...

Good analysis, puts it into real perspective, innit?

deb said...

I was a teen in Essex, and no I didn't wear hoop earrings but I did wear very short skirts... anyway, we were always lectured for clipping our vowels and sounding common! Now of course that I teach in America my students love my common voice and my children and their friends are amazed when I sing cool for cats by the squeeze on rockband with perfect cockney diction!!
I think perhaps the earlier by Dave has a great deal of truth. The problem is not the language its a failure to realize when such language is not appropriate... if you had to mark some of the terribly worded informal essays I have to mark... still I agree that it is about making that space between generations, and I find it amazing, the ability of language to be in constant flux!!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

As a true lover of language, I must confess to a bit of cringing sometimes. Especially when I hear the word, "awesome" used to describe everything from a pair of jeans to a hamburger. But yes, I do think adults have to step aside and let them figure things out for themselves.

I just love your son's use of the word, "banal". That is such a teenager way of looking at the usual, isn't it? Makes me smile.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I do love the way you all come up trumps and get a good discussion going on. Thank you for participating in this.

Ruby said...

Everything was fab in the 1960s. I can't remember using the expression at home though.

Jinksy said...

And then we get to the other end of the spectrum and can find a word locked 'on the tip of the tongue' but refusing to be spat out! LOL :)

Totalfeckineejit said...


Jane Moxey said...

Such a fascinating topic Weaver! Everyone has already pitched in stuff I might have said had I come here earlier. Having lived in the States for so long, I have to admit that when I made a few trips to the UK in recent years, my ears have been surprised with the accents I heard -- on the radio, on the telly, in the high street. A little bit of everything from all over the UK it seemed like to me! Hardly a "posh" voice anywhere. Received Pronunciation is what I remember we were all going for during my acting training days. The strangled upper crust accent was just as much of a speech fault as a rollicking Cockney one! Funny enough, I do have to "tune" my ears to the British dialects when I watch British programs on the American telly. At first it all sounds so foreign!! But I have kept my British accent after 45 years of living here, yet continue to be surprised when new people I meet tell me they love my accent. But I got off topic. At my vast age I totally agree with you about youngsters wanting their own "speak" to differentiate them from the Old Fogies! And yes they will be OFs themselves one day, hopefully with a broadened vocabulary!

patteran said...

I can remember carefully crafting the word 'cool' in to my active vocabulary when it was teenage currency first time around. And now my 6-year-old daughter uses it as standard English.

You're absolutely right to counsel tolerance, Pat. The huffing and puffing that keeps misting up the windows over the issue of the debasement of language by teenagers is preposterous. How swiftly and entirely we forget our own teenage lingua franca.

Oh, and "I'll do you" had an explicit sexual meaning when I was down the road from you at my Yorkshire boarding school!

Elisabeth said...

I wish people would stop giving adolescents a hard time. It is as if certain adults have forgotten what it was like, but not you, Weaver.

I remember as an adolescent my favourite word, which I repeated mercilessly was 'rhubarb'.

Rhubarb this and rhubarb that. Everything was rhubarb.

Jenn Jilks said...

I've written a rant about language! I hear radio personalities speak of "goin' shoppin'" and the like.
Your use of language is a choice.

We went to our local pub, as I needed to use their wireless Internet, and heard the "F" bomb used as verb, adjective, adverb and noun. All for the shock value.

I also loathe the "no problem" servers tell you, in lieu of "thank you"! (We've been eating out a lot while our kitchen was defunct!)
Thoughtful post!

Jenn Jilks said...

P.S. Your header is fabulous! Cheers from Cottage Country , our new home!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think we must have all been such tolerant parents. Or maybe we just feel like this having gone through the mill with teenagers. Thank you for joining in.

Sal said...

I think I must be an old fuddy duddy!
I am always complaining about the decline in the English language. My pet hate is:
'should of/''would of'/'could of' and I go mad when any of those are uttered in my lessons!

I read some time ago that those examples are so widely used nowadays that it is even being considered adopting them as normal
language...which makes no sense to me!

Had apostrophes been taught properly in the first place then we would not have any of this 'rubbish' going on!
So glad I've got that off my chest... I'll now get down 'off of' my soap box (!) ;-)