Thursday, January 05, 2006

La meplu de ma tante est sous la bleta, innit?

With slang becoming a bit of an obsession on this blog, I'm grateful to Simon in Cornwall (off the excellent English Language List for A Level English Language teachers) for this link to articles about French street slang, and in particular the slang known as Verlan.

The word itself gives you something of a clue as to its meaning: it's an inversion of the syllables of "l'envers" or for English speakers, "the opposite" or "back to front". So what you do is switch syllables round (a bit like the weird backspeak some people use at school or college): famille (family) becomes "mifa"; bizous (kisses) becomes "zibou" etc.

According to an article in USA Today, Verlan has achieved some prominence as the slang of dispossessed urban youth in the banlieus (see the La Haine posts earlier in the year) despite the fact it's been knocking around for hundreds of years and is hardly a new phenomenen.

So what's this got to do with English Language? Well, lots obviously. Just because it's French doesn't mean it has to be rubbish, despite what I might claim drunkenly about their wine producers. The patterns at work with French slang seem to be the very same in our own - and that shouldn't really be a surprise, as slang is driven by the same social tides and ripples, whatever country you're from.

Looking at what the author of the USA Today report tells us about middle class youths picking up Verlan as a badge of "ghetto credentials" is a bit like hearing about "homies" from Norfolk who talk about "gats", "bitches" and "whips" when the nearest thing they've got to a "whip" is a Massey Ferguson tractor and the nearest thing they've got to a "gat" is a glimpse of their father's shotgun as he blasted a pheasant in the arse (for the sake of tradition, obviously).

Two other articles - Do you speak verlan? and Parlez-vous verlan? - also suggested by Simon in Cornwall, give you more details about Verlan and its roots and potential future.

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