Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When is a gang not a gang?

When it's a group, an anti-social gathering of hoodies, or a click/clique. That's what the Youth Justice Board are saying anyway, and they should know as they've been studying youth behaviour and crime and they think that labelling a gathering of youths as a "gang" actually makes the young people concerned more likely to see themselves as social outcasts and push them towards a genuine gang culture of organised crime, illegal cash and drug dealing.

And we all know where that leads, don't we? Rarely to the multi-million dollar incomes and uber-bling lifestyles of knuckleheaded gangstas like 50 Cent and The Game, but more often to Feltham, smelly stairwells in rundown towerblocks, crack pipes and the sharp end of another idiot's shank.

So, getting linguistic about this (and moving away from my pulpit) are the Youth Justice Board adopting a position of linguistic determinism? Is the label "gang" actually influencing young people's behaviour? Well, apparently it is. According to the BBC article about the YJB's report, they argue that "glamorising such offenders may encourage them to become involved in more serious criminal behaviour".

And it's a double-edged label too:

Young people themselves resent the way the word gang is used to describe any group behaving in an anti-social way. It suggests the term "group related" rather than "gang related" is a better way to describe their activities.

So, just a day after the ENA1 Language & Representation paper, why cover this? Well, I've always argued that English Language is for life not just for exams. Or was that dogs and Christmas... I get confused.

And if you want to read a genuinely well written account of London's gang/group-related culture then take a look at this article in today's Guardian.

And to find out more about the words "gang" and "clique", have a look at the OED online (if you use college computers, you'll be able to access it for free).

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates

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