Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Teenage twits

It's the news that all parents of 15 year olds already know: teenagers have poor language skills and need to stop mumbling. According to a report on the BBC website, based on research done for Tesco Mobile Phones by Lancaster University linguist Professor Tony McEnery, "teenagers used half the words of average 25 to 34-year-olds".

His analysis of a database of teenage speech suggested teenagers had a vocabulary of just over 12,600 words compared with the nearly 21,400 words that the average person aged 25 to 34 uses. Prof McEnery said in his report: "Of note when examining the word 'no' is the frequency with which the word is accompanied by the word 'but'. These words occur in the sequence 'but no' or 'no but' almost twice as frequently in teenage speech as it does in young adult or middle aged speech."

Employers often complained that new employees were unable to answer the telephone in the formal way required of them for work and that they were also intimidated by speaking formally in meetings, the professor added. He put this down to a lack of training and the overuse of technologies such as computer games and MP3 players. "This trend, known as technology isolation syndrome, could lead to problems in the classroom and then later in life. Employers are already complaining that first jobbers are lacking basic verbal communication and it seems things could be set to get worse. Kids need to get talking and develop their vocabulary."

Fair points or gross generalisation? Is it fair to lump all teenagers together, in the same way that some peopel generalise about all men and all women and their speech styles? And what about different communities of practice? Maybe Emo teens and goths have a wider and more sophisticated vocabulary (misery, suffering, pain) than hip hoppers and ravers (choong, merked, tune)... or maybe not.

What do you think? Can you even string a sentence together to comment? And can we honestly believe a report sponsored by a mobile phone company whose aim is to make us talk more so they can make money from our chat?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Change
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

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