Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Twitter helps regions reign while twitz drop their slang

It's not every day that I get to write something that links Twitter, regional slang and N'Dubz, but here goes...

Research from Dr Eric Schleef at the University of Manchester, reported in the Telegraph and Guardian last week, suggests that regional dialects are not dying out quite as quickly as linguists thought they might a couple of decades ago. The argument - called dialect levelling - was that as society became more mobile and people shifted away from smaller communities to larger urban sprawls, their local varieties of language would fade away and in their place would rise regional varieties, and perhaps even ultimately just one homogenous national variety. To some extent, this has already happened, and the story here about regional "super-accents" seems to support it.

But Schleef argues that social networking and mass media have actually helped spread many regional terms - dialect words and slang - among the wider population. In The Daily Telegraph report he is quoted as saying the following:

Twitter, Facebook and texting all encourage speed and immediacy of understanding, meaning users type as they speak, using slang, dialect respellings and colloquialisms.The result is we are all becoming exposed to words we may not have otherwise encountered, while absorbing them into everyday speech."

He added that it was not now uncommon to hear a northerner utter words such as “tidy” or “lush” – Welsh terms for attractive - or to catch southerners describing something good as “mint”, a term coined in Manchester. 

Fair enough, but does this actually mean that local varieties are here to stay or that we're adopting a buffet-style approach to our language choices, picking words we like from the table (like nice, tasty, breaded prawns) and ignoring ones we find odd or unpleasant (bits of limp cheese flan)?

Meanwhile, in news that will upset 12 year old girls all over limited parts of north London, the poor man's answer to the Black-Eyed Peas, N'Dubz, have decided to drop some of their trademark slang in order to appeal to the American market. In this article from The Sun, you can find out more...admittedly not much more, as it's a very short article, but presumably the reporter couldn't understand much of what they were saying as Dappy only seems to communicate through an elaborate series of hand gestures these days.

Whatever you think of E3's finest export, Dizzee Rascal, and his rise to pop fame at the expense of some of his musical credibility, at least he's kept his linguistic identity. So what are N'Dubz playing at? Will they gain a bigger audience in the USA because they don't say "bruv" and "innit" in their lyrics, or will the American audience take one listen to their lyrics and turn to each other saying, "These lyrics are as characterless as the rather anodyne music that accompanies them. I shall no longer listen to the so-called N'Dubz and instead invest my hard-earned dollars in some Kano and Wiley, artists who remain true to their linguistic roots. And whose music is better. Bruv."? On a slightly more serious level, doesn't it suggest that even while we're quite happy to pick-n-mix our vocabulary in casual chats between friends or on social networking sites, when it comes to a wider audience, we accommodate to a more neutral register?

Of course, you have to be careful if you're being rude about N'Dubz or Dappy will send you a poorly-spelled threatening text message, but I say bring it on*.

*Not really

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