Sunday, March 14, 2021

Discourses around MLE and youth language


We’ve been doing some work recently on possible Section B questions around Multicultural London English and attitudes to changing youth language and it’s a really productive area to focus on. One of the things that you might have noticed about Paper 2 is that the dividing line between the topics of Language Change and Language Diversity is fairly porous. I did a blog on the overlaps here and you might find it helpful to look back at that to see what I mean. 

MLE, you could argue, is both a change and a diversity topic. It’s a variety (well…there’s debate about that… maybe somewhere between a variety and a style) that’s happened/happening because of social change but it’s also something that’s changing all the time. In some ways, we might even argue that MLE is rapidly morphing into something new: Multicultural Urban British English, or just Multicultural British English. 

What makes MLE interesting as a Section B focus is that many of the discussions about it embody the discourses we often find around those for change and diversity in other areas – those of decay, pollution, invasion and decline – but the focus is intensified because of MLE’s very essence: it’s hybridity, its use by younger people and its multicultural nature. Even it association with London – increasingly seen by some on the ‘anti-woke’ right as being a kind of metropolitan city state, mired in immorality, crime and decadence and unmoored from the country it’s supposed to be the capital of – leads to some let’s say ‘interesting’ takes on it. 

If you’re looking for texts that represent MLE, Paul Kerswill – one of the linguists involved in tracing its development and coverage – has written this really excellent overview of how ‘Jafaican’ (MLE) came to be covered in the UK press. You can see more about this on the project page on MLE on the University of York’s English Language Toolkit pages. 

For suitable texts for Section B on MLE, here are a few that have worked well in the past and a few that could be edited to fit the wordcount:

Big Up MLE (New Statesman, 2017)
Is MLE ‘Bangin’ and ‘Greezy’ or just Jafaican? (Opportunistic website, 2020)Ghetto grammar robs the young of a proper voice (London Evening Standard, 2011)
Laziness is killing the magnificent English language, says James Delingpole (Daily Express 2016)

For linguists' input on MLE, some of these links should be helpful:

I'll add a few more suggestions over the next week or so, along with a question (or two) based on a few of these texts.

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