Emma's, like, a typical 16-year-old, yaknowwhat Imean? She's, right, just like all her friends, innit? Basically, okay, she speaks just like lots of kids in the English speaking world, kinda.
Sound familiar? Emma and her friends, the young residents of Brookside Close and Walford, the court of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the youthful Neighbours as well as older types like Frank Bruno, the Gallagher brothers and probably at least 10 adults you know, pepper their words with verbal tics. It's maddening, it's mind-numbing, it's time-wasting, it's ungrammatical a lot of the time but it's, like, unavoidable. Yaknowwhat-I'msayin?
Time was when it was just young Americans whose language was punctuated every few words by these habitual, deeply unmeaningful noises. I know because I was one of them - probably still am. But today, kids like Emma - otherwise perfectly bright, if not articulate - have imbibed this form of verbal laziness and made it their own.
Emma, a close acquaintance, tells me that I'm a stuck-up toffee-nosed cow for calling natural speech lazy. She says that it is what oral communication, as opposed to the written word, is about: emphasis, repetition, idiom. You punctuate your language with sign-posts, reminders, reviews of what's already been said and encouragements to hang in there.
To a certain extent, she's right. With attention spans what they are these days, those frequent tune-ins to the person you're talking to are a good way of keeping your audience. They're the modern equivalent of "don't you agree?'' And the overuse of words such as "literally'' and "basically'' are just other ways of saying "actually'' or "fundamentally''. Just like us toffee-nosed cows talk.
But her argument doesn't account for all those empty words such as "like'' and "right'' and "yeah'' (the latter used as in "So I went up the shops, yeah, and like, I said to him...").
Once you start listening for these verbal tics, you'll find you're sensitised to them. Not just the ones coming out of the mouths of your pupils, but those uttered by friends, colleagues and - heaven forfend - yourself.
But it's probably true to say that as children grow up, they grow out of the constant need to be saying something to fill up the empty spaces between meaningful words. Ya get me?