Let slang live to keep English alive

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Jargon and pedantry give the English language a bad name, claims the author of a new book intended to promote good communication in schools.

Peter White, the author of Wordskills, claims that "self-appointed guardians of language ruin their case by overstating it" and are guilty of treating language like a "fossilised museum exhibit". He argues the case for accepting slang as the natural progression of a language which is fun and ever-changing.

He says: "For many educationalists improving language reeks of elitism, uniformity or tedious grammatical rules. This is a great loss because young people are empowered by being able to articulate ideas, thoughts and emotions. I want to see young people enjoying a language which allows them to say what they mean and mean what they say."

Mr White says that with more than 350 million people worldwide speaking English, there will inevitably be variations. He says: "I'm not a complete language libertarian, I accept there have to be rules. But it's the type of people who write to Radio 4 to complain about a split infinitive who annoy me. Language is a marvellous resource, but it's also about progression."

The book advocates the use of what Mr White calls "misunderstood" slang. He writes: "A generation ago few people had "street cred" because they had never heard of it. They were never "out to lunch", they didn't suffer "techno-fear", there were no "workaholics" and the first "young-fogey" was yet to be born. Once slang, all these phrases have now entered the language. According to the book the acid test for their survival will be whether people find them useful. "I'm interested in young people being comfortable with the way they speak and knowing what language to use in appropriate circumstances," he says.

"You'd wear a very different set of clothes to a funeral than you would to the beach. In the same way our children should be equipped with the ability to choose different language styles when needed. If education is about anything it's about preparation for life. If young people leave school inarticulate and inexpressive, if they can't even present themselves to a bank manager or write a letter of complaint without confidence, then we will have failed them. "

Wordskills contains activities and games for use in schools, and is available, priced Pounds 6.95, from The National Youth Agency, 17-23 Albion Street, Leicester, LE1 6GD.

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