Monday, December 12, 2005

All together now

When Ali G first hit the radar, a lot of people weren't quite sure what to make of it. Was it funny? Was it meant to be funny? Was it offensive? There was all kinds of debate about whether it was a negative portrayal of the way black young people speak, debate that rather missed the point because it was only ever about how white wannabes think black people speak. But for comic effect, Sacha Baron Cohen successfully tapped into a feature of language change that was already evident: the crossover amongst young people between traditional regional accents and dialects and language forms influenced by the immigration history of recent times. In the big cities, and especially in London, a new dialect was being formed, one that now no longer seems comic or gauche when young white people use it, but seems an entirely normal and natural use of language if you hang out there long enough.

And while Ali G has been dying a slow death from our collective memory, researchers have been busy formally investigating this phenomenon. You might remember the post here in the summer which detailed Sue Fox's research findings from Tower Hamlets (if not, use search the site gizmo to find it). And in the Times this weekend, there's news from the project Sue Fox has subsequently been part of, that this phenomenon is not a small scale local one, restricted to parts of London, or specific communities, but part of a much larger scale process of new dialect birth. A generic multi-ethnic dialect has been created by young people, one which includes rather than excludes people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Now how cool is that? (I'd obviously say 'nang' if I were 25 years younger...). Check it out.

All raait! It's a new black-white lingo


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