SLANG, ‘PATOIS’ AND – ONCE AGAIN – THE CASE OF ‘MLE’

 

Image result for multiethnic London youth

 

To coincide with this year’s Notting Hill Carnival I was interviewed by Sanjana Varghese and her excellent article in the New Statesman is here: 

http://www.newstatesman.com/2017/08/big-mle-origins-londons-21st-century-slang

Developing further some of the ideas in Sanjana’s article, and based on our exchanges, here are some more thoughts on the subject of multiethnic language, in a ‘question-and-answer’ format:

 

1.  What exactly is ‘MLE’?

 

The term MLE, coined in connection with Paul Kerswill and Jenny Cheshire’s research on dialect in 2004, describes a ‘social dialect’, ‘sociolect’ or informal spoken style of UK English used initially by ‘younger’ speakers and first identified in and first associated with London. This way of speaking is characterised by a vocabulary reflecting a high degree of ‘black’ (Caribbean English, terms possibly coined by afrocaribbean speakers in the UK, to a lesser extent US black ‘street’ language and hip hop terminology) influences and by intonation patterns and certain pronunciations which differ markedly from standard UK English and differ also from ‘traditional white working class’ accents although they retain some features such as glottal stops and ‘f’ instead of ‘th’. In lay terms, MLE appears to have a ‘lilting’, more regular intonation, resembling Caribbean and also South Asian speech, with some noticeable ‘cockney’ elements too. Its structure and syntax (‘grammar’) may display ‘deviations’ from traditionally ‘correct’ taught forms and the prestige dialects of ‘standard’ English and RP (received pronunciation). In terms of vocabulary, samples I have collected can contain up to 80% of Caribbean (so-called ‘patois’, but this is a slightly contentious term; it can be used dismissively by whites, though is happily employed by Jamaicans themselves) or other BAME lexis such as Somali, South Asian and in some isolated cases a few Turkish and Polish terms.

 

The designation MLE is well-known and widely used but, especially since this kind of speech (it is still largely a spoken variety of language, though increasingly appearing in writing in music lyrics and TV scripts and online forums and messaging) is no longer restricted to London and the core vocabulary in particular has spread to speakers all across the UK, some linguists prefer to call it Urban British English (UBE) or Urban Vernacular(s) or refer to it as a ‘multiethnolect’. It is now understood that mixed varieties of the same type have appeared in other European centres, and those in Germany (influenced by Turkish), France (influenced by North African and Arabic language)  and Scandinavia (Turkish, Arabic, Somali) in particular are the subject of research. These forms of language tend to include a high level of what can also be termed ‘slang’, ie very informal and deliberately opaque codes generated by peer groups, gangs and ‘microniches’ such as gamers, skaters, cosplayers.

 

2. How has it managed to pervade British youth culture?

 

In the 60s and 70s Caribbean English was only encountered in subcultures and popular culture via Calypso and Ska and Reggae music. Younger black speakers tended to be ‘ghettoised’ and tended to reinforce their own exclusivity by not mixing much with other subcultures – even the mods and skinheads who admired their music, so there was little spreading of black language. This began to change with the Two-Tone movement of the early 1980s, while in school playgrounds, on the street and in clubs, black speech began to gain social – at least subcultural – prestige, with young black males seen as the most resistant to the dominant culture. By the 1990s this tendency had combined with the rise of breakdancing, rap and its associated style displays (headgear, footwear, ‘bling’, etc.) USA to make it an overriding fashionable ‘wave’ carrying with it its own terminology. At street level in London I recorded white working class schoolkids in the 1990s using more and more ‘Jafaican’ (horrible pejorative term though it is) – crossing and codeswitching with what teachers called ‘creole’, ‘recreolised lexis’ or ‘patois’ in their conversations. By the later 1990s Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Ali G was satirising this speech and the poses and style affectations that went with it. In the 2000s the ascent of UK Grime music along with influences and buzzwords from US hip hop reinforced the same tendencies, while in subsequent years social media and showbiz played a part, though the essential language was still coming from the street, particularly in London from gang culture and spreading by word of mouth. Although the tabloid press and broadcast has picked up on the phenomena they have not contributed significantly to actually propagating MLE.

 

3. Why has MLE attracted so much attention when other kinds of dialect change are common?

 

MLE is associated with social unrest, crime and what in the 60s was called transgression and ‘deviancy’, therefore lends itself to sensationalising  (and mockery too) by the media and displays of staged disapproval by representatives of the status quo (see for instance statements – and prohibitions – by educationalists, politicians, conservative journalists). ‘MLE’ is also much more important and pervasive in bestowing subcultural capital than any other instances of dialect change (which tend to operate in the regional margins and away from the attention of metropolitans), so in its own milieux and nationally it has overwhelmed other – relatively minor – changes in the lexicon or in phonology. Other forms of language change which are significant are the abbreviated codes (YOLO, FOMO, smh, obvs, etc.) and US slang (‘slay’, ‘woke’, ‘lit’, ‘(on) fleek’) used by young people on social media, and the faux-fashionable journalese use of jargon (‘Brexit’, ‘yummy-mummy’, ‘silver surfers’, etc.)

 

4. Is MLE unique to London and to English?

 

As noted above the same language phenomena are being observed in all global urban environments, most similarly in other diverse European capitals. In the UK MLE-like language is being studied particularly in Manchester (see e.g the work of Dr Rob Drummond and the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies) and Birmingham, but even in rural villages many kids are now familiar with the core terms (‘bare’, ‘peng’, ‘allow it’, ‘hench’ etc). Sadly, too, many entirely innocent British teenagers are familiar with the latest slang names of knives, guns and drugs.

 

5. Why are the borrowings in MLE overwhelmingly from Jamaica?

 

The Ali G persona was satirising what were then derided on the street as ‘wannabes’ or ‘wiggas’ (white niggas), pretending to be black, therefore cool. Gautam Malkani’s novel ‘Londonstani’ drew upon hybridity to mock a white boy pretending to be a cool Asian – actually a much rarer occurrence. Although Bhangra and Bhangramuffin music were briefly popular, as were musicians such as Apache Indian,  Asian Dub Foundation and  Jazzy B, South Asian pop culture, music and language has not challenged the domination of Afrocaribbean influence on MLE, hasn’t really crossed over despite Malkani.

The South Asian and Chinese and Japanese communities, Turkish and Somali and Polish communities for example just don’t have the same subcultural glamour and image of resistance and transgression, and therefore linguistic prestige as those with links to the Caribbean. It’s also very important that Caribbean speech is a variety of English, not a ‘foreign’ language, therefore very accessible and closely related, albeit with a very different sound.

 

6. Can the growth of this kind of multiethnolect be attributed solely to immigration?

 

The emergence of this type of mixed code, with accompanying informal lexicon and novel pronunciations is also about the dwindling within the UK of traditional social, cultural and linguistic authorities, the conditions of superdiversity in which people live and a new assertion of ‘minority’ identities, new access to media and communication. There are no longer power-groups within society or cultural influencers who have the capability of stemming or proscribing language change or enforcing disapproval of informal, provocative behaviour. Even when particular schools ban the use of slang, they are only momentarily affecting a very small segment of society.

 

7. Should we be worried by this particular aspect of language change?

 

From a purely objective linguistic perspective, language change, variation and innovation is not worrying. It’s a natural process, indeed a fascinating process and worthy of study. For someone like me, a lexicographer collecting slang and new language, new forms and new usages, as in the very dynamic and complex MLE matrix, are illustrations of the established workings of the language – the technical potential of English to create novel forms and combinations, also managing the well-known functions of language – to judge, to categorise, to help bonding and reinforce identities; the stylistic performance of language in terms of rhetoric, irony, poetics, etc.

BUT anything that is seen as part of a culture of crime, violence, drug abuse, family breakdown, even if it is more a product than a cause, will worry many people. Any significant changes in language will disturb and destabilise many people for whom their grasp of and usage of language is a fundamental part of their identity (often seen as something essential and unchanging, even if it isn’t really). For these reasons it’s not enough for linguists (or any liberals, ‘progressives’, descriptivists, etc.) simply to dismiss the concerns of traditionalists and conservatives – and ordinary worried parents, teachers and others.  Given that you can’t legislate against such language, it’s important to study it, debate and discuss it and see it for what it is.

One possible reassurance is that MLE has been seen as a temporary, developmental, transitional practice, just as youth slang has been assumed to be something that young people grow out of once they enter the adult world of work, family and other responsibilities. I have written that the vocabulary of multiethnic slang is inherently unlikely to persist into adulthood, dealing as it does with adolescent concerns: dating, sex, experimentation, illicit practices and managing prestige and competition within teenage gangs for instance. My colleague at King’s College London, sociolinguist and discourse specialist Professor Ben Rampton has, however, shown in small-scale studies that some of the features of MLE, in particular the practice of ‘crossing’ or code-switching between languages in mid conversation, may not be confined to ‘youth’ and may not be discarded in that way*. For me, this possibility most obviously relates to its intonation and pronunciation which I think may well come to have a pervasive influence in many circles in the UK, possibly changing ‘mainstream’ English in years to come. This can already be seen not just in young white and Asian people consciously imitating the sound of Jamaican, but in a new rhythm and emphasis in everyday speech which is shared by a wide variety of young adults, so that if you hear but can’t see the speaker, it’s impossible to determine their ethnicity. This was nicely satirised by the TV comedy series PhoneShop but is now really the case in diverse communities like Croydon, the fictional setting for the show, and a few elements of which are showing up in reality TV abominations like Love Island.

For most linguists the yardsticks by which we judge language are not ‘correctness’ or association with prestige – ‘poshness’ in other words, but just two criteria: ‘intelligibility’ (is it mutually comprehensible?) and more importantly ‘appropriacy’ (is it the right kind of language to fit the social context?). If you apply the notion of appropriacy there’s nothing inherently bad about MLE, or slang, providing it is used in a suitable setting, such as a school playground, club, on the street, in private banter, and not in school essays, exams, job interviews, formal encounters, in front of your Gran, etc.

 

*Some sociolinguists think that focusing on ‘youth language’ itself is discriminatory and is creating false categories. I have been criticised myself, both by conservatives for celebrating ‘ghetto language’ and one or two linguists who accused me of labelling the young and their behaviour. All I can say is that young people I have interviewed have very often referred to multi-ethnic slang as ‘our language’, the language of ‘the youth’.

 

Image result for youth at Notting Hill carnival

 

Three years later, in 2020, I talked to Audrey Damier about MLE, slang and London youth.

Her article for The Londoner is here: 

DO YOU SPEAK MLE?

EMOJI – one or two thoughts, and a source list

 

Image result for emoji evolution

 

I have been asked by students and colleagues to write, very belatedly perhaps, about emoji. While searching for something novel and meaningful to say about the phenomenon, and looking for a stance to adopt in the (sometimes tedious) ‘is/are emoji a language?’ debate, I thought I would share  some first thoughts and a list of references (a personal selection from the mass of material recently published), to provide a shortcut for anyone else studying the subject…

AN EMOJI TIMELINE

1964 – the smiley face 😊 symbol invented by Harvey Ross Ball

1982 – (11.44am, September 19) Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in the USA posts the first emoticon:  : – )

1989 – Internet acronyms (such as LOL, LMAO, WTF), having appeared on message-boards and in chatrooms since the mid-80s, spread rapidly across the anglosphere via text-messaging and email

1991 – the Unicode Consortium is founded to develop universal standards for Internet text-processing

1998Shigetaka Kurita invents emoji (= ‘picture’ + ‘character’) with 176 examples

2010 – Unicode adopt emoji, add hundreds more 😈

2015 – Unicode 8.0 releases new emoji range with skin tones,

2017 – Facebook processes 6bn messages containing emoji

2018  – 2823 emoji have been approved so far

 

HOW DO EMOJI FUNCTION?

They insert punctuating ‘mood-breaks’ into conventional sentences😠 in a sort of ‘bimodal codeswitching’

They are to written communication what nonverbal cues – paralinguistic ‘phatic-communion’ (70% of emotion in real-life interactions is communicated nonverbally)– are to spoken communication, occupying the ‘space between word and gesture’, enabling ‘visual small-talk’

They are ‘tone-markers’, introducing irony, sarcasm and emotion/’emotivity’ to otherwise impoverished digital texts😍

They are ‘gestural’, functioning similarly to two categories of physical gesture: ’emblematic’ which, like a thumbs-up or middle finger, are symbolic and culturally specific, and ‘illustrative’ which imitate real objects or movements

They (like graffiti, memes, GIFs), exploit an inherent human need for ‘visuality’, along with a more recent requirement for empathy, cultural allusion, humour and positive play😎 to create a new hybrid or multimodal digital literacy

 

 DO EMOJI HAVE ANY LASTING SIGNIFICANCE?

Can a hybrid transnational code help to change consciousness?

Do emoji reinforce (hyper)individualism and the establishing of hyperlocal communities of practice/microniches/meganiches?

Or could emoji move us further towards a collective global intelligence, a ‘virtual communal brain’?

Are emoji ‘hegemonic’ in that they reinforce the priorities and power-relationships of consumer capitalism (they have after all already been appropriated by/commodified for marketing, advertising and manufacturing)?

Or are they ‘antihegemonic’/subversive in that they disrupt😈 traditional discourse, empower individuals and new collectivities?

Image result for protest emoji

One of the best histories and overviews of the subject was provided by WIRED magazine earlier this year:

https://www.wired.com/story/guide-emoji/

View at Medium.com

Dictionary.com now have a guide to possible meanings and uses of the most important emoji (click on each): 

https://www.dictionary.com/e/list/emoji/1/

…I’m intrigued by the ‘instabilities’ in emoji meaning and the fact that ’emoji dialects’ have been discerned:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3196583/Can-decipher-emoji-messages-Translators-11-regions-misunderstand-universal-symbols-hilarious-results.html

…and by such insights as these, from a feminist perspective, from Debbie Cameron:

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/are-women-over-emojinal/

…here’s a curiosity, on ‘professional emoji whisperer’ Rachael Tatman:

https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/12/19/meet-rachael-tatman-professional-emoji-whisperer

…from 2018, the first article so far, in the Telegraph, to focus on the committee that chooses new emoji:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/controversial-characters-secretive-committee-choose-new-emojis/

…brands are using emoji on Twitter:

https://business.twitter.com/en/blog/creative-roundup-examples-of-brands-using-emojis-in-their-twitte.html?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=twitter

From February 2019, an unusually negative view on how emoji have mutated, by Ian Bogost:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/02/how-new-emoji-are-changing-pictorial-language/582400/

I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of this title by Philip Seargeant, due in July 2019:

https://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/sociolinguistics/emoji-revolution-how-technology-shaping-future-communication?format=PB

Philip, with whom I have worked, is part of the team which has designed a course in emoji which is offered – free – by the Open University:

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/brief-history-communication-hieroglyphics-emojis/content-section-0?intro=1

 

…any new thoughts on emoji interpretation, or additional links would be gratefully received! Here are the remaining links from the past year:

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2019/10/03/emojis-in-scholarly-communication-%f0%9f%94%a5-or-%f0%9f%92%a9/

 

http://ounews.co/arts-social-sciences/art-literature-music/what-emoji-can-teach-us-about-human-civilization/?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn&utm_source=Twitter

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/books/review/wordplay-emoji-slang-puns-language.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170825&nlid=67701160&tntemail0=y

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tTXLuZHYf4&t=4s

 

 

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2015/11/emoji-language/?__prclt=S8d1uceQ

 

 

https://www.languagemagazine.com/emojis-and-the-language-of-the-internet/

 

 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-merperson-comes-to-emoji-1495808225

 

 

https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/the-whimsical-world-of-emoji-swearing/

 

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/emoji-taking-world/

 

 

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/tes-talks-vyvyan-evans

 

 

https://theconversation.com/why-decisions-on-emoji-design-should-be-made-more-inclusive-80912?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1500025713

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/audio/2017/jun/23/emoji-dr-vyvyan-evans-language-tech-podcast?CMP=share_btn_tw

 

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4545752/The-different-factors-influence-emoji-choice.html

 

 

https://phys.org/news/2017-05-linguistic-emojis.html

 

 

 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-07/how-emojis-can-help-children-learn-and-communicate/8425482?pfmredir=sm

 

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/fashion/grindr-gay-emoji-gaymoji-digital.html?_r=0

 

 

http://www.nowherethis.org/story/emoji-linguistics/

 

 

https://theconversation.com/signs-of-our-times-why-emoji-can-be-even-more-powerful-than-words-50893

 

 

https://rightsinfo.org/emoji-global-language-cultures-left/

 

 

emoji pillows

 

…in 2018, at long last, we gingers were validated:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/redheads-most-triumphant-reactions-getting-160249172.html?soc_src=hl-viewer&soc_trk=fb

…and here’s more on the 12.0 release upcoming in 2019:

https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/new-emojis-2019-how-to-use-a4061471.html

The latest, on emoji as gesture, from internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch:

https://theconversation.com/emoji-arent-ruining-language-theyre-a-natural-substitute-for-gesture-118689

 

A footnote. US language specialist Ben Zimmer‘s son claims that this, the suspension railway, is the least used emoji:

🚟

THE ART OF BUSINESS JARGON

 

Image result for reinvent the wheel

 

Business jargon – the buzzwords, catchphrasesclichés and mantras of corporate life – manages to be perennially fascinating and endlessly irritating. Many of the better-known expressions have an air of novelty despite being in existence for many years, and survey after survey lists the same serial offenders as the triggers of office rage, headdesking and facepalming. The very latest take on this subject, visualising the metaphors we take for granted, is provided here, courtesy of Citrix ShareFile‘s illustrator David Doran, writer Kevin Hill and by kind permission of Search Laboratory’s Senior Media Specialist Jennie Lindehoff…

 

https://www.sharefile.com/blog/illustrated-business-jargon-by-david-doran/

 

REAL TALK – ‘SLANG’

 

 

Image result

 

 

Of the TV series that have featured Urban Slang (or so-called MLE, ‘Multiethnic London English’) for me none surpassed, in authenticity, ingenuity and hilarity, the sitcom PhoneShop*, broadcast on Channel 4 between 2010 and 2013. Writer and producer of the series, Phil Bowker tells me  ‘Like you, slang’s something that has fascinated me since I was a kid growing up in Liverpool.’  It’s a great privilege to be able to print here, with Phil’s blessing, the script of this sequence intended for his follow-up satire on multicultural Britain for BBC2 The Javone Prince Show**, but never broadcast. Phil explains, ‘I wanted to spoof the kind of BBC London style of hack news reporting but instead of the usual fayre of drugs and knives, I wanted to make it about slang.’ Relish now for the first time this exposé of …Real Talk ‘Slang’…

 

EXT. URBAN STREET

Andrew Milligan (Jason Barnett) is on a walk and talk.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Why is my man Parrin’ me?” “Dat Gyal is pengalicious” “Watcha me come and lick off a ya headtop”            Words and phrases that you wouldn’t particularly want to hear coming out of your child’s mouth. But this is an everyday reality for thousands of parents across the Country as unscrupulous dealers are targeting our children at the very place where they’re most vulnerable: The school gate.

We cut to a School sign and then back down to Andrew as he crouches down outside the entrance. The floor is littered with discarded pieces of paper the size of christmas cracker jokes. There are lots of ‘capsules’ around too. He reads a couple of them – sickened at what he sees.

ANDREW

Pagan, Sideman, Sket…. (earnestly) Lovely isn’t it?

CUT TO:

INT.KITCHEN.

A mum (Debra Baker) Is interviewed in her spotless kitchen.

 

CONTINUED:

MUM

My 10 year old comes home, he calls his little brother a beg, calls me a slosher and tells me he’s goin his drum to blaze…’ What can I do about that? I ain’t got a clue what he’s talkin about….

 

Andrew Walk and Talk.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

We’ve all seen them plying their vile trade in pubs and car parks the length and breadth of the Country. The So called slang hawkers. You yourself may have even enjoyed using some casual slang at a dinner party. I’m ashamed to say, I have. I had bare laughs. But where does this slang come from? Who’s selling it, and what is the real cost? To find out, I took to the streets.

 

EXT.STREET. NIGHT

 

CUT TO:

 

 

Shot from a first floor window, we see Andrew making a call from a phonebox.

 

DEALER

(Voice Disguised) What you after?

ANDREW MILLIGAN

I’m looking for a, uh maybe a five pound deal?

 

 

DEALER

Fuck off. (Bleeped) You couldn’t even get a noun for that, you mug.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

What would, say £20 or £25 buy me?

DEALER

A small bag of verbs. Proper, good verbs, I don’t fuck (bleeped) around.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Sounds good my man, but how can I guarantee the quality of your slang?

DEALER

You heard of swag?

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Yes, Swag. I think I’ve heard Louis Walsh say it.

DEALER

That’s one of mine.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

 

Wow.

Wide shot of Andrew waiting by the telephone box.

ANDREW (V.O)

In less than five minutes one of the dealer’s word soldiers rode by on a stolen mountain bike.

We see a kid riding past on a bike throwing at book at him. Andrew bends down to pick it up (It’s a dictionary) He opens it up to reveal a hollowed out centre with a small baggy in it.     He furtively looks around and then opens the bag, looking at the tiny pieces of paper with words written on them.

 

ANDREW MILLIGAN

(slightly out of breath) The dealer wasn’t lying. There is a potency to this slang that I haven’t seen before. I have to admit, it’s quite thrilling.

 

INT. A STUDY

Talking head of Professor EB Black.

PROFESSOR

This is a massive problem we are sleepwalking into. Slang has been around for ever, but it was always kept at an acceptable level. It was fine for criminals, the working classes and immigrants but what we’re seeing now is a huge middle class uptake – it’s extremely frightening and this government needs to do something about it very quickly.                                I’m reluctant to use the word, but what we’re facing, is an epidemic.

Andrew swings round to camera.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

But what the chickenclart can be done?

 

CUT TO:

 

Hard cut to archive. Police raid on property. Shot of battering ram hitting door.

POLICE

Police!! Put the pens down! Drop the Quills! I repeat, Drop the Quills…

 

We cut to people coming out with their hands on their heads. They are all wearing glasses or visors. They look disorientated.

 

GANG LEADER

I’ll be back out on the streets in half an hour. You fucking rats.

He looks at the camera.

Penelope, get the bail money! It’s in the study underneath Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage….

ANDREW MILLIGAN (V.O.)

This slangmaster is facing a long “sentence” in a “pen” of his own making. But there is a way out. If not fi him, fi someone else.

CUT TO:

 

Talking head of reformed slang dealer Christian Gibbs.

CHRISTIAN GIBBS

I was always interested in language. The etymology, the syntax. Other kids would be out kicking a ball against a wall. I’d be indoors with me head in a thesaurus.

Andrew Milligan nods.

I started mucking around with slang. Making my own words up. Giving them away to mates in school. And then I realised. There was money to be made – and it went from there.

Andrew swings around to camera.

 

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Christian became so successful, within a year of selling his slang words illegally, he managed to buy his parents a new house, and was engaged to a Countdown semi-finalist. But things quickly went wrong.

CHRISTIAN GIBBS

I got greedy. I started mixing with the wrong people. I got too big too quick. At one point, I was running three or four terraced houses full of young academics twenty-four hours a day. I was effectively controlling most of the slang that was being sold in London. And then it all caught up with me.

 

EXT OF URBAN BASKETBALL COURT.

Christian is helping some young people to ‘lay up’

ANDREW MILLIGAN

After a spell at her majesty’s pleasure, Christian dedicated his life to helping the very people who once did his bidding in his urban slang factories.

 

CUT TO:

 

We see the trad shot of guys having fun. High 5ing etc

CUT TO:

 

Andrew Walk and Talk down an alley.

 

 

ANDREW MILLIGAN (cont’d)

Tragically, a few hours after that lay up we learnt that Christian’s past had finally caught up with him and he was ambushed by a gang of rival wordsmiths in a back alley Scrabble game.

 

 

He arrives at the taped off crime scene. There’s an abandoned Scrabble board and associated paraphernalia. He crouches down

ANDREW MILLIGAN (cont’d)

The last words he spelt out on the Scrabble board was a fitting testament to his memory: YOLO/ Gubati/Gggdedjs/

Andrew gets up and continues his Walk and Talk.

ANDREW MILLIGAN (cont’d)

So the next time you’re at a dinner party or even a simple kitchen supper and somebody decides it might be ‘fun’ to pass the ‘slang’ around, remember the real cost and just say no.

 

 

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/phoneshop

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063hcgz

 

 

 

The ‘M’ in ‘MLE’ – Youth Slang’s Origins

Much of the vocabulary of MLE, the speech variety known as Multiethnic or Multicultural London English, derives (not always straightforwardly) from Caribbean or Black British usages, or from London’s white ‘working class’, often dubbed ‘Cockney,’ argot. There are, however, a number of slang expressions, used in the school playground and on the street by younger speakers, which come from elsewhere in the UK’s language matrix, even from archaic or foreign sources. Here are some examples…

 

Image result for Multi Ethnic youth

 

Feen (n)

Means: a male person

Usage: “Who’s the feen over by the gate?”

The proper names for Yoofspeak, so linguists tell us, are MLE (multi-ethnic or multicultural London English) or UBE (urban British English, with ‘vernacular’ sometimes substituted for English), but not all playground language emanates from the larger cities and ethnic or ‘cultural’ doesn’t only mean Afrocarribean or Asian.

One term that’s widely used around the UK is rarely if ever heard in the Smoke, but belongs to a 300 year-old tradition. Feen, also spelled fein, has been borrowed from the slang of Travellers, the argot formerly used by Tinkers and known as Shelta, itself deriving mainly from Irish Gaelic. In Irish feen simply means “man” but in slang it sometimes has the extra senses of “stranger” or “rogue”. Don’t confuse this with the verb “to feen” (sometimes “feem”), a modern import from US street-talk, which is an alteration of ‘fiend’ and means craving for, or obsessing over, as in “I’m feenin’ for some weed” or “he’s feenin’ over that new girl.”

 Image result for laughter

 

Hollage (n)

 Means: something hilarious

 Usage: “Have you seen Charlotte’s latest outfit? Très hollage!”

 Posher teens have their own version of yoofspeak, their own mix of would-be street slang, babytalk and invented expressions, typically in the form of girly yells of approval (by both sexes) and squeals of delight (ditto).

When the denizens of the middle-class playground are trading witticisms a favourite trick is to insert touches of French – the odd real word (“quelle disaster”, “beaucoup trouble”) and Franglais pronunciations. “Rummage” (sex), and “bummage” (enthusiasm) have been frenchified, but current favourite is “hollage”, meaning huge amusement or hugely amusing, pronounced to rhyme with English “college” or like French “collage”, or, some young purists insist, as three-syllable “holla-age”.

It looks as if the little sophisticates have adapted “holla”, (the hip-hop version of “holler”, meaning to yell), one of cool Yoof’s iconic expressions from the noughties, and slightly misunderstood it in the process, since it originally described phoning, praising or seducing rather than braying with laughter. In the US the very similar-looking “holla-age” has indeed been used to describe “the appropriate way to acknowledge or compliment a female.”

Stupid Emoji Stickers

Dinlo (n)

Means: an idiot

Usage: “You can tell Callum anything and he’ll believe it, he’s a right dinlo.”

Some linguists are claiming that far from dying out, regional dialects – and that includes local slang terms – are being helped by messaging, chatting and tweeting on social media sites, as well as old-fashioned word of mouth – to spread further across the UK. A probable example of this is yet another term for a complete dope, or dupe, (in practice nearly always male) which originated in Romany (and not in Cantonese as claimed on Urban Dictionary) as dinilo and has long been in use from the New Forest, via Portsmouth’s ‘Pompey – slang’ to East Anglia. Dinlo(w) is the usual form, although “dinler”, “dindler” and “dingle” have also been recorded. Yoof elsewhere have now added these to their already rich lexicon of insults, sometimes abbreviating to “dinny” or just “din”.

 

Image result for exhausted teens

 

Trek (v,n)

Means: (to go on) a long and tedious journey

Usage: “Man we been trekkin’ for hours!” “From her endz to ours is a trek.”

Researchers into Yoofspeak will know that in nearly every batch of new expressions offered up as the latest teen lingo, there are one or two which are not really slang at all. This is because most of the younger generation are not familiar with them and don’t realise that they are standard English: also, to be fair, because they sound and look exotic, possibly subversive to the uninitiated. “Trek”, used more or less in its original sense is a popular feature of playground complaints – the moaners probably don’t know much Afrikaans (from which we got the word), and even Star Trek the Prequel is a distant memory. More recently the word, or the variant “treks!” can be an exclamation, declaring that something, not necessarily a journey, is too tiring or boring to bother with or to finish, but one post on Urban Dictionary defines it much more specifically – and perhaps just slightly more positively – as a “4-10-mile” walk undertaken to counteract the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Examples of the same phenomenon are “luka” or “lookah”, used by some London kids to mean money, which seems like Multiethnic dialect but is really the picturesque old phrase ‘filthy lucre’ after a makeover. (Oddly, in the US, the Slavonic boy’s name Luka seems to have been conflated with the colloquial “looker” to denote an attractive male.) “Burly”, which one user explained as a blend of “beautiful” and “gnarly”, expresses admiration for a tough-looking male, and “reek” as in “Ben’s room really reeks” is also considered a really cool novelty. (Incidentally and tangentially, adult informants tell me that for them “reek” mainly registers these days as the name of a character in TV fantasy Game of Thrones, or as a mistyping of ‘wreak.’)

 

(These terms were first recorded in my Youthspeak column in the TES)

 

The N-word Yet Again

On July 10 Samir Dathi tweeted: ‘Anne Marie Morris suspended for using N-word. Good. But why is someone who called black people ‘picaninnies’ our foreign secretary?’

Morris, the Conservative MP for Newton Abbot’s use of the phrase ‘nigger in the woodpile‘ provoked widespread condemnation and resulted in her suspension and an abject public apology, but the UK public and media have a very short memory. It was far from an isolated instance of this crass archaism being invoked by British politicians, as this website records:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/search/?q=%22in+the+woodpile%22&o=o

The expression originated in the USA (Mr Slang, Jonathon Green has a first citation as the name of a popular song from the 1840s) where it was usually associated with an image of a runaway slave in concealment, but it is in the UK where it has enjoyed a lengthy and unfortunate afterlife.

I can testify that the phrase was used by middle-class speakers in conversation in the UK the 1950s and 1960s. It was possible to use the n-word (not the whole phrase) in Britain up to the end of the 1950s without having a conscious racist intention. The WW2 flying ace Guy Gibson, for instance, named his beloved pet dog ‘Nigger’ and I can remember myself using the word in a public swimming pool in suburban London in about 1959 to point out a black child playing nearby (a rare thing in our lower middle-class neighbourhood). Even then my father rebuked me very sternly, saying ‘we don’t say that and you mustn’t use the word! (‘Black’ was in those days never uttered.)

Yasmeen Serhan reported on the MP’s gaffe for American readers in The Atlantic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/anne-marie-morris-suspended/533220/

Image result for nigger in woodpile

Attempts were made, by Tory supporters and some linguists, to excuse the MP on the grounds that she is 60 years old and so for her generation the words in question carry little or less force. Professor Geoff Pullum of Edinburgh University was among those who also suggested that when the n-word is in combination with other words as part of a stock phrase, it might not carry the same negative charge (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=33594). I’m told, for example, that in the parlance of small-boat sailors in the UK the phrase ‘boat-nigger’ is used to denote the most junior member of the crew. Other commentators opined that inadvertent racism is nonetheless racism, but where quibbles about slurs and taboos are concerned, I think the acid test is actually to debate them in real-life environments. I have discussed the n-word and similar controversies with a range of young people and with older members of BAME communities* and they are simply not acceptable. Quite apart from clumsiness and insensitivity on the part of somebody in public life, it’s arguable, too, that Morrison used the expression wrongly: it doesn’t mean an unanticipated or an unappreciated future eventuality, but a hidden snag. The nuances – the semantic components and assumptions embedded in the phrase are interesting and challenging to unpick – the connotations of such usages may also mutate over time. Potential confusions are illustrated by the several interpretations or misunderstandings posted on Urban Dictionary:
On a very personal note, it occurred to me that finding an escaped slave today, perhaps in the woodshed behind a prosperous suburban or rural home, is entirely possible in a Britain where traffickers and slavemasters prey on migrants, refugees and the poor and desperate. Oh and, on the subject of the Foreign Secretary, a satirical Twitter poll resulted in this:
  Whether B[oris] Johnson should also be expelled for calling black people ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’: Yes: 95% No: 5%’)
AT, also on Twitter, reminded me of this case, for comparison:
It’s not only in English that such words have conflicted and conflicting resonances. Jonathon Green again: ‘Do you know nègre, which is the equivalent of ‘intern’ or maybe ‘gofer’? Also means a ghost-writer. Still used, I am told, without the slightest hesitation and nary a blush. The usual nègre, if the irony even needs noting, is of course white.’ And here (in French) is someone I know personally causing a furore in 2015:
In August 2017 this – provocatively titled but heartfelt and authentic – opinion piece was published by Steven Dunn:
…then in September this, also a personal take, on, inter alia, Kanye West and Piers Morgan, from Jessica Morgan:
…in October, from University of Calgary linguist Darin Flynn in The Conversation:
…yet more on racial slurs, from Indiana Professor Michael Adams:
 …and Geoffrey Pullum on British English deprecations:
Nearly a year on and the c-word has been trending transatlantically. Here’s Deborah Cameron’s interesting take on reclaiming a slur:
…in August 2018 Bethan Tovey reflected on some recent linguistic debates, including reference once again to the n-word:
…more recently, student journalist Nathan Graber-Lipperman has posted a lengthy reflection on the n-word and its relationship with hip-hop and white youth:
…here, in August 2019, is an assessment by John McWhorter:
And, in March 2020, news that, at least in the USA, one f-word is being reclaimed:
*https://language-and-innovation.com/2016/08/13/the-b-word/

SOUNDS, SENSITIVITIES – and CELLAR DOORS

Another extract from a work in progress, or, if that project comes to nothing, a fragment from a series of jottings (see elsewhere on this blog for others): either way, I keep returning to my fascination with the symbolic, psychological, psychic effects of  the sounds of words…

Image result for sweet talk

The traditional view of words and names is that, apart from those words that directly imitate natural noises, there is only an arbitrary link between sound and meaning. But a few psychologists and neuroscientists have claimed to find evidence that phonemes (the human speech sounds that constitute words) have an inherent, non-arbitrary emotional quality*. Their data suggests that the effect on feelings of certain phoneme combinations (nonsense examples they worked with included bupaba, which was received positively and dugada which was negatively perceived) depends on a specific acoustic feature which can be measured, namely, the dynamic shifts within the phonemes’ frequency.

At Laurentian University in Canada researchers examined the links between proper names and hearer’s emotions: The ten most popular boys’ and girls’ names for most years of the 20th century were studied in terms of the emotional associations of their sounds and their pronounceability. A set of historical and socioeconomic variables, namely, war, depression, the advent of the birth control pill, inflation, and year seemed to correspond with the scores that members of the public gave for name length, emotionality, and pronounceability.

At a more human level UK national treasure Stephen Fry tells us his favourite word is ‘moist’. He’s being arch and gently provocative as usual, but says that he just likes the sound of it. I have said that I find the sound of the word ‘mellifluous’ pleasant, but friends have told me they hear in it prissiness and fussiness. My own fondness for ‘buoyancy’, too has been a cause of bemusement for some.

Whether we are talking about ‘pure’ sounds that imitate the noises of nature like ‘plop’,  ‘buzz’ and ‘hum’ or the clusters of phonemes that form single words, or the longer more varied sequences of conversational noise, these acoustic disturbances are not just conveyors of information but can act as triggers provoking an emotional response in the hearer. How they do this depends on the associations they have for us and these may be intensely personal, may be social and cultural and may in many cases depend entirely on which language we are hearing and thinking in.

Hearing the slang word ‘chillax’ for the first time (it has now become fairly well-known, even embarrassingly part of the linguistic repertoire of a former PM) would probably have a different effect on a teenager, who might have recognised the blending of ‘chill out’ and ‘relax’ from a grandparent more likely to hear ‘chilly’ and ‘axe.’

The fact that our reaction to the sound of words is culturally conditioned and not simply ‘natural’ can be proved by asking people to listen to and comment on words that they aren’t familiar with; invented words or terms from an unknown language. The words sranje, mierda, hovno and mist don’t seem to upset English speakers who are exposed to them for the first time. They are all synonyms of English sh**t in not too distant languages: Slovene, Spanish, Czech and Danish respectively. An old friend from France used to complain that her word for dog, chien, sounded nothing like any of the animals of that species, whereas the English word, she thought, suited exactly.

When we move from words to longer examples of intonation, rhythm and pitch, it can be a mixture of supposed familiarity – we recognise the same sounds from a different context such as baby-talk or comic exaggeration – and unfamiliarity – we don’t know what it means –that leads us to find the sound of the Dutch language funny for example.

Where other accents – the regional British variants among them – are concerned, studies have found that people react positively or negatively first according to how closely the accent resembles their own and secondly to its associations, usually which prominent figures (typically actors, newsreaders, footballers) employ it and in which contexts it has been encountered (so a Northern Irish accent, once evoking the language of the Troubles is now, like the Scottish Connery lilt, linked to actors who charm and don’t threaten.)

Asked in 2008 to nominate his favourite word, then mayoral candidate and Tory MP Boris Johnson selected ‘carminative’, teasing both in its obscurity and in that the word formed from these four sonorous syllables denotes a cure for flatulence. Three quite different, and differently resonant, syllables were chosen by French artist Loris Gréaud as the title of his solo exhibition at London’s ICA, part of a large-scale experimental multi-media project dealing in the interplay between rumour and fact, in hidden meanings and in transitions and interruptions. It’s no coincidence that the London installation and the project itself go by the name of CELLAR DOOR. The coming together – not for the first time – of these two unremarkable English words is part of a curious sequence of borrowings and allusions, a sort of underground tradition or urban legend that Gréaud is just the latest to tap into.

It was J R R Tolkien in 1955 who first suggested that ‘cellar door’ was one of the most beautiful, if not the most affecting combination of sounds in the English language. He described the phrase on two occasions as being intrinsically inspiring, and since then a series of writers have used Tolkien’s cue to fabricate a quite spurious history of references to cellar door, according to which an American opinion poll, the author H.L.Mencken and various Chinese and Japanese visitors have all, apparently independently, pronounced it the most beautiful sound in English. The cult movie Donnie Darko popularised the idea for a pop culture audience, asserting that of all the endless combination of words in all of history, this was the most beautiful. The film script attributed the claim to ‘a famous linguist’, but the director Richard Kelly in subsequent interviews namechecked, quite wrongly, Edgar Allan Poe.

We can’t be sure of the personal and cultural associations, conscious or unconscious, that led Tolkien to favour this particular collection of phonemes, apart from ‘the door of the cellar’ there are no sound-alikes in English other than, and of course this might be significant, celadon, a colour which is apparently a sort of pale willowy green (and is named, curiously, after the shepherd hero of a 17th century French romance) and celandine, the French-sounding name of two different species of flower. It seems to be a prerequisite that cellar door is pronounced in a donnish British RP accent rather than in a provincial burr or North American twang; although for me, and perhaps for Tolkien, too, a Welsh lilt might help reinforce its quasi-mythic pretensions.

Celador isn’t Welsh but is a real word in Spanish: pronounced with initial ‘th’ in Castilian Spanish, with ‘ts’ in the Americas historically it means ‘guardian of the bedchamber’, nowadays more prosaically it denotes a hospital orderly, a classroom supervisor or sometimes a prison guard. Spanish and Latin American friends tell me that for them the sound of the word is as humdrum as its modern meaning: it has no special resonance for them.

Although one explanation of the origins of language, known as the bow-wow theory, holds that all words started out as imitations of sounds found in nature, it’s clear that by now, apart from the obviously onomatopoeic like splash and plash and smash, sound and sense have become quite disconnected. The word voted the most beautiful in a British Council survey in 2004 was ‘mother’, for most of us redolent of tenderness, but downbeat and abrupt in terms of its component sounds. Conversely and perversely James Joyce had earlier proposed ‘cuspidor’, a nice noise, but a nasty receptacle.

The notion, though, that the sounds of a word might evoke certain feelings in the hearer, quite independently of its literal meaning, is a commonsense one, and linguists know the phenomenon variously as phonaesthetics, psychoacoustics or sound symbolism. But these emotional or aesthetic effects are not consistent and vary quite unpredictably across cultures and even among speakers who share a common language. ‘Mist’ which seems pleasant on the ear, means ‘crap’ in other Northern European languages. Stephen Fry may like the word ‘moist’, but it ranks high in lists of people’s unfavourites (‘phlegm’ and ‘panties’ even higher) and a teenager told me the other day that it’s now the most horribly offensive thing you can say in London street slang.

Playing of course on its literal sense, but helped by its new status as a linguistic talisman ‘cellar door’ has been used as the name of a host of wine merchants, wine bars and wine magazines and of a slasher movie, too.  A café in Guernsey, a London cabaret venue, a Jazz band, an Indie band, a metal band, a literary magazine have all adopted the title: spelled as in Spanish it’s the name of a well-known TV production company: a novel printing typeface, Kellermeister, turns out to be inspired by it, and dozens of Internet blogs contrive to work the phrase in somewhere in their mashups.

Why is it that there seems to be this need for a mantra, a magic set of sounds that can be constantly reinvoked? Is it those phonemes: that front vowel, sibilant and lateral, along with the allusion to something always hidden just beyond our field of vision that combine to give cellar door its unique charm? Whatever lies behind it (pun intended), and however impressive Gréaud’s work actually is, I’m afraid that I’m quite immune to the two words in question: for me ‘seller’ only evokes the housing crisis at the time of writing, and door rhymes with ‘sore’, and ‘poor’ – and most tellingly of all – with ‘bore’.

 

* I have not yet had time to digest this very interesting paper from July 2017, but here is the link…

https://peerj.com/articles/3466/

 

Image result for listening

BUY-TO-LEAVE

Another recent buzzword highlights the impacts of commercial innovation upon urban infrastructure and on the lifestyles of both rich and poor in the metropolis…

 

 Image result for empty luxury apartments

 

In 2015 I wrote about the fact that estate agents, journalists and grassroot activists were using the phrase lights-out London to describe the phenomenon whereby parts of the UK capital, especially those super-prime districts in the centre, have been deserted by ‘real’ people and are in the hands of absentee landlords (the government’s term is non-resident landlord, NRL) or absentee owners. There were then around 700,000 empty properties across the UK: in London 75% of buyers of new-builds are foreign, many of whom practise not just the buy-to-let tactics favoured by a generation of small domestic investors, but buy-to-leave. Wealthy non-doms are keeping around 20% of accommodation unused (units referred to colloquially as empties or more formally as vacant assets) in the knowledge that their investment will simply grow in value; other properties are unoccupied for most of the year, meaning that local economies in these areas are suffering a triple whammy. Spiralling house prices prompt private individuals to sell up and move out, at the same time the cost of office space is driving businesses further and further from these prime locations: once thriving shops and restaurants find themselves half-empty.

25% of investors coming from Gulf states to buy property in London planned purely to gain from rising prices without living there, according to the Guardian in 2016, who also reported that a quarter of all those who planned to buy a property in London were targeting capital gains rather than looking for somewhere to live or to let out. Even those buying second or third homes for their own families did not reveal how often or for how long the properties would be occupied.

The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 has refocused attention on the issues arising from absentee landlordism and official laxity – or possibly official collusion: many of Kensington and Chelsea Borough’s councillors are themselves landlords and active in the ambivalent regeneration projects which are supposed to provide both public and private housing, but which many see as vehicles for gentrification and, when housing poorer tenants, guilty of poor safety standards. 72 of the Conservative MPs who voted against a parliamentary motion to make homes ‘fit for human habitation’ were landlords; one was the newly appointed Police and Fire Minister, Nick Hurd.

Regulators haven’t been completely inert: the Bank of England’s Prudential Committee intends to crack down from September 2017 on portfolio landlords – those with four or more mortgaged buy-to-let properties – subjecting their businesses to stress tests to ensure that they have income streams and business plans in place.

Global, and local turbulence goes on, however. The company – a consortium of Malaysian investors – redeveloping the huge and iconic Battersea Power Station site on London’s riverside (‘the Everest of real estate’) promised in 2011 to include 636 affordable homes among its final range of ultra high-end housing units. In Summer 2017 it reduced this number to 386, saying the original commitment was based on lower construction costs and a seemingly unstoppable boom in newbuilds which since the Brexit vote has calmed considerably. At the Greenwich Peninsula site on the other side of London Hong Kong-based Knight Dragon have reduced the number of affordable homes from 35 to 21 percent.

 

Image result for empty luxury apartments

 

At the beginning of August 2017 The Labour Party condemned as ‘simply unacceptable’ the revelation, stemming from the accidental disclosure of council data following the Grenfell Tower fire, that 1652 properties were unoccupied in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  A Guardian report drew on the same information to publish the names of owners of vacant properties, among them oligarchs, foreign royalty and business speculators. This prompted the Liberal Democrats to demand increased surcharges on long-term empty homes, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to promise to tackle the issue before the end of the year.

 

You can find more examples of the official jargon used in the field of development and regeneration here (I was particularly struck by one of the listed entries: 

Community Cohesion

There is currently no universally accepted definition of this.’)

http://www.jargon-buster-directory.com/development-regeneration-jargon.php

 

…and the latest from Battersea here, courtesy the Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/07/22/inside-battersea-power-station-everest-real-estate-test-case/

 

 

NEURODIVERSITY – and NEUROLEADERSHIP

The jargon and new terminology I collected for my Bizwords column used to highlight exciting trends in marketing and management, often featuring versions of the ‘hero-boss’ or ‘digital leader’. Many more recent buzzwords relate to complex issues affecting social, cultural as well as commercial stakeholders. Here are examples of both tendencies in one short article…

Image result for neurodiversity

In the last few years society has, thankfully, come to focus increasingly on the needs of those individuals categorised as neurodiverse. This umbrella term, dating from the 1990s, refers to differences in neurocognitive functioning among humans and encompasses conditions such as dyscalculia, dyspraxia and dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), bipolarity and types of autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, extending to take in epileptics, anxiety sufferers and savants. ‘Neurodiversity’ describes both the spectrum of conditions and a philosophical stance (the neurodiversity paradigm) which claims that the ‘normal’ neurocognitive functioning of the neurotypical (NT) is a social, not a scientific construct and that the issues around the so-called neurodivergent, especially the inequalities they may be subject to, should be approached in the same way as gender, ethnicity or cultural issues. The noun has thus become the label for activist movements working for social justice for ND minorities.

The business world, having first adopted inclusion and anti-discrimination strategies to cater for the neurodiverse, has come more recently to appreciate the special benefits of employing individuals whose unusual attributes can help to enhance and transform an organisation. As Charlotte Rogers wrote in Marketing Week in May 2017, ‘From leading new innovations and helping marketers achieve true diversity of thought, to enriching the wider company culture, having a neurodiverse workforce makes strong business sense.’ Harvard Business Review in the same month referred to neurodiversity as ‘a competitive advantage.’

Those working with ND colleagues often make simplistic assumptions, both negative (‘if you are dyslexic you won’t be able to handle complex language’) and positive (‘if you have autism you will probably be highly numerate’) which need to be questioned. ND employees may – or may not – have developed insights, tactics, skills and forms of resilience that are novel, exciting and useful: those on the autistic spectrum can for example be capable of focused attention to detail beyond a ‘normal’ capacity, be hyperarticulate or possess enhanced memory or spatial awareness. Equally they may exhibit behaviour that seems eccentric, they can sometimes struggle to empathise and need ‘buddy’ programmes and mentoring to enable them to integrate socially within a conventional organisational culture.

A related n-word, neuroleadership, marking a ‘top-down’ rather than ‘bottom-up’ tendency in transformative management, began trending nearly a decade ago. At the time it was defined somewhat crudely as ‘managing the mental wellbeing of fellow-workers.’ In a business environment where toxic organisations are said to foster emotional contagion, therapists and counsellors began selling mental fitness programmes, brain-based coaching and highlighting the senior manager’s responsibility to promote mind-based performance. Self-styled futurists began in the early noughties to posit a post-informational neurosociety, and drawing on developments in neuroscience and psychology, the first world NeuroLeadership conference, organised by US thought leaders David Rock (who coined the term) and Al Ringleb, was held in 2007. Participants in this still-fashionable sector (they have claimed ‘the birth of a new business discipline’) refer to the neural challenges facing decision-makers, priorities such as moral cognition, cultural intelligence, and emotional regulation, and are fond of psychobabble like ‘foiling amygdala hijack’ (the amygdala being the brain’s anxiety switch) and ‘reclaiming the fire after the burnout’. Critics also point to the danger that these approaches cross the boundaries between the professional and the private spheres and lend themselves to quasi-scientific quackery.

In debates on neurodiversity and in the marketing of neuroleadership, language plays a crucial role. Not only in defining and encoding new ideas and new practices but in embedding or uncovering, through discourse, the hidden prejudices and the complex power relationships that exist in organisations and in the wider society. ND activists want to ensure that variations in the human genome and resulting differences in the nervous systems of individuals are no longer spoken of as ‘pathological’, no longer defined simply (as they still are) as ‘disorders’. Colloquial expressions like ‘differently wired’ can come to have special resonance, and ‘politically correct’ formulations such as ‘differently abled’ become essential to a more nuanced awareness of the subject.

Autistic UK has more information on neurodiversity, including notes on terminology and definitions:

https://autisticuk.org/neurodiversity/

Image result for george Widener

A term whose time has come?

I wrote about the intriguing notion of the Anglosphere in 2006. In a pre-election, perhaps pre-Brexit phase in the UK’s collective experience, the term surfaces again as the title of a British Academy conference.

Here are my jottings from eleven years ago…

ANGLOSPHERE

When writing about language, there’s a word I constantly invoke – it’s a useful shorthand version of the cumbersome “areas where English is the dominant language”. But this expression (apparently first used in writing by science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson in 1995) may turn out to be the defining term of the 21st century’s global order. The word is Anglosphere, denoting not just a group of English-speaking nations, but a sphere – or set of interconnected spheres – of influence (Sinosphere and Hispanosphere have been employed subsequently and similarly).

According to US businessman and technologist James C Bennett, it “implies far more than merely the sum of all persons who employ English as a first or second language. To be part of the Anglosphere requires adherence to the fundamental customs and values that form the core of English-speaking cultures.”

Primary among these are individualism, openness and the honouring of contracts. Just doing business in English doesn’t qualify you. You have to have internalised the hidden system of behaviours and assumptions that Anglos implicitly embrace, thereby gaining membership in what Bennett calls a network civilisation or network commonwealth. Other fashionable buzzwords associated with the phenomenon are collectivity, commonality and commensurability.

At the rarefied level of international politics, Anglosphere can mean a geopolitical conversation for insiders only. In terms of innovation in technology, law and commerce, it encourages pathfinder cultures to cooperate seamlessly. To some anti-globalisers and multiculturalists this smacks of ethnocentrism, cultural imperialism and linguicism (language-based racism), or at the very least a shared superiority complex on the part of largely rightwing commentators. Part of the potency of the idea is certainly that it offers Brits, and Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, too, the prospect of world domination, alongside the US, and despite the looming presence of China and India. Others protest that this is all simply stating the obvious – that English speakers communicate easily with one another. But perhaps they are missing the essential point: the real potential of the Anglosphere lies not just in instantaneous information-sharing but in the millions of informal, often unnoticed relationships and collaborations that amount to a much more unified power-bloc than any artificially created entity – the EU springs to mind.

 

And here are details of the conference in question…

http://www.britac.ac.uk/events/anglosphere-and-its-others-english-speaking-peoples-changing-world-order