Multiethnic London English – a Handbook

 

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…and ICYMI, here’s the MLE glossary again:

mle-terms_tony-1

 

               *But please don’t try to monetise it. It is Chris Nott’s copyrighted work.

 

Multiethnic London English – a Glossary

“The post-racial, non-rhotic, inner city,

Th-fronting, cross cultural,

dipthong shifting, multi-ethnic,

L-vocalisation, K-backing fusion of language”

As a linguist and lexicographer who once worked as a designer, I have long nursed the idea that an iconic reference work, especially one which celebrates and explores creative, exotic and subversive forms of language, could – should – also function as a work of art.

In 2013 I had the privilege of helping Chris Nott in the preparation of his graduation project at the Royal College of Art. Chris designed a glossary of, and a guide to MLEMultiethnic London English – that functions as document and documentation as well as being a unique art object.

Chris, now working as a design specialist in the studios of Brody Associates, has given permission for this artefact to be shared for the first time. It consists of a glossary and a separate guidebook (which highlights the words from the glossary too)

Please do consult it, dip into it, read it from virtual cover to virtual cover, or, better still, print it on to high-quality paper and savour its tactility. Place it on a lectern under a strong light. Use it to teach your students, to inform your friends.*

The contents of this reference work, which includes contributions from other lexicographers and linguists, are still topical, relevant, revelatory three years on. The visual elements and format remain unique.

The samples of language and the commentaries presented in the book move our thinking beyond ‘slang’, beyond older notions of race and class, to consider the post-ethnic realities of a UK subject to what theorists now call Superdiversity, in which, especially but not only for younger speakers, complex questions of identity are bound up intimately with language, style and symbolism.

For me what is also essential in treating slang, dialect or jargon is to go out into the streets, the clubs, school playgrounds and workplaces and record the actual words of their users, words which might never otherwise appear in popular or academic publications.

MLE, Multiethnic London English, now sometimes referred to as Urban British English or Interethnic Vernacular was the designation given to a developing social dialect, featuring a slang vocabulary and new patterns of pronunciation and accent, that came to notice at the end of the 1990s and has since influenced the speech of younger speakers in particular beyond London itself.

Here is Chris Nott’s work. First the Glossary

mle-terms_tony-1

In a few days Chris’s 300-page Guidebook to MLE will be made available too

 

 

 

*But please don’t try to monetise it. It is Chris Nott’s copyrighted work.

WACKAGING

WACKAGING

 

‘Wacky’ packaging or wackaging, a trend I wrote about in 2014, is back in the news this week as one of its first practitioners, Richard Read, co-founder of Innocent, reminisces in a Guardian article*

Image result for wackaging

Chiming with marketing’s turn towards storytelling and narrative, and the ‘brands are people’ mantra, packaging has gone wacky. Cutesy phrases (‘hello, my name is Caramel Brownie’) first appeared on the back of smoothie bottles more than a decade ago, now a whole range of supposedly chummy, cheeky products are talking back to the customer (‘please pop me in the fridge’). When the producer – ‘our lovely little company’ – tells you its life story on the label, it can seem intimate and fun, but eventually the faux-familiarity and baby-talk grates. The trend has spread to services, too: banks and utilities have gone chatty, and have you noticed that when your browser asks you if you want to translate a text, one option is ‘nope’. Mail error messages have switched to matey (the jargon term is hypercasual) comments such as ‘I’ve given up. Sorry it didn’t work out.’ Some commentators see this as part of a wider phenomenon: the infantilisation of popular culture and media and the pandering by brands to a toddler sensibility detectable in consumers of all ages. Wackaging will probably survive a backlash or two, but hopefully only when targeted at real infants, not kidults and adultescents. Alarmingly though, food manufacturers are experimenting with products and displays that really do engage the buyer in conversation, either via their mobile phones or with the aid of in-store devices. They say the move is targeted at the visually impaired and elderly, but the appearance of audio-empowered sausages and buttonholing robo-strangers lurking in the aisles can’t be far behind.

Vice UK editor Rebecca Nicholson put a collection of examples of the wackaging trend on Tumblr in 2011:

http://wackaging.tumblr.com/

*The Guardian article referenced above is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/23/richard-reed-interview-if-i-could-tell-you-just-one-thing-richard-branson-heston-jo-malone

 

Send buzzwords, jargon and new and exotic usages to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

 

 

THE DICTIONARY, BY DESIGN

In recent posts I  have been looking at novel ways of mixing words and images and at the exploitation of nonstandard language varieties – slang and jargon in particular – for marketing, advertising and publicity. The format of the dictionary entry itself, the very familiar sequence of headword, part of speech and definition, lends itself to imitation in the same causes, as discussed here by naming expert Nancy Friedman:

http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2016/10/you-could-look-it-up.html

After studying Nancy’s article (included here with her kind permission) I tried in vain to find counterexamples: mainstream ads that had succeeded in using the reference-book template in original and striking ways. I did recall, though, some microexamples from closer at hand, the work of the design team at King’s College London with whom I’ve collaborated. These focused on colloquial language such as cliche, slang and catchphrase, presented in the visual style of thesaurus or academic document, playing with the expectations of a local target audience of students.

In 1998 slang, ancient and modern, and the thesaurus were evoked in an advertisment for student accommodation which proved popular with its intended readership:

KCL My digs 1998.JPG

Just recently an appeal for students to take part in a national survey combined a checklist or questionnaire format with plays-on-words, (over)familiar expressions and the sort of throwaway responses that students might employ:

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A little closer in spirit to Nancy’s examples, but more successful I think because target and context-specific is the mug designed for alumni of King’s College which plays on the Latin word itself, its correlates in English and, in dictionary style, its etymology.

Image result for KCL alumni mug

 

In my next post I hope to present for the first time a unique slang glossary and guide, created by a design specialist, which is at the same time a book to treasure, a rich source of information and a memorable art object.