The headteacher at the Harris Academy in London has banned the pupils from using slang. This is not a new thing: Earlier this year, a school in Sheffield did the same thing, the Manchester Academy in Moss Side introduced a similar policy in 2008… and its exam results increased the following year.
UCB Radio asked me on the the Paul Hammond show to discuss the issue. You can listen to my contribution by following this link, or via the SoundCloud player below.
My main points was that slang language is not laziness: its is also a way of inventing words to say precsiely what you mean. The example I gave was of young people using the word ‘Feds’ to mean ‘Police. To the untrained ear, the word ‘Feds’ is an Amercianism that just seems wrong. But when the word ‘police’ is a word that has positive connotations, you can see why young people might choose a slang word that has a more malign spin. I also asked whether slang in other languages would be banned, too: Hindi, for example, is full of slang.
My dismissal of the policy is not the whole story, however. For language and communication to exist, we need to agree words to stand for objects and concepts. To detour away from that consensus is to invite others to misunderstand you! David Foster Wallace’s long and rewarding essay for Harpers Magazine, ‘Tense Present‘, examines slang and the use of the language in greater depth.