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Insulting our intelligence

Article By: Elliot Borges
Editorial and opinion


My thoughts on the Ali G phenomenon in Britain


Submitted:Jan 14, 2010    Reads: 168    Comments: 0    Likes: 1   


Insulting our intelligence

Often as a writer you find yourself in a position in which you have a strong opinion which you are certain is likely to land you in trouble. You can literally envisage the chorus of objections and the types of allegations that will be made if you voice it.

My views on the right to offend might best be described as ambivalent. On the one hand, I rather feel that when you are at risk of offending so many people by voicing a particular opinion, you do have to pay certain attention to whether or not you are doing so for the right reasons.

On the other hand I suppose I feel a spontaneous affinity for the notion that offence is rather a good thing. I feel that a life lived, in which one has never offended, is a life that was not worth living. Of course one also has to feel offended once in a while in order to feel alive. Were it not for people being offended by the ritual of public executions in Britain, we perhaps might never have arrived at this somewhat more civilised juncture in our nation's history at which capital punishment is a thing of the past.

So I can conclude that people should be offended, sometimes, in order to drive things forward. Or perhaps I have simply come to realise that I would feel more offended by not speaking my opinion on a subject about which I feel strongly than other people would by being subjected to it.

Whilst watching the BBC documentary History of Now: The Story of the Noughties, I was interested to hear more about the street talk that the young have adopted in inner city Britain. Although at times my own school days seem like a lifetime ago, in truth they are still a relatively recent memory for me. Apparently the dialect that most young inner-city Brits now speak is constituted by elements from Jamaica, West Africa and the Indian subcontinent combined with English to form what most experts call "Multicultural London English". Well I am no expert but I have another less euphemistic term for this - bad English.

The belief that language is endlessly elastic and can be adapted at will - depending on who is using it - may be comforting given the circumstances, but it is a recipe for confusion and ignorance. The clarity - and indeed beauty - of the English language depends on conformity to basic grammatical rules. Given that the primary purpose of language is to communicate, one can not help but wonder why anybody would go out of their way to communicate as badly as is humanly possible. I do not accept that this dialect is a more efficient means of communication than standard English. In fact I rather imagine that the primary purpose of usage of this dialect is not to include but to exclude - to exclude the vast majority of people who struggle to decode words like "buff" and "butters", which eventually results in the exclusion of the self.

And make no mistake. These kids are trying to sound this way. It is not, as some commentators allege, a product of their environment. These children do not use this type of language at the start of their lives nor will they sound like this at the end - at least not if they intend to attend university or aim for well paid jobs. Nor do I accept the view that this is an organic manifestation of the diversity of British culture. In fact this particular subculture has very little to do with British culture and everything to do with the American one.

When a "trendy" BBC Radio 1 DJ explains in this documentary that "low batties" means to wear your jeans particularly low around the waist, you can bet your British pound that the cynical appropriation of Afro-American culture by white Americans is where the true roots of this dialect lie. I am sure that my preference for English to be spoken properly by native speakers will incite knee-jerk accusations of racism but I think the real racists are those who assume that people with certain ethnic backgrounds are incapable of learning basic grammar.





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