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Case study: Multicultural London English in schools

Professor Paul Kerswill offers a short video on MLE, or Multicultural London English.
Multicultural London English - or MLE for short - is an example of what linguists call a ‘multiethnolect’. The term ‘multiethnolect’ is generally used to describe the speech of young people living in multicultural and multilingual parts of large cities. In this setting, language varieties can be shared between immigrants who belong to different language backgrounds, but share the same host language. MLE is a product of the contact between speakers of a wide
number of language varieties: including the English of people who use it as a second language, as well as African, Caribbean and Asian Englishes, ‘Cockney’, London Jamaican Creole, and Standard English. For sociolinguists, the emergence of multiethnolects is really exciting! Rather than just looking at changes in language that happens over the course of decades (or centuries), we can look at how language is changing before our eyes.
For example, take a phrase like: This is my teacher “do your homework or else”. This is a recent example of how a linguistic feature has been innovated. In this case, it’s a new form of what we call a quotative marker - something we use to introduce reported speech into a conversation. You might be used to hearing “I was like, let’s go home.” However, this excitement for linguistic innovation and diversity is not necessarily shared by all - most notably, by sections of the media. Both online and in print media, MLE is sometimes referred to as ‘Jafaican’ - a blending of the words ‘fake’ and ‘Jamaican’. This type of speech is often condemned
across a range of authority figures: from education experts, to members of Parliament. More often than not, this condemnation seems to come from the idea that youths - in particular, young black males, are unable to switch between MLE to a more standard English variety. This concern is particularly rife when it comes to the more formal social contexts that affect young people - like going to school or entering the workplace. However, research shows that young people are perfectly capable of switching between ways of speaking as appropriate. In recent years there have been reports that some schools have even tried to improve educational standards by banning the use of MLE (or slang more generally) at school.
This tells us that MLE is seen by many as something that is incompatible with, or even a threat to, the education system. More recently, however, there have been efforts by a number of linguists to help gradually change the attitudes toward MLE by developing educational policies that can be used by schools and other institutions. The idea is to raise the awareness of both staff and students, about the natural diversity and instability of language - as we’ve been exploring on this course so far. That way, the use of innovative forms of language, such as MLE, becomes something that students and teachers can navigate together.

Professor Paul Kerswill offers a short video on the topic of MLE, or Multicultural London English.

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An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity

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