You never correct how pupils speak. Ever.


You never correct how pupils speak. Ever. Their language is who they are. You’re dissing a whole culture.

“Please, Miss. Nigel said ‘bare’!” And how do you punish them? Put them in the stocks and pelt them with Lynne Truss tomes? Incarcerate them in a Correctional Facility?

Dear me, it’s rather bewildering. Wagwan? It displays a lamentable ignorance of how language works. What lies behind this initiative?

“The pupils must know better!”

Er... they do. We discuss these things in the soon to be banned “Speaking and Listening” GCSE unit – register, context, class, vernacular, demotic and phatic. In speech, we often dance with codes. It’s called wit. It’s fun to mash up language. Linguistics and ‘ting.

Even Shaka knows. He isn’t going to go to his careers officer, give him a fist bump, and say “yo wagwan blud” and ask the fellow if he “wan a fat blunt, breh”. Well, he might, because his linguistic suss and reckless humour would afford him mirth.

Speech is often tribal. Fringe groups have always had their own codes – like Be Bop jazzers, criminals, drug dealers, cabbies or Ofsted inspectors. Its purpose is to keep us, the whinging dominant culture, out. That’s why teenagers in London speak in Moon Language – that mix of Jamaican/Afro Caribbean/Street, the Bronx and that nasty rap stuff.

When I was a teen, I too essayed the demotic. My Latin master called me “wide boy”. He was a Grammar Nazi and loathed rock ‘n’ roll argot. Elvis gave him migraines.

“I ain’t never done no one no wrong!” sang the vulgar sex god in One Night of Sin. “Quadruple negatives” thundered our tedious pedant.

“It merely reinforces emphasis, sir!” piped us nascent Teddyboys.

Now, as a dotard, I am the dominant culture and must endure the often bland, anaemic, etiolated badinage of the chattering classes, replete with its perfect storm of “rathers”, “frightfuls”, “quites” and “yahs”.

You never correct how pupils speak. Ever. Their language is who they are. You’re dissing a whole culture. For many working class children, school can already be an intimidating arena of middle class aspiration, a foreign country.

Incorrect writing on the other hand requires the Grammar Nazi. Without him many pupils might well be doomed. We must bang on about clarity, lucidity, accuracy and context with considerable severity. We must, basically, be well extra. Innit? But banning speech? Wha’appen? Wagwan? You feel me? Know what I’m sayin’?



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