Teenagers can be an enigma at the best of times but when it comes to language they can be downright baffling. As much as people like to harp on about the golden days of their youth, when everyone wrote perfect prose and spoke the Queen's English, the truth is that slang has been around for centuries and although today's teens use words most of us don't understand, they're no different from any other generation. One of the reasons teenagers use slang is as a way of rebelling against authority, but it's also used as a way of identifying with each other and to differentiate themselves from people who aren't part of the 'group'. Teenagers use slang as a way of ensuring social inclusion among their friends, showing that they are part of the 'in' crowd and, crucially, as a way of communicating between themselves without their parents or teachers understanding.
Where does it come from?
If we think back our parents were teenagers we'll probably come up with words and phrases that they and their friends used, and each generation has its own influences, but popular culture plays a large part in the introduction of new slang. In the '50s the birth of rock 'n' roll, the Beat Generation and the increasing influence of American culture in films, TV and music saw the introduction or popularization of phrases like 'see you later alligator', 'cool', 'hip' and 'nerd'. In the swinging '60s it was the hippies, the protest generation, the emerging drug culture and the cool cats of Carnaby Street. 'Groovy', 'peace', 'far out', 'psychedelic', 'dig', 'cat' and 'dude' were among the more popular words of the time. In the '70s funk, punk, glam rock and disco all influenced slang, phrases like 'boogie', 'funky', 'bad', 'bitchin', 'blood', 'slammin', 'wicked', and 'dope'. In the '80s the words and phrases from American hip-hop culture started to infiltrate British youth language, many of which can still be heard today, with words like 'biatch', 'da' as in 'he's da man', 'diss', 'booty', 'bling' and 'playa'. Of course there are plenty of slang words used by British teens (and adults for that matter) that come from within our own culture such as, 'hoodie', 'chav' and 'asbo'. Today, the internet and texting has an impact on the way teenagers speak and write and there has been an emergence of abbreviated words that infuriate teachers and have most adults scratching their heads. 'Book' now means 'cool', because if you type 'cool' in predictive text it first brings up 'book' and there are a multitude of abbreviations such as LOL (laugh out loud) and BRB (be right back) that are common place on Instant Messenger and e-mails - who said teens were lazy! The comforting thought for adults is that at some point their teenager will grow up and grow out of much of the slang they use today and of course one day they'll have their own teens and they too will find themselves talking to their kids wondering what on earth they're going on about.
Now, the use of slang and abbreviations is not limited just to e-mails, text messages or instant messages. It is showing up in kids' schoolwork, in their SAT essays and in college admission applications.
Sara Goodman, who teaches high school English and journalism at Clarksburg High in Clarksburg, Md., said she worries that this new language will compromise students' ability to write and to communicate. "Most of these kids started using IM when they were between the ages of 8 and 10," Goodman said. "So they learned it when they were learning the other grammar rules." Learning Webspeak at the same time, then, means kids focus on the grammatical form that they use more often, which is IM and text-message abbreviations, Goodman said. "I have definitely seen an increase in this type of shorthand. They're using it pretty much everywhere. It's just seeped into their daily language." Webspeak is so ingrained in most students' communication skills that they inadvertently use the language all the time,...