News & opinion
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December 19 1997
Talking proper is sex not class issue

Diane Spencer

Research has shown that teenagers are perfectly capable of "talking proper" when they want to. And that girls use better grammar than boys.

James Crinson, head of Holystone first school in North Tyneside, has spent the past six years working on teenage language, and has just got his PhD from Newcastle University.

He found that there was a bigger difference between boys and girls than between children of different social classes: "Children from a less privileged school could produce a creditable Standard English."

He said his research showed that there was no point in trying to correct seven-year-old pupils' language in the playground "because they separate out what's appropriate for certain circumstances".

He also found that Geordie "glottalisation" was different from that of Estuary English much derided by Gillian Shephard, the former Conservative education secretary. Tyneside boys pronounced water as "waa-a" with a barely discernible "t". But girls tended to imitate their Southern contemporaries. "It's more a youth thing than a Tyneside thing," he said.

Some non-Standard English, such as "I've getten" for "I've got"; "giz" for "give" and "gannen" for "going" crept in to the conversations, but not often.

He said that his thesis, entitled "Standard English, the national curriculum and linguistic disadvantage: a socio-linguistic account of the careful speech of Tyneside adolescents" showed there was no statistical significance in the formal talk of the children, whatever their background. However, it would be a different matter if his research had been carried out in an informal setting, he said.

Dr Crinson's 278-page thesis is based on interviews with 24 boys and girls from Year 11; one group from the leafy suburbs, the other from a socially-deprived area. Visits were billed as practice for the GCSE English oral examination.