Youth English goes Creole

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The Creole English of the Caribbean is being adopted as the common language of the English urban playground.

Schoolchildren of all races in multi-ethnic cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester are rejecting traditional English speech patterns and vocabulary in favour of the patois of the West Indies.

The expression "innit?" is being grafted to the end of sentences. Questions are not asked but "arksd" and the term "wicked" has become the ultimate compliment.

The development has been identified by a team of researchers from Norway, who have carried out a four-year study of teenage English in London, which involved equipping schoolchildren with tape recorders to record their everyday conversation.

Gisle Andersen, a researcher at the University of Bergen, which is doing the study, said: "London is very ethnically complex and people are not segregated. Features from one type of language spread to another and you get a mixture."

Among their findings was that the phrase "innit?" is now used as an "invariant tag" at the end of sentences by London teenagers of all races and even in suburban areas. Instead of saying "Shearer is a good player, isn't he?", London youngsters would say: "Shearer's a good player, innit?"

Professor John Widdowson, of the centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, at the University of Sheffield, said the phrase mirrored the Welsh use of the expression "Isn't it?" He said: "It's very interesting. It is similar to the French use of `n'est-ce pas?'."

In some areas of London, the expression "Is it?" has also been transformed. The sentence "Grandad is coming tomorrow" may be answered by teenagers not as "Is he?" but "Is it?"

Across the capital, verbs are now often omitted by children in a practice which is typical of Creole. Thus, "I have got to go out" has become "I got to go out", or even "I got to go out, innit".

Mr Andersen said: "This seems to be a fairly recent development in London speech and it is absolutely spread across ethnic backgrounds. Not only Jamaicans, Indians and Pakistanis ... but also people with an Anglo-Saxon background."

Mr Andersen, who has prepared a paper on the subject called You were gonna say that, innit?, said Norwegian English students were obsessed with English slang and dialect.