Friday, 24 August 2007

Mind Your Language

Amanullah De Sondy – BBC Radio Scotland – Thought For The Day – Monday 14th May

'Mind your language' – when was the last time you heard that one? This is probably the most repeated mantra of every parent and teacher in the country. Channel 4 have chosen to look at the foul language of young people in a documentary tonight, aptly named "Mind your F'ing language".

The thing about swearing is that there's more to it, than that often used rebuke allows for. Being multi lingual I know that swears in Arabic, Urdu and Punjabi can mean different things to different people in different settings. My experience of English growing up in Glasgow, I found swearing was usually added to conversations, not in an offensive way, but to add emphasis on a point or to make it more humorous. Swearing in this context was a colourful form of self-expression. I'm not condoning it, and of course I accept that foul language can be hurtful and upsetting.

As a part time RE teacher, in an inner city school in Glasgow, I'm used to hearing young people swear casually in conversation. My immediate response is: 'mind your language', but sometimes I just let it wash over me.

The most productive conversation I've ever had with a pupil was littered with f-words. The pupil explained, he'd been grounded by his parents for a month for being drunk. I allowed him the space to tell me how he felt, and it was clear he wouldn't have been able to do this without using the f-word in abundance. We then had quite detailed discussion about the attitudes to alcohol and tobacco across different religions, where the teenager revealed quite an extensive vocabulary and understanding, despite his swearing. I explained why many religions raise concerns about the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco, and to my surprise he agreed with me! I realised that beneath all that foul language and bravado there was a thoughtful and reflective kid. Granted swearing is not an endearing quality in the youth of today, but maybe if we listened a little harder, we might hear more than just bad language.

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