Actress Emma Thompson attacks use of sloppy language

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Actress Emma Thompson has spoken out against the use of sloppy language.

The 51-year-old Oscar winner told the Radio Times that people who did not speak properly made her feel "insane".

She said: "We have to reinvest, I think, in the idea of articulacy as a form of personal human freedom and power."

Ms Thompson added that on a visit to her old school she told pupils not to use slang words such as "likes" and "innit".

"I told them, 'Just don't do it. Because it makes you sound stupid and you're not stupid."'

She said: "There is the necessity to have two languages - one that you use with your mates and the other that you need in any official capacity."

'Street speak'

Responding to her comments, English language specialist Prof Clive Upton, from the University of Leeds, said that "street speak" was not necessarily a problem.

He said: "There are certain places where the sort of street speak which a lot of teenagers go in for just doesn't cut the mustard.

Start Quote

Slang is a poor man's poetry”

End Quote Magi Tatcher BBC Have Your Say contributor

"If they do deploy the sort of language they're using on the streets in formal settings then it could well be a disadvantage to them but at other times it's quite clearly the way they get along, the way that they signal they belong in a group, the way that they fit in.

"And we all do that in our professional lives as well. We've got all our acronyms and our little words that we use that send a signal - I'm one of the club."

Mike Clarke from Bideford in Devon contacted the BBC News website to show his support for Ms Thompson's stance.

He said: "I entirely agree with her comments - I have been a solicitor for over 25 years and have to communicate and engage with people with widely differing verbal ability and understanding. I despise both extremes - dumbing down language, just as much as 'poshing' it up.

"Both are endemic today and both demonstrate the very worst kind of patronising arrogance.

"They stem from a desire to set one's self apart from the other party - it's cultural snobbishness and ironic that it should often emanate from those who would consider themselves to be at opposing ends of the social spectrum."

Ms Thompson, who has written a new version of the musical My Fair Lady, also told the magazine that she was not interested in having plastic surgery.

"It really does seem to me to be quite psychologically dysfunctional and part of this ridiculous culture of perfection."

BBC News website readers have been sending in their comments.

My main irritation with sloppy speech is when people don't pronounce their TH's - I hear it on TV and Radio - especially in interviews - TH is nearly always replaced with a V or an F!! The main culprits seem to be sports people, and sometimes a few youngsters. Teenage language (the good, not the bad of course!) I personally find alright - we all go through that phase, and then most of it just gradually disappears as you grow older. Anyway, correct English is priceless - it helps in so many things in life. So I'm with Ms Thompson!

Chrissie Williams, Oxford

I agree with Emma Thompson's comments. I am trying to raise awareness and promote services for people with Asperger's syndrome. I have found the barriers and hesitation to address the topic, made worse by people's uncertainty about how to pronounce the word. This is a good example of the importance of shared language, and of the pitfalls of mistaken variants. By the way - Asperger's - hard 'g' as in 'finger'.

Lawrence Brewer, Peopleton

Emma is absolutely spot-on about having two sets of language. I work in a hospital and deal with patients on a regular basis. If I spoke to them in the same way I speak to friends, their opinion of me as a competent professional would be compromised. I'd go further than Emma though, If I am speaking to a child, I will have a another different set of language. Intelligent communication requires adjustment of speaking style according to the situation.

Eddie, Northern Ireland

I accidentally referred to the financial crisis as '...a right gungaflex' (major disaster) in a job interview about a year ago. The interviewer stared at me with a sort of bored, affronted blankness for several seconds before asking me to explain what I meant. I couldn't, so was asked to leave. It was a real shame as we'd been getting on like a house on fire before that. Conclusion: Keep slang out of da workplace an in de yard, fen de gwan ruff riderz.

Provastian Jackson, Tavis

I have slipped up and sworn in an interview before. I was not proud of that moment, but I am starting to see it all the way through the business world now. People have no respect for the British language. I have even begun to delete people from my social networking sites when they keep updating their status' with statements that take longer to translate than is worth it. My biggest bug bear is when people use words, or phrases that are equal to or longer than the proper vernacular, for example "woz" is surely just as easy as "was", in actual fact, typing "was" is easier.

Paul, Kent

I speak with a broad Yorkshire accent to my friends (eg "ah tha gooin'?") who are from the same area and background as myself. However, I used to interview the public in my work and had to modify my speech depending to whom I was speaking. The problem in this country is that if one uses a strong regional accent, one is still considered 'thick'; all too often by people who think that if they speak with a posh accent, people will think they are well educated. Unfortunately it works!

David, Sheffield

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