Stop Slang Kill The Classics
"Yo, Ms. Seto, you're beastin' over homework!"
"What do you mean, Tiffany?"
"You know, you're wiling out on me just for homework."
"So you're saying that you think I'm overreacting because you didn't do your homework?"
Some people may brush this off as just a teenage phase of wanting to use cool words, but her overuse of slang is indicative of something greater. Tiffany is a sixth grader who, like many of her peers, reads and writes on a third-grade level.
Unfortunately for the English language, the slang is not only here to stay with the youth, but going overboard to kick the English classics. As its first victim, Charles Dickens has been translated into urban slang. A book has been released which translates classic texts by Charles Dickens into modern urban slang. For example in Oliver Twist it now reads: "Oi, mate," he said in da littlest voice ever, "gimme some more!" Author Martin Baum says he wrote the book to make the works of Dickens 'fun and accessible' for a younger audience. He also said the book makes the text less intimidating while still retaining the potency and beauty of the stories… like whatever in it. If the book becomes a best seller, there will be no stopping to slang-language virus spreading deep into English literature with many more classic writers re-written by modern day writers like Martin Baum.
Shakespear also is not spared by the writers in urban slang. William Shakespeare’s famous plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth have been translated into contemporary urban slang. According to Tonia Lee, New York City public school teacher, who has given Shakespeare a makeover in street slang, “young, urban, everyday members of the working class were some of Shakespeare’s biggest fans during the Renaissance. Many of the words in Shakespeare’s plays were considered slang for its time. Therefore, a translation of Shakespeare into urban street slang upholds the true spirit of Shakespeare’s plays as it reaches out to the same audience that it did over 500 years ago: the young, the urban, and the hip.” Soon to come are other plays by Shakespeare adapted into urban slang including Hamlet and Julius Caesar.
It is ironical indeed that in London, the land where the biggest names in English literature were born, a group of young actors has reinvented Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, described by its director as the 'ultimate knife crime', as a tale of urban violence by rewriting the script into street slang. Out goes The Bard's nuanced Renaissance language. In its place come chatter and text-talk from the streets of modern-day London. The plot loosely follows the original. Trouble begins when Caesar moves from Harvey Nicks Grove school to nearby Harrods High. He is marked out as a threat for wanting to become head prefect and knifed to death. Instead of adults in the Roman court, it is set in the classroom and all the teenage actors wear uniform. The vast majority of the first half, especially, is embellished with street slang. Director Darren Raymond, 27, said street talk was an important aspect of the play because language formed a large part of young people's identities.
Street Slang, is incomprehensibly poor grammar mixed with the deliberate misuse of words and slang that helps the illiterate feel good about their inability to improve or unwillingness to try to improve their spoken English. It's not slang per se that is the problem. One argument against such out-of-hand dismissal of the colloquial is Shakespeare himself, who spiced his poetry with the modern, using words and phrases that chimed with the ground-ling as much as with Elizabethan courtiers. But there is a difference between idiom and modern slang in literature. Shakespeare's use of slang opened up the world of the theater to all of the audience. Modern slang is different, being cut through with dark knowing humor and packing a linguistic punch. Take a line from the street slang Julius Caesar: "I come to bury Caesar, not big him up."
When well-meaning literary professionals seek to get down with the kids in this way, the world really is turned upside down. Those who should know better abdicate their duty to introduce the next generation to the very best of literature. On the contrary, they are themselves seen carrying Street Talk or any other of the numerous new dictionaries that describe the meaning of the modern urban slang language. Some teachers are even taking classes in urban slang to keep pace with their street smart students. Instead of watching or actively working to kick the classic literature in the name of the kids, the teachers and the writers must make serious effort to stop slang kill the classics.