‘Creole’ and youth language in a British inner-city community

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This chapter draws on ethnographic research among adolescents in an inner-city area of Manchester, England, which has traditionally been seen as the centre of a ‘Caribbean community.’ We describe how young people in this area from a variety of ethnic backgrounds are using Creole language forms, and show how this poses challenges for existing models which aim to relate ethnicity, geographical origin and language. We suggest that the language behaviour of individuals is more usefully explained by considering their involvement in specific language-based practices valued by the peer group than by reference to their membership of an ethnically defined ‘community’. In their discourse, participants construct themselves (and their preferred practices – linguistic and non-linguistic) as ‘black’, where being ‘black’ is a position in the social order, defined by their practices, not by their ethnic background. We conclude that ‘black’ now more than ever is a social construct and not a skin colour.


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