There’s a battle going on in your living room. One one side is the impressionable language centre of your poor innocent child’s brain. And on the other is a small woolly mouse that speaks in patois.
That little mouse is going to destroy the way your child uses the English language to the point that they’ll be unable to talk, write or even think in the Queen’s. Or at least that’s what the Daily Mail comments section and the ever-reasonable posters at Mumsnet would have you believe.
But is it really? Does the way you’re spoken to at a young age really influence the way you write as a teenager, or as an adult?
I’m not getting into the “is Rastamouse a racial stereotype” argument here. But I do take issue with the assertion that letting your children watch it is going to render them pretty much illiterate. For a number of reasons.
Speaking isn’t the same as writing
Eeeyar. For a laugh, I’m gonna wriʔe the rest of this post like I talk. ‘Cos despiʔe the posh voice I put on when I’m on ‘ere, I’ve got a bit of a guʔr mouth. It’s all ‘kinell this and y’alriʔe ar kid that. I use the sort of shorʔ vowel sounds that make southern English teachers cry at night. No ‘r’ in my barth. An’ that’s withouʔ mentionin’ that g’s and t’s are optional.
I’m not actually going to write the rest of the post like that. Mainly because I’d have to keep copying and pasting that glottal (or should that be gloʔl?) stop symbol. But I think the point has been made.
All my life, I’ve heard how people from Salford and Manchester speak. I’ve absorbed dozens of colloquialisms and cultivated an accent that makes my posh Cheshire girlfriend blush. And I’m far from the only copywriter to use a bit of local colour when they talk. So if a child’s shouting “is irie!” now, it doesn’t mean they’ll be typing it on job applications.
Written English could do with loosening up a bit
Read a few copywriting blogs. Or, even better, read the bio pages of the bloggers. Almost unanimously, they’ll be against stilted, formal, grammatically constrained copy.
But too many people like to write in a stilted, formal, “correct” way. Why? Because that’s how they’re taught. They think the sort of language a dusty English master in tweed uses is powerful. But it isn’t. It’s boring. Now while I’m not advocating web copy telling you to “sign up fer mi service an’ ting”, I’m a strong believer that books and TV programmes like Rastamouse can help young writers to use English in a more effective way. And to speak to more people.
You can never have too many voices
How do you invite someone out for a drink?
Comin’ down the pub ar kid? Should be a laugh?
Would you like to join us for a drink tonight? It’ll be fun.
The same request, three different voices. One’s aimed at a friend of a North-Western persuasion. It’s colloquial and casual. The second is a more formal request, and the third is a curt and effective voice I picked up living in Yorkshire.
Having access to many different styles and voices makes me a better writer. It means I can speak to more people. Rastamouse just gives children another voice to use. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
There’s a Rastamouse on me TV, what am I gonna do?
If you’re worried about the effect Rastamouse has on young childrens’ idiolect, you do need to act. Not to get the BBC to ban this corrupting filth, or to moan to Mumsnet about the TV not raising your kids properly. No. You need to teach your children how language works. Show them how to use different voices and words to speak effectively to different people.
And even if you think the show’s a waste of airtime, you’ll have made a bad ting good.