Our Living Language (BBC 3)
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Alasdair: Hello and good evening. Welcome to one of BBC 3's longest running radio broadcasts, "Our Living Language." I'm your host, Alasdair Crumbsly-Wombat. You can access our full catalogue of previous broadcasts, from our initial series of 25 years ago, "How Shakespeare continues to influence the English language," to last year's highly acclaimed "Politico-speak." Tonight we begin a five-part series on language and popular culture. As our listeners know, the BBC always aims to stay abreast of…
[Synth-pop music suddenly audible in the background]
RhymeBaby: No, no, no my precious dude – don't say breast, it's creepy and rude.
Alasdair: Sorry? Oh, I apologize. I wasn't referring to your, uh, sorry. It's a term that means keeping up with the times.
RB: Hey, my bruh, didn't mean to throw shade. Don't get salty, let's let it fade.
Alasdair: Um, alright then. So, miss, um –
[Synth-pop music increases in volume]
RB: Patriarchy, man! No miss or she. Don't get poked up, let's let it be.
Alasdair: Well, um, RhymeBaby, ahem – can you turn that down a bit, please? - let me just introduce you to our radio audience, some of whom may not be familiar with the idea of a TikTok influencer. As far as BBC researchers can determine, a TikTok influencer is anyone who wants to be one, has an original idea, posts videos around a specific, entertaining idea or skill, and gets a lot of "followers." This is quite a cultural phenomenon, spawning many new terms, some of which are entering common parlance.
RhymeBaby: Vanilla, bruh! Let's go, let's go!
Alasdair: Yes, in a minute. Just a brief introduction for our listeners who may not be abreast, that is, sorry, ah, up-to-date, on this latest phenomenon. TikTok study is of increasing interest to researchers of culture and language. What are the determinants of the success of influencer marketing on youth-focused TikTok? What are the effects of influencers' account characteristics - originality, quality, quantity and humor- on their followers' hedonic experience and perceived opinion leadership, and how do these impact on their intentions to follow influencers’ accounts and advice? An influencer might build his or her brand around make-up, fashion, weight loss, original dancing with lip synching, etc. The viewers are almost exclusively young teenagers. This is fascinating sociologically. Now, Miss, that is, RhymeBaby, has made her name on TikTok through her uncanny ability to rhyme any topic, while dancing. This has apparently generated a rhyming craze among the younger generation, with many imitators. Is that right, ah, RhymeBaby?
RB: RB, my man, to my dearest PEEPS. Yah, I'm CEO, and I'm here for keeps.
Alasdair. I see. Now, ah, RB, this is a radio interview, so neither I nor our listeners can see you, but, if I may ask, are you dancing as you spin these rhymes for us? And can you please lower the volume?
RB: You're cheugy to the max, but it ain't your bad. I rhyme, I dance, and it blows my sad.
Alasdair: I see, I see. Yes, well, how many acolytes, that is, sorry, "followers" do you have, Miss, ah, RB?
RB: I hit 350, I'm a Heather now, my rhymes are bussin and my dancin's wow.
Alasdair: I see. 350 – million?
RB: No cap, no crap.
Alasdair: Quite. Jolly good. Now as I'm sure you know, youth movements from the Roaring Twenties, through the beatnik and hippy eras, have introduced new slang terms which entered common parlance. But given modern technology, the speed at which TikTok slang is spreading is unprecedented. How do you respond to the accusation, made recently by a prominent Oxford University linguist, that all the abbreviations, acronyms and rapidly changing slang words used on TikTok are doing irreparable damage to the English language? Do you feel a sense of responsibility? Some researchers worry that it may be damaging young people's ability to speak comprehensible English, and perhaps even to read. I'm so sorry, can you please lower the volume of the music?
RB: Can you lower the noise of your word trash, man? Yes, I can read, don't you think I can?
Alasdair: I apologize, I intended no slight. May I ask you another, rather personal question?
RB: Is this a test? No breast, no breast!
Alasdair: No, of course not. I have already apologized for that misunderstanding. I understand that the rhyming and dancing is your TikTok "thing," as they say, but surely you don't talk like this all the time? You can speak normally without slang and without rhyming?
RB: (aside) Mom, not now! I'm on the phone!
[Synth-pop music increases in volume and then suddenly cuts off]
Alasdair: Hello? RB? Oh, dear, I fear we have lost the connection with our guest. Well, we thank RhymeBaby for being with us tonight and giving us a fascinating, if confusing and somewhat disturbing glimpse into the world of a TikTok influencer and her use of language. Will this extreme form of slang change the English language forever? Or will it be a passing phenomenon of the young, with only a few words filtering into common parlance? What do you think, bruh (chuckles at his own witticism)? Only time will tell. As our beloved Baird wrote, "All other doubts by time let them be clear'd; Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered" (laughs fondly at this Shakespearian reference). Who can say how our language boat will be steered?
Tune in next week, when we investigate urban slang and the influence of hip hop, with our guest, Hashtag. Mr. Hashtag will introduce us to the fascinating world of hip hop slang, and how hip hop expresses the urban Weltschmerz of dispossessed black youth.
I'm your host, Alasdair Crumbsly-Wombat. Until next time, good night, and good language. [Gentle classical music fades in and then out]