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Across the UK, gang-related violence continues to remain rife and on the rise, with some reports suggesting that teenagers are even being offered up to £1,000 pounds by gang leaders to carry out stabbings. To better comprehend young people’s intentions, it is suggested that authorities and politicians should aim to understand the jargon and slang terms used to communicate, in part, by those involved in gang-related crimes, which is more broadly considered as the ‘language of youth’.

A researcher in lexical innovation at King’s College in London, Tony Thorne, has compiled published dictionaries and articles concerning slang terms and has taught on the use of British slang since the early 1990s, with the aim to produce a systematic record which can be analysed by law enforcement agencies and defence lawyers to solve gang crime.  He suggests that ‘decoding and translating this language can help both young victims of violence and the young people who are wrongly accused of perpetrating it’.

Whilst most academics and teachers based  in the UK shy away from analysing the use of unorthodox language such as slang, Thorne suggests that ‘it creatively exploits English in a way that both renews the language and gives a voice to marginal, misunderstood communities’, encouraging further studies surrounding it which may provide an optimal platform to better understanding vernaculars such as ‘multicultural London English’ (also known as Urban British English), which tends to be predominantly used by young criminals such as those involved in organised crime groups resorting to violence to settle disputes. Bridging the gap between law enforcement and the ‘language of youth’ may therefore help in solving gang violence, as authorities can progressively familiarise themselves with the jargon circulating on the streets.

Students interested in Linguistics, as well as those considering applying for Modern Languages, may be interested in reflecting on this increasingly emerging area of research and discussion, contemplating how the use of their subject can be beneficial for the broader community in a multitude of ways, for example by improving understandings surrounding communication.

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