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The language of God.

"No, Tinchy Stryder's argot is carefully acquired from a mixture of West Indian dialects and the black gangsta slang of the United States."

It ain't what you say. . . As the Untouchables of India plan to open a temple to honour the English language, Christopher Howse looks at how its shifting usage defines class and culture. Christopher Howse

By Christopher Howse

What is the most annoying thing you hear people say? "I was sat", or "between you and I", or "for free" or "Can I get a coffee?" or controversy stressed on the wrong syllable, or perhaps simply the name of the letter aitch pronounced haitch?

It does seem odd that other people cannot speak their own language properly and so career (or careen as foolish folk say) like wildebeest into the crocodile-infested shallows of the latest wrong turning of the English language. This is of more than amateur interest.

Untouchables in India, as we reported yesterday, are to open a temple to the Goddess English. It will contain an idol of Lord Macaulay. This has put the cat among the pigeons, for Macaulay, when he went to India in 1834, took no interest in Indian literature or antiquities except as evidence of the superiority of all things European.

His "Minute on Indian Education" urged the colonial administration to establish "a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect" to be made fit for "conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population".

No wonder many Indian nationalists revile the name of Thomas Babington Macaulay. Yet the argument put forward by his nephew George Trevelyan in The Competition Wallah (1864) is the same as that of one of the leaders of today's Untouchables, Chandra Bhan Prasad: "We believe English is an empowering language."

Transfer the argument to Britain, and what do you get? A cast of academics, sociologists and educationists on one side who declare that one child's pronunciation is as valid as the teacher's, that spelling doesn't count and that English classes are valuably spent in composing rap lyrics. These politically correct forces are equivalent to Indian nationalists who wouldn't dream of calling the Indian Mutiny anything but the First War of Independence.

On the other side are teachers, employers and media columnists who agree with the Untouchables (whom we must call Dalits today). They know that a child in Bradford or Southwark will never get a good job unless he spells the words in a letter of application correctly, can string two sentences together in an interview without lapsing into: "It was, like, massive." (By he, they mean "he or she", to the rage of those for whom so-called inclusive language is to be as inviolable as the virtue of a Victorian maiden.)

Which side of the argument, then, is supported by these typical hip-hop lyrics from the song Take Me Back by the popular Tinchy Stryder? "Look I know you got played and that, /And it's only right you ain't feeling let alone rating that, / But babe it's a fact you on with the latest map / I had to live by that I spend night in your bredrin's flat."

Mr Stryder's real name is Kwasi Danquah, for he was born in Ghana. His English forms part of that global tongue being celebrated in a big exhibition called Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices at the British Library. A two-and-a-half hour event at the end of November linked to the exhibition is called "Voices of rap and hip hop". The evening includes "a discussion of how words impact at street level". It is already sold out.

But of course, Tinchy Stryder's lyrical language is not Ghanaian English. He was educated at St Bonaventure's Catholic Comprehensive School in Forest Gate, once in Essex, now in the London Borough of Newham. His lyrics are not in the English of Essex (which centuries ago influenced so strongly the language of the court, and hence that of the upper classes).

No, Tinchy Stryder's argot is carefully acquired from a mixture of West Indian dialects and the black gangsta slang of the United States.