Local Literacies

Fancy some Ching Chang Walla after us scran? Have you ever been petrol pumped? Deeznuts. Ever asked the van driver to ‘ ‘igher it down’ when the music’s too loud? What is Stalybridge doing sitting in my cupboard again?

If you are confused it is because this is all about hyperlocal literacies and the way they are experienced by kids. These quirky examples are from the various places I have lived or worked in.

Ching Chang Walla – this is what all the children I teach call the game more commonly known as ‘Rock Paper Scissors’. The rapper Marger even has a song called Ching Chang Walla

Us Scran – us means our and Scran means food, in the South Yorkshire dialect my dad uses. He also asks ‘Was tha born in a barn?’ When asking me to close the door.

Petrolpumping – my brothers favourite word. Petrolpumping is an act of bullying that was isolated to our secondary school and Hall Cross, the neighbouring school, and it involved sitting on the victim and pumping their arm up and down like a water pump. We all knew it.

Deeznuts – any child left fairly freely near a computer at home, if aged between 10 and 16, will know a whole days worth of viral quotes from Vine. Vine humour has seen my children’s quick witted replies develop. Deeznuts is the second most annoying (and inappropriate) Vine quote used by a particularly internetty Year 5…

Igher it down – when driving around with a van full of Liverpudlian children and young people, I am often asked to ‘higher it up’ meaning to turn up the volume. The opposite request is to ‘higher it down’. We also enforce a no skitting rule.

Stalybridge – within the microcosmic world of my classroom, Stalybridge is a sociopathic toy sloth who died last year and has been replaced with his two uncle sloths Gilbert and George (so called because of their ambiguous Uncle and Uncle relationship).

These are Literacies that define us and that shape our reality. They are markers of exclusivity and of self and group identification. I can willingly invite a game of Ching Chang Walla with my pupils, but certain other slang they use is not meant for me. The last thing the kids want is their teacher sidling into their idiolect.

As markers of belonging, localised literacies can allow for interesting points of friction and humour. When, on occasion, I have walked into the staff room, the teaching assistants have begun switching their speech into occasional words of Gujarati. Given the raucous laughter that often follows, I presume it is the kind of cheeky talk of a nocturnal topic. When the uninitiated become slightly accustomed, the privacy of closed group literacies is eroded, such as when, whilst walking past a group of young teenage boys, I was able to make out the pejorative ‘gori’, which matched the condemnatory look I was being given.

Literacies are changing. I mean, they always are and always have been, but for children now, the schoolyard informal literacies they have access to are so multilayered. In East London, in my school, the kids navigate their literacies not through Roald Dahl, Michael Murporgo and me, their ever present guide to the English language. They build their quotidian literacies from 3 second videos filmed by teenage YouTube stars in America, from viral videos they have seen on their older siblings’ phones and through the dazzling local vocabulary of the East End, which merges influences from the different cultural legacies represented in its citizens.

To have the ‘slang literacy’ of a ten year old in East London is to be able to juggle an understanding of meme, viral humour, wordplay, intertextuality and multilingual vocabulary.

And in case you were wondering which Vine quote I hate so much, even more than Deeznuts, from having it whispered, announced, rehashed and exclaimed within my portakabin walls: what’s 9 plus 10 …

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