Department of Linguistics

Alex: at the airport menu

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Address terms Alex addresses Zack with terms that are typical of their peer group and that express solidarity. He uses bruv in lines 1, 12 and 27) and blud (line 5).

Conversational historical present In lines 9 -24 Alex talks about one specific incident at Amsterdam airport. He uses the present tense to dramatise key parts of his story in lines 13-15 and 18-20.

Note that the present tenses in lines 2-7 and 25-27 are not the conversational historical present; the present tense here is used to refer to events that happen repeatedly (e.g. line 2, they just wrap it up; line 27, they smoke weed in the airport) or that are general descriptions (e.g. line 2, it weighs heavy; line 28, they are mad).

Discourse markers
innit (line 9) occurs afterthe export people; Alex has not mentioned these people before and he uses innit to draw attention to the term and check that the listeners understand.

like occurs before a measurement (line 1), indicating that the amount is approximate. It also marks clause boundaries, occurring at the end of a clause (lines 16 and 20)and the beginning of a clause (lines 11, 14, 17 and 20 (after yeah yeah). It co-occurs with other discourse markers in line 11 (with just) and line 20 (with you know); and before a noun (weed spray) in line 16. 17 clause initial with just.
Note that when like occurs in the phrase like that it is not a discourse marker. That is a deictic in this phrase, occurring with like to point to a gesture or sound effect that Alex is about to make (line 5, make a little hole, and line 20) or has just made (line 5, move it like that, line 7, crack).

so (line 18) at the beginning of the clause shows that Alex is resuming the events that make up his story after the digression of lines 15-17. So functions here in a similar way to anyway.

yeah Alex uses yeah frequently at the end of a clause (lines 2, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 17. It punctuates the discourse by clearly separating the clauses. At the same time, Alex checks that the listeners are following his story and making sense of it. In line 15 he uses yeah 3 times, segmenting the information in his utterance to make it easier for the listeners to process it. In lines 20 and 22, where he reports what the customs officer and his friend said to each other, yeah is an agreement marker.

Intensifiers: So is an intensifier in lines 2 and 21, boosting the force of the adjectives compressed (line 2) and dumb (line 21).Right in line 3 boosts the force of in the middle.

Nonstandard grammar: Alex uses the frequent nonstandard negative past form of BE (weren't) in line 11. See in line 8 is ambiguous: it could be the conversational historical present tense of SEE, but it could also be the nonstandard past tense form of SEE, which is very frequent in English dialects.
Note that in line 11 he uses the standard English negative structure it weren't anything rather than the very common nonstandard negative structure it weren't nothing.

Pronunciation Alex has many phonetic features that are typical of Multicultural London English. For example he says 'fing' in everything (line 6), anything (line 11) and thing (line 14); and he has a glottal stop where other speakers might have [t] in little (line 5), weren't (line 11) and several of his its (e.g. line 18). These are very common features of many urban varieties of English in the UK as spoken by young people. The first vowel in opened (line 8), so (line 21) and go (line 24) are monophthongs (this is the so-called GOAT vowel), and so is the vowel in words such as right (line 3) and many of his realisations of like (these are known as the PRICE vowel). Alex's pronunciation of the in lines 27 and 28 is typical of young people in multicultural London, many of whom do not make a distinction between the pronunciation of the when it comes before a vowel and when it comes before a consonant: older Londoners say [ðə]  bus (roughly,'thuh bus' but [ði:] airport, 'thee airport' whereas Alex says [ðə] ,'thuh' in both cases.

Quotative expressions Alex reports what the customs officer was thinking with THINK (line 19). He uses GO to introduce direct reported speech on line 22. The main quotative expression, though, is the new London form THIS IS +speaker (lines 13, 14 and 20). He uses this at a dramatic point in his story when his friend is challenged by the customs officer about the contents of the deodorant can.

Rhetorical strategies Alex makes his story lively by punctuating it with sound effects such as bang (lines 3, 6 and 23), smack (line 6) and crack (line 7). He makes a <kissing teeth> sound in line 7. This is a 'sound-symbolism' form that is widely used in the Caribbean to express a range of emotions and attitudes. It is now also used by many young speakers of Multicultural London English. Here Alex uses it to make his account of how easy it is to make a hole in a spray can more lively and vivid.

chiv, 'chisel', line 7)
proper, 'really' (line 18)
punk, 'marijuana' (lines 2 and 9)
weed, 'marijuana' (lines 12, 27, 28)



Alex is a 16 year old mixed race white British/black Caribbean Londoner, recorded here talking to his friend Zack. Zack is a white British boy, also aged 16. Both boys live in inner London and speak Multicultural London English. Immediately before this extract Alex and Zack had been talking between themselves about going on holiday and ways of bringing banned goods back into the country. In this extract it is Alex who is now holding the floor. Although the interviewer is present, Alexis mainly telling Zack about an incident at the airport in Amsterdam when his friend had hidden drugs in a deodorant spray can. Alex is a lively storyteller and he involves the listeners in the story using a range of different linguistic strategies such as address terms, the conversational historical present tense, kissing teeth, intensifiers and different rhetorical strategies, making the story a kind of performance.

Transcript PDF: 

 Alex, male, aged 16, white British/black Caribbean mixed race, from inner London

                                                              At the Airport          

1          Alex:   /he had like/ half ounces in the deodorant can bruv.
2                      cos where the punk's so compressed yeah and it weighs heavy [Zack: mm]
they just wrap it up .
3                      bang and it just goes right in the middle of the liquid
4                      they put a l. the. the spray bit the hole they make a hole right through
the middle of it yeah
5                      blud they move it like that. so they make it like that make a little hole. they just stick it in .
6                      bang. done everything. weld that little bit on. smack
7                      all you have to do is go crack like that with a chiv <kisses teeth> gone 
8                      but I see him come back yeah and he opened .
9                      one time he sprayed the. thing yeah cos [Zack: punk] the export people innit
10                    they sprayed the spray yeah [S: mm]
11                    like just to check that it weren't anything.
12                    bruv when I say they were smelling weed
13                    this is him. this is them "what's that smell that's coming out?"
14                    this is him "oh i dunno like it must be d.d. thing”
15                    this is them. but on the back yeah what he didn't see yeah it had weed spray.. yeah?
16                    but not like weed spray what you use to spray the weed like .
17                    like it was called weed spray that's the smell of it yeah [Zack: mhm]
18                    so the man's looking at it now proper staring at it
19                    and he's thinking "weed spray"?
20                    and this is him "yeah yeah like you know weed spray give you a nice smell like"
21                    and the man just was so dumb
22                    he went "yeah yeah my friend"
23                    bang put it in a bag.
24                    let them go.
25                    some of them they can't be bo. in amsterdam
26                    it's . you can get through their customs like that <sound effect>
27                    cos they all. they smoke weed in the airport bruv .
28                    I've seen them smoke weed /in the airport/ they are mad  
29        Zack:                                               /in the café/  

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