Students Making a Difference Kasper Tinus & Alona Rosmalen

Our work is closely focused in collaboration with interested teachers to develop tools to develop “Critical Diversity Literacy”, the WdKA minor Cultural Diversity is devoted to raising awareness and understanding for the complexities of power and difference.We would like to use this opportunity to share a student developed project, which responds to the subject in its very unique way- exemplifying that students will make a different:

Kasper Tinus & Alona Rosmalen work [Tor-ries]

“Slang is language which takes off its coat, spits on its hands and goes to work” (Carl Sandburg 1959)

Slang words and phrases are highly colloquial and informal in type, occurring more often in speech than in print. Slang consists either of newly crafted words or of existing words employed in a special sense. Slang often manages to make the abstract concrete and memorable, by employing imagery. For example, using the phrase chill out is far more graphic than compose yourself.

Kasper Tinus’ and Alona Rosmalen’s work explores the dominant use of ABN, Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands (similar to Queens English) in formal educational institutions. Standardized Dutch is a specific form of knowledge valued within the education system. This form of Dutch is essential to command as a student of higher education. A necessary aspect of Tinus and Rosmalen’s life as students is being able to express their learning in terms of competences. The formulations of skills/achievements encased within expressions of competencies struck them as an exclusionary practice for those not so at home with this method of self formulating. Noticing simultaneously within the institution, the absence of a form of self expression with which they themselves are very familiar, slang. This juxtaposition informed their attempts to bring slang into the institution to demonstrate its playfulness, its delight in virtuosity, as an exercise in wit and ingenuity and its longing to be novel.


This project is further informed by a reading of culture as lived and also as shaped by power relations in the tradition of Stuart Hall (1980)[1] who challenged seeing expressions of popular culture as ‘low’ culture. Tinus and Rosmalen prefer to read the use of slang as a bonding force, enhancing among its users a feeling of belonging and cultural citizenship where meaning is struggled over are identity, subjectivity, inclusion and exclusion. Understanding the somewhat exclusionary and context based nature of slang, the students have fashioned their creative work as a dictionary thereby offering non-slang speakers a way into understanding how this fascinating lexicon is used.

The result is a reformulation of the Willem de Kooning Academy’s handbook on professional competencies for Art and Design students. Making their own fabulously illustrated book, called [Tor-ries] with in situ tips for appropriate use of said slang.


Importantly their work expresses their desire for greater diversity of language use within institutions, it challenges the notion that slang users are ‘stupid’, and ‘not going anywhere fast’. Highlighting how their slang incorporates words from many of the diverse cultures living in Rotterdam.  Their guide includes a description of where words come from, many of whom have Surinamese, Antillean, and Moroccan origins. By focusing on street slang for their final project as a legitimate form of institutional expression, they brought to the fore questions of language as a form of exclusion. Who are we, higher educational (HE) institutions, excluding by adopting a certain way of speaking? It also flagged up notions of status and class, whose language is being spoken where? and whose sense of belonging is being encouraged. Tinus & Rosmalen typify this language as one that you use to encourage closeness, creating a strong bond between users. Their work encourages us to think about language, power access and creativity within the Art School environment.

I conclude by citing their own introductory text:

“This is a book that builds a bridge between slang and standardized Dutch. Slang is often seen as something negative in society: as a lack of…a lack of education, a lack of socialisation, a sign of the deterioration of language, threat of exclusion and discrimination. Opinions about slang are very divided, understanding where it emanates from and what it consists of is not always clear. This makes slang a very complex subject in our society where much uncertainty remains.
People do not always understand how beautiful and expressive this language is stemming as it does from street culture, a culture that is part of one’s identity.”