Slang

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Slang is language (words, phrases, and usages) of an informal register that members of particular in-groups favor (over a standard language) in order to establish group identity, exclude outsiders, or both.

Phrase Group of words

In everyday speech, a phrase may be any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In linguistic analysis, a phrase is a group of words that functions as a constituent in the syntax of a sentence, a single unit within a grammatical hierarchy. A phrase typically appears within a clause, but it is possible also for a phrase to be a clause or to contain a clause within it. There are also types of phrases like noun phrase, prepositional phrase and noun phrases

In linguistics, a register is a variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. For example, when speaking in a formal setting, an English speaker may be more likely to use features of prescribed grammar than in an informal setting—such as pronouncing words ending in -ing with a velar nasal instead of an alveolar nasal, choosing more formal words, and refraining from using words considered nonstandard, such as ain't.

A standard language is defined either as a language variety used by a population for public purposes, or as a variety that has undergone standardization. Typically, varieties that become standardized are the local dialects spoken in the centers of commerce and government, where a need arises for a variety that will serve more than local needs. Standardization typically involves a fixed orthography, codification in authoritative grammars and dictionaries and public acceptance of these standards.

Contents

Sometimes people of higher social status will criticize people who use slang and sometimes people of higher social status use slang themselves.

Etymology of the word slang

In its earliest attested use (1756), the word slang referred to the vocabulary of "low or disreputable" people. By the early nineteenth century, it was no longer exclusively associated with disreputable people, but continued to be applied to usages below the level of standard educated speech. [1] The origin of the word is uncertain, although it appears to be connected with thieves' cant. A Scandinavian origin has been proposed (compare, for example, Norwegian slengenavn, which means "nickname"), but based on "date and early associations" is discounted by the Oxford English Dictionary. [1] Jonathan Green,[ who? ] however, agrees with the possibility of a Scandinavian origin, suggesting the same root as that of sling, which means "to throw", and noting that slang is thrown language – a quick, honest way to make your point. [2] [3]

Thieves cant language

Thieves' cant, thieves' argot or rogues' cant, also known as peddler's French, was a secret language which was formerly used by thieves, beggars and hustlers of various kinds in Great Britain and to a lesser extent in other English-speaking countries. The classic, colourful argot is now mostly obsolete, and is largely relegated to the realm of literature and fantasy role-playing, although individual terms continue to be used in the criminal subcultures of both Britain and the United States. Its South German and Swiss equivalent is the Rotwelsch, its Dutch equivalent is Bargoens and the Serbo-Croatian equivalent is Šatrovački.

<i>Oxford English Dictionary</i> premier British dictionary of the English language

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press. It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the world. The second edition, comprising 21,728 pages in 20 volumes, was published in 1989.

Defining slang

Linguists have no simple and clear definition of slang, but agree that it is a constantly changing linguistic phenomenon present in every subculture worldwide. Some argue that slang exists because we must come up with ways to define new experiences that have surfaced with time and modernity. [4] Attempting to remedy the lack of a clear definition, however, Bethany K. Dumas and Jonathan Lighter argue that an expression should be considered "true slang" if it meets at least two of the following criteria: [4]

  • It lowers, if temporarily, "the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing"; in other words, it is likely to be considered in those contexts a "glaring misuse of register".
  • Its use implies that the user is familiar with whatever is referred to, or with a group of people who are familiar with it and use the term.
  • "It's a taboo term in ordinary discourse with people of a higher social status or greater responsibility."
  • It replaces "a well-known conventional synonym." This is done primarily to avoid discomfort caused by the conventional synonym or discomfort or annoyance caused by having to elaborate further.

Michael Adams remarks that, "[Slang] is liminal language... it is often impossible to tell, even in context, which interests and motives it serves... slang is on the edge." [5] Slang dictionaries, collecting thousands of slang entries, offer a broad, empirical window into the motivating forces behind slang". [6]

While many forms of language may be considered "sub-standard", slang remains distinct from colloquial and jargon terms because of its specific social contexts. While considered inappropriate in formal writing, colloquial terms are typically considered acceptable in speech across a wide range of contexts, while slang tends to be considered unacceptable in many contexts. Jargon refers to language used by personnel in a particular field, or language used to represent specific terms within a field to those with a particular interest. Although jargon and slang can both be used to exclude non–group members from the conversation, the intention of jargon is to optimize conversation using terms that imply technical understanding. On the other hand, slang tends to emphasize social and contextual understanding.

Jargon is a specialized terminology used to define specific words and phrases used in a particular profession, trade, and/or group.

In linguistics, colloquialism is vernacular language including everyday language, everyday speech, common parlance, informal language, colloquial language, general parlance, and common expressions. It is the most used linguistic variety of a language, the language normally used in conversation and other informal communication.

While colloquialisms and jargon may seem like slang because they reference a particular group, they do not fit the same definition, because they do not represent a particular effort to replace standard language. Colloquialisms are considered more standard than slang, and jargon is often created to talk about aspects of a particular field that are not accounted for in the standard lexicon. [7]

It is often difficult to differentiate slang from colloquialisms and even more standard language, because slang generally becomes accepted into the standard lexicon over time. Words such as "spurious" and "strenuous" were once slang, though they are now accepted as standard, even high register words. The literature on slang even discusses mainstream acknowledgment of a slang term as changing its status as true slang, because it has been accepted by the media and is thus no longer the special insider speech of a particular group. Nevertheless, a general test for whether a word is a slang word or not is whether it would be acceptable in an academic or legal setting, as both are arenas in which standard language is considered necessary and/or whether the term has been entered in the Oxford English Dictionary, which some scholars claim changes its status as slang. [7]

Examples of slang (cross-linguistic)

Formation of slang

It is often difficult to collect etymologies for slang terms, largely because slang is a phenomenon of speech, rather than written language and etymologies which are typically traced via corpus.

Eric Partridge, cited as the first to report on the phenomenon of slang in a systematic and linguistic way, postulated that a term would likely be in circulation for a decade before it would be written down. [8] Nevertheless, it seems that slang generally forms via deviation from a standard form. This "spawning" of slang occurs in much the same way that any general semantic change might occur. The difference here is that the slang term's new meaning takes on a specific social significance having to do with the group the term indexes.

Coleman also suggests that slang is differentiated within more general semantic change in that it typically has to do with a certain degree of “playfulness". The development of slang is considered to be a largely “spontaneous, lively, and creative” speech process. [8]

Still, while a great deal of slang takes off, even becoming accepted into the standard lexicon, much slang dies out, sometimes only referencing a group. An example of this is the term "groovy" which is a relic of 1960's and 70's American "hippy" slang. Nevertheless, for a slang term to become a slang term, people must use it, at some point in time, as a way to flout standard language. [7] Additionally, slang terms may be borrowed between groups, such as the term "gig" which was originally coined by jazz musicians in the 1930s and then borrowed into the same hippy slang of the 1960s. [7] 'The word "groovy" has remained a part of subculture lexicon since its popularization. It is still in common use today by a significant population. The word "gig" to refer to a performance very likely originated well before the 1930s, and remained a common term throughout the 1940s and 1950s before becoming a vaguely associated with the "hippy slang of the 1960s". The word "gig" is now a widely accepted synonym for a concert, recital, or performance of any type. "Hippy" is more commonly spelled "hippie".

Generally, slang terms undergo the same processes of semantic change that words in the regular lexicon do. [8]

Slang often will form from words with previously differing meanings, one example is the often used and popular slang word "lit", which was created by a generation labeled "Generation Z". The word itself used to be associated with something being on fire or being "lit" up until 1988 when it was first used in writing to indicate a person who was drunk [9] in the book "Warbirds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator". Since this time "lit" has gained popularity through Rap songs such as ASAP Rocky's "Get Lit" in 2011. As the popularity of the word has increased so too has the number of different meanings associated with the word. Now "lit" describes a person who is drunk and/or high, as well as an event that is especially awesome and "hype".

Words and phrases from popular Hollywood films and television series frequently become slang. [10]

Social implications

Indexicality

Slang is usually associated with a particular group and plays a role in constructing our identities. While slang outlines social space, attitudes about slang partly construct group identity and identify individuals as members of groups. Therefore, using the slang of a particular group will associate an individual with that group. Using Silverstein's notion of different orders of indexicality, it can be said that a slang term can be a second-order index to this particular group. Employing a slang term, however, can also give an individual the qualities associated with the term's group of origin, whether or not the individual is actually trying to identify as a member of the group. This allocation of qualities based on abstract group association is known as third-order indexicality.

As outlined by Elisa Mattiello in her book, [11] a slang term can take on various levels of identification. Giving the examples of the terms "foxy" and "shagadelic", Mattiello explains that neither term makes sense given a standard interpretation of English:

Nevertheless, Matiello concludes that those agents who identify themselves as "young men" have "genuinely coined" these terms and choose to use them over "canonical" terms —like beautiful or sexy—because of the indexicalized social identifications the former convey.

First and second order indexicality

In terms of first and second order indexicality, the usage of speaker-oriented terms by male adolescents indicated their membership to their age group, to reinforce connection to their peer group, and to exclude outsiders. [11]

Higher-order indexicality

In terms of higher order indexicality, anyone using these terms may desire to appear fresher, undoubtedly more playful, faddish, and colourful than someone who employs the standard English term "beautiful". This appearance relies heavily on the hearer's third-order understanding of the term's associated social nuances and presupposed use-cases. [11]

Subculture associations

Often, distinct subcultures will create slang that members will use in order to associate themselves with the group, or to delineate outsiders.

Slang terms are often known only within a clique or ingroup. For example, Leet ("Leetspeak" or "1337") was originally popular only among certain Internet subcultures, such as software crackers and online video gamers. During the 1990s, and into the early 21st century, however, Leet became increasingly more commonplace on the Internet, and it has spread outside Internet-based communication and into spoken languages. [13] Other types of slang include SMS language used on mobile phones, and "chatspeak", (e.g., "LOL", an acronym meaning "laughing out loud" or "laugh out loud" or ROFL, "rolling on the floor laughing"), which are widely used in instant messaging on the Internet. [14]

As subcultures are also often forms of counterculture and counterculture itself can be defined as going against a standard, it follows that slang has come to be associated with counterculture.

Social media and Internet slang

Slang is often taken from social media as a sign of social awareness and shared knowledge of popular culture. This particular branch of slang has become more prevalent since the early 2000s as a result of the rise in popularity of social networking services, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This has created new vocabularies associated with each new social media venue, such as the use of the term “friending” on Facebook, which is a verbification of “friend” used to describe the process of adding a new person to one's list of friends on the website, despite the existence of an analogous term “befriend“. This term is much older than Facebook, but has only recently entered the popular lexicon. [15] Other examples of the slang found in social media include a general trend toward shortened words or acronyms. These are especially associated with services such as Twitter, which now has a 280 character limit for each message and therefore requires a briefer, more condensed manner of communication. [16] This includes the use of hashtags which explicitly state the main content of a message or image, such as #food or #photography. [17]

Debates about slang

Some critics believe that when slang language becomes more commonplace it effectively eradicates the proper use of a certain language. However, other linguists believe that language is not static but ever-changing and that slang terms are valid words within a language's lexicon. While prescriptive linguists study and analyze the so-called "correct" ways to speak, according to a language's grammar and syntactical words, descriptive linguists tend to study language to further understand the subconscious rules of how individuals speak, which makes slang important in understanding such rules. Noam Chomsky, a founder of anthropological linguistic thought, challenged structural and prescriptive linguistics and began to study sounds and morphemes functionally, as well as their changes within a language over time. [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

An argot is a secret language used by various groups—e.g., schoolmates, outlaws, colleagues, gay people (Polari) among many others—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations. The term argot is also used to refer to the informal specialized vocabulary from a particular field of study, occupation, or hobby, in which sense it overlaps with jargon. The discipline of medicine has been referred to as having its own argot which includes abbreviations, acronyms, and "technical colloquialisms".

The term dialect is used in two distinct ways to refer to two different types of linguistic phenomena:

Gibberish, alternatively jibberish, jibber-jabber, or gobbledygook, is language that is nonsense. It may include speech sounds that are not actual words, or language games and specialized jargon that seems nonsensical to outsiders. Gibberish should not be confused with literary nonsense such as that used in the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll.

A lexicon, word-hoard, wordbook, or word-stock is the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge. In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word "lexicon" derives from the Greek λεξικόν (lexicon), neuter of λεξικός (lexikos) meaning "of or for words."

A pidgin, or pidgin language, is a grammatically simplified means of communication that develops between two or more groups that do not have a language in common: typically, its vocabulary and grammar are limited and often drawn from several languages. It is most commonly employed in situations such as trade, or where both groups speak languages different from the language of the country in which they reside. Fundamentally, a pidgin is a simplified means of linguistic communication, as it is constructed impromptu, or by convention, between individuals or groups of people. A pidgin is not the native language of any speech community, but is instead learned as a second language.

Nadsat is a fictional register or argot used by the teenagers in Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange. In addition to being a novelist, Burgess was a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian-influenced English. The name itself comes from the Russian suffix equivalent of "-teen" as in "thirteen". Nadsat was also used in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of the book.

Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and society's effect on language. It differs from sociology of language, which focuses on the effect of language on society. Sociolinguistics overlaps considerably with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic anthropology, and the distinction between the two fields has been questioned.

Patois is speech or language that is considered nonstandard, although the term is not formally defined in linguistics. As such, patois can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars, but not commonly to jargon or slang, which are vocabulary-based forms of cant.

Shelta is a language spoken by Irish Travellers, particularly in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is widely known as the Cant, to its native speakers in Ireland as De Gammon, and to the linguistic community as Shelta. It was often used as a cryptolect to exclude outsiders from comprehending conversations between Travellers, although this aspect is frequently over-emphasised. The exact number of native speakers is hard to determine due to sociolinguistic issues but Ethnologue puts the number of speakers at 30,000 in UK, 6,000 in Ireland, and 50,000 in the US. The figure for at least the UK is dated to 1990; it is not clear if the other figures are from the same source.

In sociolinguistics a variety, also called a lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include languages, dialects, registers, styles, or other forms of language, as well as a standard variety. The use of the word "variety" to refer to the different forms avoids the use of the term language, which many people associate only with the standard language, and the term dialect, which is often associated with non-standard varieties thought of as less prestigious or "correct" than the standard. Linguists speak of both standard and non-standard (vernacular) varieties. "Lect" avoids the problem in ambiguous cases of deciding whether two varieties are distinct languages or dialects of a single language.

LGBT slang, LGBT speak or gay slang is a set of slang lexicon used predominantly among LGBT people. It has been used in various languages, including English and Japanese, since the early 1900s as a means by which members of the LGBT community can identify themselves and speak in code with brevity and speed to others.

Pachuco

Pachuco refers to a subculture of Chicanos and Mexican-Americans, associated with zoot suits, street gangs, nightlife, and flamboyant public behavior. The idea of the pachuco – a zoot-suited, well-dressed, street-connected flamboyant playboy of Hispanic/Latino heritage – originated in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, had moved north, following the line of migration of Mexican railroad workers ("traqueros") into Los Angeles, where it developed further.

A cant is the jargon or argot of a group, often employed to exclude or mislead people outside the group.

Australian Aboriginal English (AAE) refers to a dialect of Australian English used by a large section of the Indigenous Australian population. It is made up of a number of varieties which developed differently in different parts of Australia. These varieties are generally said to fit along a continuum ranging from light forms, close to Standard Australian English, to heavy forms, closer to Kriol. There are generally distinctive features of accent, grammar, words and meanings, as well as language use. AAE is not to be confused with Kriol, which is a separate language from English spoken by over 30,000 people in Australia. Speakers have been noted to tend to change between different forms of AAE depending on whom they are speaking to, e.g. striving to speak more like Australian English when speaking to a non-Indigenous English-speaking person.

An anti-language is a language created and used by an anti-society. An anti-society is a small, separate community intentionally created within a larger society as an alternative to or resistance of it. For example, Adam Podgorecki studied one anti-society composed of Polish prisoners; Bhaktiprasad Mallik of Sanskrit College studied another composed of criminals in Calcutta. Anti-languages are developed by these societies as a means to prevent outsiders from understanding their communication, and as a manner of establishing a subculture that meets the needs of their alternative social structure. Anti-languages differ from slang and jargon in that they are used solely among ostracized or rebellious social groups including prisoners, criminals, homosexuals, and teenagers. Anti-languages use the same basic vocabulary and grammar as their native language in an unorthodox fashion. For example, anti-languages borrow words from other languages, create unconventional compounds, or utilize new suffixes for existing words. Anti-languages may also change words using metathesis, back formation, or by substituting their consonants. Therefore, anti-languages are distinct and unique, and are not simply dialects of existing languages.

Sexual slang is a set of linguistic terms and phrases used to refer to sexual organs, processes, and activities; they are generally considered colloquial rather than formal or medical, and some may be seen as impolite or improper.

References

  1. 1 2 "Slang". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  2. "A Brief History of slang". Films on Demand. Films Media Group. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  3. "Slang". Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  4. 1 2 Dumas, Bethany K.; Lighter, Jonathan (1978). "Is Slang a Word for Linguists?". American Speech. 53 (5): 14–15. doi:10.2307/455336.
  5. Adams, Michael (2009). Slang: The People's Poetry.
  6. Partridge, Eric (2002). A dictionary of slang and unconventional English (Slang itself being slang for Short Language) : colloquialisms and catch phrases, fossilized jokes and puns, general nicknames, vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalized (8th ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-29189-7.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Dickson, Paul (2010). Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms. ISBN   0802718493.
  8. 1 2 3 Coleman, Julie. Life of slang (1. publ. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0199571996.
  9. Girder, John (1988). Warbirds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator. Texas A & M University Press.
  10. Merry, Stephanie (29 March 2018). "'As if': 40 comedies from the past 40 years that changed the way we talk". Washington Post. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  11. 1 2 3 Mattiello, Elisa (2008). An introduction to English slang: a description of its morphology, semantics and sociology. Milano: Polimetrica. ISBN   8876991131.
  12. It should, perhaps, be pointed out that the Oxford English Dictionary defines foxy as 'foxlike; of the nature or appearance of a fox; esp. crafty, cunning' and cites an example from Tennyson.
  13. Mitchell, Anthony (December 6, 2005). "A Leet Primer" . Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  14. "Slang Dictionary".
  15. Garber, Megan. "'Friend,' as a Verb, Is 800 Years Old". https://www.theatlantic.com/ . Retrieved 2 December 2014.External link in |website= (help)
  16. Moss, Caroline. "Our Updated Guide To Twitter Slang, Lingo, Abbreviations And Acronyms". http://www.businessinsider.com/ . Retrieved 2 December 2014.External link in |website= (help)
  17. Fortunato, Joe. "The Hashtag: A History Deeper than Twitter". www.copypress.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  18. Rowe, Bruce M., and Diane P. Levine. 2012. A Concise Introduction to Linguistics 3rd edition. Boston: Prentice Hall. ISBN   978-0205051816