British slang and its classification

Tony Thorne

Slang, style-shifting and sociableness

Brushs with what is slackly called & # 8216 ; slang & # 8217 ; in address or in print are omnipresent. In the UK & # 8216 ; well-brought-up & # 8217 ; talkers move easy in and out of slang in conversation and the old reluctance by the print and broadcast media to acknowledge slang footings has given manner to a inclination to embracing and in some instances to observe this highly informal degree of lexis. Interest in roll uping and analyzing slang is acute particularly among adolescent scholars, but in Britain, as opposed to the US and certain European states, instructors and faculty members have hitherto paid it small or no attending. Although there may be valid grounds for this – it is obvious that the survey of non-standard assortments of linguistic communication is of small usage in learning communicating accomplishments or fixing for scrutinies – we should remind ourselves that any disapproval of slang can merely be a societal and non a lingual opinion. Indeed, there are evidences for seeing slang, diffuse and unclear as it is as a class, as a peculiarly interesting facet of linguistic communication, both officially in that it mobilises all the morphological and metaphorical possibilities of English ( Eble 1996 25-60 ) – instead as poesy does, but without the dimension of allusiveness and ambiguity – and functionally in that it frequently occurs in association with heightened uneasiness and charged societal interactions. Lexical invention is besides, of class, a map of cultural alteration, notoriously raising jobs of decrypting by & # 8216 ; non-natives & # 8217 ; ( and some indigens, excessively ) , but worthy of attending for that really ground, particularly for working or trainee instructors and transcribers.

An obvious ground for taking to concentrate on slang is that it is itself a controversial and dramatic societal phenomenon, an & # 8216 ; alien & # 8217 ; facet of an otherwise predictable linguistic communication environment. An even better ground is that it is a assortment which belongs ( to a changing degree – of class some immature people are quite guiltless of non-standard uses ) to immature people themselves.

The recorded slangs of the yesteryear have been rather justly characterised by Halliday in footings of & # 8216 ; antilanguages & # 8217 ; , the close codifications of transgressive or aberrant subcultures – felons, mendicants, going entertainers – with their salient characteristics of relexicalisation and overlexicalisation ( Halliday 1978 ) . Later sociolinguists have focused on the function of adolescent slangs in the building of societal individuality, among for illustration street packs or high school pupils ( Labov 1982, Eckert 1989 ) , demoing how credence into and exclusion from peer-groups is mediated by slang terminology and nomenclature.

Research workers into adolescent linguistic communication use have tended to concentrate on the links between linguistic communication and hierarchies, position and deployment of societal capital. More late, nevertheless, some specializers have started to look at such & # 8216 ; carnivalesque & # 8217 ; manifestations as profaning, mischievousness, raillery and tease, the adoption of ethnically marked codifications to signal empathy and solidarity in & # 8216 ; traversing & # 8217 ; ( Rampton 1995 ) , and anticipated a alteration of accent in Bernstein & # 8217 ; s words & # 8216 ; from the laterality of adult-imposed and regulated rites to laterality of rites generated and regulated by youth & # 8217 ; ( Bernstein, cited in Rampton 2003 ) . None of these surveies has taken slang into history although there has been a supplication, once more by Rampton, for more attending to & # 8216 ; the societal symbolic facets of formulaic linguistic communication & # 8217 ; .

Eble, in the lone book-length survey in recent times devoted to North American campus slang, has shown that the slang of middle-class college pupils is more complex and less a merchandise of disaffection than has been assumed in the yesteryear ( Eble 1996 ) . Her recordings of interactions reveal, excessively, that the selective and witting usage of slang itself is merely portion of a broader repertory of style-shifting in conversation, non chiefly to implement resistance to authorization, closeness or societal favoritism, but frequently for the intents of bonding and & # 8216 ; sociableness & # 8217 ; through gaiety.

Eble & # 8217 ; s tally of pupil slang, collected at Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 1979, prompted the compilation of a similar database at King & # 8217 ; s College London. A rough classification of the London information ( as in the American study mostly donated by pupils instead than recorded in the field ) by semantic bunchs gives a image of pupil preoccupations that can be compared with the US findings ( Thorne 2004 forthcoming ) . Interpretation is debatable – for illustration, the big figure of footings for poisoning do non turn out that London pupils are needfully rummies, but suggest that they do bask speaking about inordinate behavior.

Probationary penetrations from the lexicology have been bolstered by analysis of conversations in which slang is used extensively. This besides shows in many instances that talkers are runing non as deficient or restricted linguists but as sceptered histrions, non precisely, in Claire Kramsch & # 8217 ; s phrase, the & # 8216 ; heteroglossic storytellers & # 8217 ; of recent myth, but enabled to change their linguistic communication schemes merely as they use gathering and bricolage
in their presentations of ego through frock, stance, gesture and accessorising.

By conveying the survey of slang into the schoolroom and assisting pupils to reflect upon their ain linguistic communication patterns – particularly on how they are potentially or really able to style-shift and thereby drama with individualities – we can sensitize them to issues of registry, appropriacy and semantic complexness. At a deeper degree we can research together what Bhabha calls the & # 8216 ; societal procedure of diction & # 8217 ; ( Bhabha 1992, cited in Kramsch 1997 ) and convey into drama pupils & # 8217 ; values, feelings and commitments.

If we turn from the chiefly monolingual, although multiethnic environment of the London campus to that of the international scholar, there seem to me to be possible experiential links which suggest themselves in footings of Byram and Zarates & # 8217 ; impression of the intercultural scholar ( 1994 ) and more particularly Kramsch & # 8217 ; s publicity of the & # 8216 ; 3rd infinite & # 8217 ; or & # 8216 ; 3rd topographic point & # 8217 ; , a metaphorical or existent scene in which linguistic communication scholars move beyond appropriation or assimilation and research the existent boundaries between themselves and others, and get down to concentrate less on the formal characteristics of linguistic communication and more on the ludic, aesthetic or affectional qualities of brushs across linguistic communications and civilizations ( Kramsch 1997 ) . It has been proposed that there are certain boundary acti

vities, including for case medley, re-telling of narratives and code-mixing, etc, that are particularly utile in this context. To these I would modestly propose that we could usefully add a figure of slang-based activities.

Of class slang itself has gone planetary ; there are now local loanblends, frequently integrating English lexis alongside the permeant effects of dominant inner-circle assortments such as the high school argot propagated by Hollywood films and Television soaps, and the black street codifications of blame and hip-hop. Authenticity – non merely a construct among analysts but an symbolic term for members of subcultures – is complicated by the development in the media and in literature of pseudo-slangs ( a phenomenon that goes back at least every bit far as Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse ) . Alleged practical or electronic literacies developing for the Internet, electronic mail or text messaging have generated new slangs and an tremendous proliferation of web sites designed to observe or decrypt them.

Looking at immature peoples & # 8217 ; small-culture codifications, whether these be wide-ranging alternate vocabularies or the narrower hobbyist ( surfboarding, DJ-ing ) or media-influenced ( pop music and manner ) or technological ( email, text-messaging, cyberspace ) vocabularies that shadiness into slang, revalues immature people as adept linguists and their ain experiences as worthwhile and meaningful. In about all civilizations there are illustrations of this expertness, sometimes besides affecting catch phrases, media quotation marks, one-liners, gags and wordplaies. Language crossing is besides a characteristic of many slangs, conveying into play the inquiry of lingual imperialism ( I recall lessons looking at Franglais, Chinglish and Spanglish, and, in Slovenia, debating the adoption of & # 8216 ; cool & # 8217 ; . )

Published stuffs showing English slang to international pupils have by and large been limited to glossaries ; a recent exclusion being the listening stuff prepared by Beglar and Murray ( 2002 ) . Expertness in slang by the way is non a demand of the instructor: definitions, usage counsel and even etymologies can be provided by mention stuffs or come from pupils themselves. In the schoolroom I have used componential and cultural analysis of slang keywords, comparing and contrast of slang vocabularies from assorted linguistic communications and parts, critical reading of slang in the media and literature and scripting of slang-rich interactions. Outside the schoolroom, pupils have carried out studies and descriptive anthropologies to detect slang use and uncover attitudes to it held by different address communities.

Halliday suggested that & # 8216 ; a survey of sociolinguistic pathology may take to extra penetration into the societal semiotic & # 8217 ; ( Halliday 1978 ) . I should underscore that focussing in this manner on stigmatised or forbidden linguistic communication, if it is culturally allowable at all, does non, in my experience, restrict scholars & # 8217 ; ability to run with privileged assortments ( whether & # 8216 ; British English & # 8217 ; or EIL ) ; it does non, as some fright, subvert standard use or devaluate it in the eyes of immature people but instead the antonym. It helps linguistic communication users to exteriorize the manner that spoken assortments can be fitted to contexts and enriches their sense of the possibilities of lexical assortment.

The thought of the stripling as the maestro or kept woman of his or her subcultural individuality and proprietor of his or her idiolect and sociolect is non new, nor is the impression of the intercultural scholar as a bilingual or multilingual histrion consciously runing across boundaries. What is still missing, nevertheless, are stuffs which set out the sort of & # 8216 ; boundary activities & # 8217 ; that instructors can pull upon in order to trip 3rd topographic points and empower scholars. I have suggested that slang is worthy of the attending of linguists in its ain right, but farther that, as an exciting and controversial signifier of linguistic communication which belongs to immature people and to youth civilization, it is a valuable entry-point into treatment of sociocultural issues, whether in a monolingual or multilingual scene. Using or speaking about slang is merely one of many experiences which can be mobilised & # 8216 ; at the boundaries & # 8217 ; in this manner, and as a concluding cri de coeur
I would add that whether or non we are interested in slang per Se
, the pressing demand is for practical, useable methods and stuffs – whether developed and exchanged informally or published commercially – which will assist the instruction of language-and-culture in the planetary schoolroom to catch up with and net income from a decennary or more of theory.


Andersson, L. G. and P. Trudgill. Bad Language.
London: Penguin Books,1990.

Beglar, D. and N. Murray. Contemporary Topics 3
. New York: Longman, 2002.

Crystal, D. Language Play
. London: Penguin Books,1998.

Dumas, B.and J. Lighter. & # 8220 ; Is slang
a word for linguists? & # 8221 ; American Speech
53 ( 1978 ) . 5 – 17

Eble, C. Slang and Sociability
. London and Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Eckert, P. Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and Identity in High School
.New York: Teacher & # 8217 ; s College Press, 1989.

Halliday, M.A.K. ( 1978 ) , Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning
, London: Edward Arnold.

Kramsch, C. ( 1997 ) , & # 8216 ; The cultural constituent of linguistic communication learning & # 8217 ; in Wadham-Smith ( erectile dysfunction ) British Studies Now 8
, London: British Council

Labov, T. ( 1982 ) , & # 8216 ; Social construction and peer nomenclature in a black stripling pack & # 8217 ; , in Language and Society 2
, 391 & # 8211 ; 411

Rampton, B ( 1995 ) , Traversing: Language and Ethnicity among Adolescents, Harlow and New York: Longman

Rodriguez Gonzalez, F. ( erectile dysfunction ) ( 2002 ) , Comunicacion y cultura juvenil
, Barcelona: Ariel

— — — — — — — — — — — — — – ( 2002 ) , El lenguaje de los jovenes
, Barcelona: Ariel

Sornig, Karl ( 1981 ) , Lexical Invention: A Study of Slang, Colloquialisms and Casual Speech
, Amsterdam: Benzoins

Thorne, T. ( 1998 ) , The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang ( New Edition )
, London: Bloomsbury.

— — — — — — — — — — — ( 2004 forthcoming ) & # 8216 ; Campus talk & # 8217 ; , in King & # 8217 ; s English
Vol 1.2, King & # 8217 ; s College London

Wierzbicka, A. ( 1997 ) , Understanding Cultures through their Key Words
, Oxford: Oxford University Press

This article foremost appeared in Multicultural Perspectives on English Language and Literature ( Tallinn/London 2004 )

A limited
time offer!
Save Time On Research and Writing. Hire a Professional to Get Your 100% Plagiarism Free Paper