Language, Style and slang

Lefteris Kailoglou
University of Worcester
[email protected]
Everybody talks about it
Can it be defined?
Does it exist?
If it exists, can we describe it and, therefore,
define it?
Aussie Vs Kiwi slang:
 (vocabulary)
 (slang) Aussie slang mate
 (Australian slang; controversial)
Bald as a bandicoot: completely bald (<a rat)
Dinkum, dinky, dinky-di: genuine, right (dinkum
Aussie: real Aussie)
Full as a goog: dead drunk (goog<egg)
Hoon/yobbo: loutish youth
Ocker: archetypical, uncultivated Aussie man
Prang: minor car accident
Sanger/Sanga: sandwich
Sheila: girl (a beaut Sheila: an attractive girl)
Shortening of words: Beaut <beautiful; Words ending
in the suffix –o or –y/-ie . Examples: Arvo (afternoon),
Tinnie (for a can of beer)
Slang must be distinguished from other
subjects of the lexicon such as regionalisms or
dialect words (you all/y’all in south US),
jargon, profanity and obscenity, colloquialism,
and cant or argot- although slang shares some
characteristics with each of these and can
overlap with them. (Eble 1996:19)
Cant/Argot: the specialised and sometimes secret
language of thieves and other groups at the fringes
of society
Sometimes words that start out as the jargon of a
particular group become slang for a wider group
(‘ice’ for ‘diamonds’)
In other instances, words pass from the jargon of a
group into the general vocabulary without ever
being slang (e.g. input, output)
Slang is colloquial but not all colloquial
expressions are slang (‘Shut up’ is not slang)
Dialect: variation according to region
Style: Variation according to user
Register: Variation according to use/topic
Jargon: specific vocabulary associated with a
group, mostly professional, e.g. doctors, lawyers,
linguists, or with a hobby/interest
Jargon examples (army jargon: jam, ejecta)
Where does slang fit in? (army slang: chicken
colonel/full colonel, John Wayne/militarily
Slang: specific words and phrases
Slang includes many obscene words but not all slang
words/phrases are obscene
Patois (English pronunciation: /ˈpætwɑː/, pl.
/ˈpætwɑːz/[1][2]) is any language that is considered
nonstandard, although the term is not formally defined
in linguistics. It can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects,
and other forms of native or local speech, but not
commonly to jargon or slang, which are vocabularybased forms of cant. Class distinctions are embedded in
the term, drawn between those who speak patois and
those who speak the standard or dominant language
used in literature and public speaking, i.e., the
"acrolect". (wikipedia here, but it’s a nice description)
a dialect. One variety among many. However
it is not associated with any specific accent.
a purely social (not geographic) dialect.
is different from the other dialects not
phonologically but in some of its grammatical
SE fails to distinguish between the forms of auxiliary forms of the verb do and its main verb forms. This is true
both of the present tense, where many other dialects distinguish between aux. did and main verb done, as in
You done it, did you?
SE has an unusual and irregular Present Tense verb morphology in that only the 3rd sing. receives
morphological marking: he goes Vs he go. Many other dialects use either zero for all persons or –s for all
SE lacks multiple negation, so that no choice is available between I don’t want none, which is not possible, and I
don’t want any. Most non-standard variities of English around the world permit multiple negation.
SE has an irregular formation of reflexive pronouns, with some forms based on the possessive pronouns e.g.
myself, and others on the objective pronouns, e.g. hisself, theirselves.
SE fails to distinguish between 2nd person sing. and pl. forms, having you in both cases. Many non-standard
dialects maintain the older English distinction between thou and you, or have developed newer distinctions
such as you versus youse.
SE has irregular forms of the verb to be both in the present tense (am, is, are) and in the past (was, were).
Many non-standard dialects have the same form for all persons, such as I be, you be, s/he be, we be, they be,
and I were, you were, he were, we were, you were, they were.
In the case of many irregular verbs, SE redundantly distinguishes between preterite and perfect verb forms
both by the use of the auxiliary have and by the use of distinct preterite and past participle forms: I have seen
Vs I seen.
SE has only a two-way contrast in its demonstrative system, with this (near to the speaker) opposed to that
(away from the speaker). Many other dialects have a three-way system involving a further distinction,
between for example that (near to the listener) and yon (away from both speaker and listener).
I didn’t do nothing to nobody (multiple
I didn’t do anything to anybody (single
I never threw it (never as past-tense
I didn’t throw it (didn’t as a negative in the past
I’m not keen on them films (them as
demonstrative adjective)
I’m not keen on those films (those as
demonstrative adjective
Six pound of potatoes, please (plural
without markedness)
Six pounds of potatoes, please (plural marked by
The boy played brilliant (adjective form as
The boy played brilliantly (suffix –ly)
I’m going up London (shortened
preposition form)
I’m going up to London (complex preposition up
He did it hisself (patterned on my(self),
your(self), his (self))
He did it himself (breaking the regular pattern of
the previous example)
Cf. Coupland 1988
What as a relative pronoun: the book what was
on sale
There’s/There was + plural: there was loads of
Be + Sat/Stood: She was sat/stood on the other
side of the room
Rhys 2007; Cheshire and Milroy 1993)
Innovation is central to the notion of slang
Innovation is a general characteristic of slang
The rapid rate of innovation in slang just
makes it more visible
Innovation in slang follows the same
patterns/devices as in other aspects of
Semantic Neologisms
 Word-formation
 Borrowing
The same means are used in slang
Words: addiction, assassination, comply, consign,,
compulsive, denote, discontent, domineering,
exhale, generous, hostile, investment, luggage,
obscene, pious, protester, retirement, survivor,
supervise, tranquil, unreal, useful
Phrases: neither here nor there, breathe one’s last, cheer
up, a foregone conclusion, the long and the short of
it, good riddance, household name, salad days,
seamy side, tower of strength, with bated breath
About half the words Shakespeare coined remain in
English today. Others underwent semantic shift;
some fell out of use, either immediately or gradually.
Linguistic Innovators: the English of Adolescents in London,
(Kerswill and Cheshire ) :
 the effects of a multiracial vernacular…on mainstream
speech’ from a dialectal, a phonological point of view.
 an emergent common vernacular, a dialect, heavily
influenced by Afrocaribbean and Asian speech patterns,
spoken by young people across swathes of Greater
 There is a possibility that this variety may well have a
lasting effect because those social pressures that stop
people taking their youthful language practices forward
into middle age are no longer in place.
 Factors: the print and broadcast media, other electronic
interactions and peer-pressure on the street and in the
playground actually encourage this blurring of
generations and blurring of distinctions between
‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ usage (pp4-5)
Word formation types common to other colloquial
varieties of MG (e.g. derivational suffixes –ias, -akias, atos, -iaris, -dhiko, -menos)
Some genuine nonstandard formation types specific to
teenage slang and in certain argots of MG
Innovative use of known formation types, often with a
shift in semantic function
Several suffixes can be combined with unusual bases
(anetos<anet-ia ‘cool’)
Idiomatic construction patterns
Specific syntactic features
Semantic neologism
Back slang
slang is an ever changing set of colloquial
words and phrases that speakers use to
establish or reinforce social identity or
cohesiveness within a group or with a trend or
fashion in society at large (Eble 1996)
Dumas and Lighter (1978, 14-16) reject the classical formula
for definition and instead propose four identifying criteria
for slang.
1. Its presence will markedly lower, at least for the moment, the
dignity of formal or serious speech or writing.
2. Its use implies the user’s special familiarity either with the referent
or with that less statusful or less responsible class of people who have
such special familiarity and use of the term.
3.It is a tabooed term in ordinary discourse with persons of
higher social status or greater responsibility.
4. It is used in place of the well-known conventional synonym,
especially in order a) to protect the user from the discomfort
caused by the conventional item or b) to protect the user from
the discomfort or annoyance of further elaboration.
when something fits at least two of the criteria,
a linguistically sensitive audience will react to
it in a certain way. This reaction which cannot
be measured, is the ultimate identifying
characteristic of true slang”…None of the four
criteria is formal, for slang is not distinct in form….
Similar to studies of their school-aged counterparts (Harris
1997, 2006; Leung, Harris, and Rampton 1997; Rampton 2005), the
students display a strong affiliation to the local vernacular, in this case
London English (Harris 2006), which they consistently refer to as
‘slang’. They construct a ‘slang/posh’ dichotomy to contrast the
language practices of their peers with those of the academic
While some of the female students in my study appeared ready to
balance their ‘slang’ and ‘posh’ selves, most of the students
seemed reluctant to embrace the ‘posh’ language and literacy
practices of the academic community and to display academic
This may well be a hangover from schooling, in which students
learn to balance (or not) popularity and high academic
achievement to avoid the risk of being ostracized (Frosh et al.
2002; Jackson 2006; Francis 2009); as such, it seems related to life
stage, gender and popular culture.
Slang is ephemeral
Sometimes a new slang form either replaces an
earlier one or provides another synonym for a
notion already named in slang
Sometimes new slang extends to new areas of
meaning or to areas of meaning of recent
interest to the group inventing the slang
Some slang terms come back for a second and
third life
Main ideas:
Interrelation between lexical innovation and
grammaticalisation processes
Mostly lexical items and certain discourse items (terms
of address, formulaic expressions, discourse markers)
Slang research not ideally conducted via
Relation to adolescent networks and particular
Distinction between youth specific slang-items from
general slang ones remains vague (Cf. Adams 2009)
Corpus of 2,000 words (face-to-face and mediated
discourse); (1990-1995) recorded conversations,
interviews, informal letters and youth magazines
Nominal endings
Compound words
Malapropism constructions
Greek and English compounds
Formations based on a new root + usual nominal
Formations based on an existing root + usual ending,
combined in a new way
Words with obscure meaning
Obscene words about religion and the saints
Formations based on the change of gender
Back slang
Three groups with different socio-cultural styles
Invitation by an insider of the group
Ethnographic observation
Recordings took place between 2005-2008 (more than 20hrs)
Analysis of 12 hours of natural speech (4 each group); video and
audio recordings
Three communities of practice (Wenger& Lave 1991, Wenger 1998,
Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 1992, Eckert 2000)
Trendy Group: mainstream, 9 persons, male majority, age 22-27,
pop music, designer clothes, holidays: Paros & Mykonos, quest for
not being uncritically mainstream
The Parea: alternative/non-mainstream, 15 persons, male
majority, age 27-35, electronica/brit-pop/world music, mixed
clothing style, holidays: Elafonissos & Gavdos, quest for
differentiation from the mainstream,
The Cavemen: alternative/hard-core/non-mainstream, 8 persons,
male, rock music, mixed clothing style, holidays: Gavdos, quest
from differentiation from the mainstream
There are four main aspects which characterise the style of all
three groups:
the construction of new words,
the use of unusual metaphors,
the use of slang, and
the use of taboo language
These are all means for creativity and are inextricably intertwined
(e.g. Adams 2009:44-45 & 112-113, Eble 1996: 67-68, Kovezses 2010: 35,
Kailoglou forthcoming)
Shannon (1992) sees metaphor as a prime instrument for the
creation of novelty, too, and argues that “metaphor confronts one
with incongruence” which is highly reminiscent of a typical
feature of humour
‘’A community of practice is an aggregate of people who
come together around mutual engagement in some common
endeavour.’’ (Wenger& Lave 1991, Wenger 2000, Eckert &
McConnell-Ginet 1992, Eckert 2000)
Stylistic Practice (bricolage)
Bricolage consists of the processes by which people acquire
objects from across social divisions to create new meanings
(Hebdige 1979)
‘’Jocks’’ and ‘’Burnouts’’ in Belten High (Eckert 2000)
Co-construction of linguistic and social meanings
Signs have meaning as part of a system
Linguistic meaning (denotatio): Knackered
Social meaning (connotatio): (informal,
Social meaning is created in interaction and
stylistic processes making use of connotational
Style is a combination of connotations
End product: One’s Identity
Identity as Distinction (i.e. as opposition to preexisting signs and meanings)
The issue of authenticity
The approaches to style
Structure Vs Agency
Audience Vs Speaker
Fixed Social Categories Vs Fluid Formations
Identity Vs Personna
Indexical Processes
Correlation of Independent Social Variables
with Dependent Linguistic Variables
Aims: a) To describe linguistic variation b) To
explain it
A linguistic variable is a linguistic unit (of any
level of linguistic analysis) which consists of at
least two variants.
The occurrence of each variant depends on
linguistic (e.g. the linguistic context) and/or
social (characteristics of the speaker, social
context etc.) conditioning factors.
Inter-speaker variation → Dialect (different
Intra-speaker variation→ Style (different
Social Class
Glottal stops
Linguistic variation may lead to language
change, but language change cannot occur
without the prior existence of variation!
The first wave : established broad correlations between
linguistic variables and the macrosociological
categories of socioeconomic class, sex, class, ethnicity,
and age.
The second wave: employed ethnographic methods to
explore the local categories and configurations that
inhabit, or constitute, these broader categories.
In both waves, variation was seen as marking social
Eckert 2012
(a) variation constitutes a robust social semiotic
system, potentially expressing the full range of social
concerns in a given community;
(b) the meanings of variables are underspecified, gaining
more specific meanings in the context of styles, and
(c) variation does not simply reflect, but also constructs,
social meaning and hence is a force in social change.
Variation also emerged as part of a broader
stylistic complex including territory and the full
range of consumption—such as adornment, food
and other substance use, musical tastes— that
jocks and burnouts exploit in constructing their
mutual opposition
stylistic practice:
speakers make social-semiotic moves, reinterpreting variables and
combining and recombining them in a continual process of bricolage
(Hebdige 1984)
This leads to the mutability of indexical signs
Indexicality (Silverstein 1993; 2003)
Indexical Order
Indexical Field (Eckert 2008)
meanings at any particular time constitute an indexical field (Eckert
2008)—a constellation of ideologically linked meanings, any region of
which can be
invoked in context.
A lifestyle can be defined as a more or less
integrated set of practices which an individual
embraces, not only because such practices fulfil
utilitarian needs, but because they give material
form to a particular narrative of self-identity
(Giddens 1991)
the new heroes of consumer culture make
lifestyle a life project and display their
individuality and sense of style in the
particularity of the assemblage of goods,
clothes, practices, experiences, appearance and
bodily dispositions they design together into a
lifestyle. (Featherstone 2007)
…Nor is it any more legitimate to attempt to explain the
contemporary subcultural scene with a conception that assumes a
homological unity of class-based practices, particularly one that
‘imposes a hermeneutic seal around the relationship between
musical and stylistic preference” (Bennet 1999:599).
It is common for members of a nebulous neo-tribal grouping to
demonstrate their enthusiasm for a wide range of musical dance
genres (Bennet 2000).
This somewhat paradoxicall expression of ‘widespread tastes’ in
underground sounds is one tactic by which ‘liminal’ youth
cultures attempt to accumulate ‘subcultural capital’ thereby
maintaining distinction from other, more “restrictive” (sub)groups and claiming authenticity of identity (Muggleton 2000)
Weinzierl & Muggleton 2003:7
Language and authenticity; how people lay claim to
authenticity through their speech
Postmodernism: The end of authenticity?
The role of media; subcultures are not authentic since
they are formed ‘inside the media’ (cf. Thornton 1995)
Claims to authenticity: Widdicombe and Woofit (1995)
interviewed members of subcultures who contrasted
their ‘deepness’ and ‘authenticity’ to the claimed
‘inauthenticity’ and ‘shallowness’ of others
The end of subcultures? A) increasingly fragmented,
and B)there can be no authentic subculture which is
media-free (Redhead 1997)
Despite post-modern assertions that hybrid eclectic
styles today make it more problematic for young
people to distinguish between themselves and other
youth cultures (Muggleton 1997:199), many young
people have no such difficulty in identifying varied
nightlife spaces inhabited by different social groups”.
(Chatterton and Hollands 2003)
Moreover, youth cultures are not unified but they have
internal hierarchies (with claims to authenticity)
(Thornton 1995)
distinctions are never simply statements of
equal difference they entail claims to authority,
authenticity and the presumed inferiority of
others (Thornton 1996; cf Bourdieu 1984))
Cultural hierarchies: ‘authentic’ vs ‘phoney’;
‘hip’ vs ‘mainstream’; ‘underground’ vs ‘the
media’ (Barker 2000)
can be objectified “in the form of fashionable haircuts
and well-assembled record collections (full of wellchosen, limited edition ‘white label’ twelve inches and
the like)”;
or embodied “in the form of being ‘in the know’, using
(but not over-using) current slang and looking as if you
were born to perform the latest dance styles”.
“Both cultural and subcultural capital put a premium
on the ‘second nature’ of their knowledges. Nothing
depletes capital more than the sight of someone trying
too hard”.
Three main types of nightlife consumption
spaces: mainstream, residual, and alternative
(Chatterton and Hollands 2003)
Exarheia Square, (Anarchists, Rockers,
Students, Hardcore, Electro)
Kolonaki Square,
(businessmen/businesswomen, intellectuals,
stars, artists, politicians)
Mavili Square (“Alternative” youth, Rockers,
Students, Hardcore, Electro)
Alternative: originally a sub-genre of rock (Rock FM 96.9 ‘the
alternative radio of town’); extension: what is non-mainstream
Mainstream: Pop music (Greek and foreign, MTV, Radio stations
with hit lists); Urban, hip-hop etc.
Alternative tourism; Alternative cultivations (agriculture)
Socio-cultural terms and subcultural classifications do not have
the same meaning in different societies (e.g alternative, hard-core,
goth, emo); Global subcultures are reified differently in local
contexts (Chatterton and Hollands 2003); (cf. Pennycook 2010)
Time lapse: Brit-Pop in the UK mid-1990s, in Greece ‘2000s
Greece since the 1990s
Introduction of lifestyle magazines had already begun (late’80s):
Nitro, Klik, Men etc.
Private TV channels: Mega Channel, Antenna, Star Channel
New radio stations (private)
From a ‘society of need, to a society of consumption’ (Karakousis
The styles of the 3 groups are characterised by the use
of slang, neologisms, humour and unusual metaphors
Each of these features can be used to increase the
distance from the conventional/mainstream
Each group chose to use them to a different degree
according to what they perceive to be a desired level of
divergence from the conventional/mainstream
Food Stories
(description of a dish of deer leg) (‘There was a whole leg with the
hair in the hoof staring at you like the old lady. This from the
(‘Oh, malakas, you are crisps. Crisps. Simply, like that. Of such
quality [you are], crisps.)
(about food) (‘-Pastrami fucks. –What [do you mean] fucks?
Personally, my blood pressure is raised, malakas.’)
Taboo language/Swearing
 (‘You look awful, you suffered lead poisoning’)
 (‘You have the psycho-synthesis of a transsexual, malakas’)
 (‘Do not breathe again. Never.’)
(‘Τhese, they are some goat-calves who say Vatatzí’.)
 (‘Gosh, they are both stupid, re my child. Anti-football-faces
that is. They are not human (commenting on the hosts of a
sport show on TV’).
 (“Although we are by definition little men; and the little
man as an animal…this is his phase (his nature). He is flockish, re my child. He cannot avoid it. And many animals are
flock-ish. Whatever the other little animals do, he does it
Playing Video Games
 (‘When we say ‘see that’, we do not mean for the other one to see
that. We mean ‘I fucked you’, did you understand?’)
 (‘Because I am Batman’!)
 (‘With all these arrows on you, you have become a Christmas tree.
You acquired roots
(‘You are the worst because you have the look of a cartoon
‘I fucked you and now I’m getting bored, so I will fuck you
(‘After that, I shall be sending you to buy me cigarettes
[meaning ‘I shall rule over you’]’).
(‘Right, Sir Vomit entered (the game) {meaning ‘someone
who ruins the game’).
(‘Play pistol to do El Paso [meaning ‘Use the pistol so we
shoot together’].
(‘We are talking about a schizophrenic size, when it [the boat] is
loaded [with cargo and passengers]’.)
(‘The biggest port in the world is Pireas, malakas; because the
ancient [Greeks] had dug the ocean with [their] cosmo-spheres.
Argo [the boat of the Argonauts] was actually a spacecraft,
malakas. And the Golden Fleece, malakas, was dioxide of what’s
its name.)
(talking about a woman allegedly innocent) (‘She looks like she
has swalowed a U-Boat. Where do you see the innocence’?)
(about Oprah Winfrey) (‘Her face is like a mackerel. She hits her
breasts like a baboon. If she was green, she would be Hulk’).
Dumas and Lighter (1978) criteria seem to be
the most satisfactory approach:
A) lowering formality,
B) indexicalities of familiarity with specific
C) taboo status, and
D) substitution of conventional synonyms
Slang and taboo language is used by all groups
Authenticity is not about fitting nicely in a prefabricated
subcultural label, but about originality expressed in the degree of
distance from the conventional/mainstream (cf. the posh/slang
dichotomy in London)
Slang is a means of authentication (as one of its indexicalities) and
a feature of specific stylistic constructions
Linguistic originality (incl. slang usages) is related to subcultural
affiliation as authenticity is linked to subcultural capital and status
Status acquisition is influenced by the ‘classnessness” of youth
club-cultures in late modernity
Slang meaning is linked to lifestyle practices and nightlife
consumption spaces in the construction of personas
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