Most important of all my papers this semester was the 4-7 page research essay. Worth a whopping 120 points, this one concerned me. However, I believe it turned out well (as is attested to by my grade!) and that it is worth sharing here.
Slang Unites, Slang Divides
Recycled, Innovative, and Collaborative
The slang that is used in standard American English separates and unites social groups such as ages, economic classes, and races. Slang is often recycled from generation to generation, high collar individuals use different words than the homeless, and African American Vernacular English is clearly different from Chicano English. As a result, the average 16 year old will most likely understand other people in his or her age group better than they would, say, a 70 year old grandfather. The same concept can be applied in turn to each of the other concepts mentioned.
Slang is Creative
This raises the question of what slang actually is. Slang can be eloquently defined as, “…the start of fancy, imagination and humor, breathing into its nostrils the breath of life’” (Dalzel). In other words, slang invites new and creative ways of self expression into language, allows both embellishment and simplicity into all forms of communication, and gives new windows of possibility into satire and impels ecstasy in living. It is often created, quite simply, by reusing words from previous generations. Research asserts that very fact, as demonstrated by past research and documentation, “At North Carolina in 1851... to study hard at the last minute was to cram” (Eble) and, “The appropriation of ‘fly’ as a prime piece of the vocabulary of hip-hop and rap in the 1980s was no more than a salvage operation from the slang of jazz musicians of the 1930’s, which in turn drew from the 1870s” (Dalzel).
The definition of a dialect, as asserted by Eble is “any regional, social or ethnic variety of a language” (Sociolinguistics Basics). By that definition, slang could be called a dialect. In the south people put groceries in sacks rather than bags, the average student will not speak the same way as a professor, and of course there is the slang more commonly used in African American Vernacular discourse rather than in the dialect of the Boston area. Although, some forms of slang are pouring out into other areas of speech. For example, Eble also states that “White adolescents might speak approvingly of the style of a peer by saying she money or he be jammin’” (Sociolinguistics Basics).
Practically everybody, in one social circumstance or another, will use slang. People from every walk of life go through their day inadvertently saying words like ‘yo’, ‘sup?’ or even ‘fo shizzle!’. Slang is often enjoyable to use as well, can be illustrated as “by design, slang is wittier and more clever than standard English” (Dalzel). By it’s very nature, slang is fun!
Quite often slang is more effective at describing sex, sports, and alcohol/drug related experiences, as is also alluded to by Tom Dalzell. It also shows allegiance to a specific group, this can be demonstrated as how “When slang is used, there is a subject to the primary message” (Dalzel). In other words, only members of the assemblage will understand the slang that is being used. It creates a sense of commonality amongst the speakers and forges intimacy of speech.
Bias Towards Slang
With unmitigated frequency, those people who use informal English regularly can be unjustly classified or even prejudiced against. Code-switching (alternating between two languages) while they speak, or just their using rarer dialects, can also be contributing factor to the misunderstandings. This problem can be concisely summarized as “Often, children who speak non-standard dialects may be inaccurately classified as ‘not knowing much English’ or even ‘having a speech defect’” (Fought).
More dangerous than the changes brought by slang to communities and even America as a whole, is the bias against those who speak differently than the established norm. Often it is assumed that if speech is broken then the speakers mind must be as well. This is attested to by Amy Tan, who recalls how she herself believed that because her mother’s speech was “fractured” her mother’s thoughts were as well “…because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect” (Tan).
Together in Slang
Just as much as slang separates people, sparks debates, and angers those of older generations or different races, it also brings people together into a complete unit. Slang is not just conjunctions, linking vowels in new way, or dropping consonants. It is a dialect all of its own. As such, those who speak it have something in common, a way to belong. One creative way to view this bonding amongst people can be pronounced to be “Because ‘tribe’ identity is so important, slang as a powerful and graphic manifestation of that identity’s benefits” (Dalzel). There is safety in numbers, and expressing your belonging to a group is something both accidentally and intentionally done by everyone.
Needless to say, there are specific groups of people who use the same slang; it is not uniform all over America. “...youth is the most powerful stimulus for the creation and distribution of slang” (Dalzel). Naturally then, of course each generation will speak its own individual dialect. There are also varieties of language spoken within an ethnic group. For example, there are two predominant varieties of speech spoken by African Americans: the vernacular African-American English, as well as a standard African-American English.
In bilingual situations (such as might happen in a Hispanic community), there is even more room for creativity within language. Far more forms of slang are available to them. The bilingual can code-switch between two languages, making them not inadequate in either, but very fluent in both. Sometimes, however, in immigrant families a new dialect is created because of how tightly knit a community may become. Some families may be segregated from the outside world by language barriers, and thus have their own dialect of “standard” as well as slang. This can be demonstrated by Tan, who found that those communities became more “insular”.
Slang is Fun, Funky, and Functional
Overall, slang is beneficial for social groups. It allows us to feel unified with other people, enhances some descriptive modes of speech, and practices recycling! Everybody uses it, although not everybody understands it. This concept could not be demonstrated better than as “Of all the vernacular, slang is the most spectacular. Slang Swings. Slang moves and grooves. Slang rocks, slang rules.” (Dalzel).
Dalzell, Tom. “The Power of Slang.” www.pbs.com/speak. National Endowment for the Humanities, 2005. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
Eble, Connie. “Campus Talk.” www.pbs.com/speak. National Endowment for the Humanities, 2005. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
- - -. “Sociolinguistics Basics.” www.pbs.com/speak. National Endowment for the Humanities, 2005. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
Fought, Carmen. “Watch Your Language.” www.pbs.com/speak. National Endowment for the Humanities, 2005. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Patterns for College Writing: A Rhetorical Reader and Guide. Comp. Pine Tree Composition, Inc. Ed. John Sullivan, Ryan Sullivan, and Karen S. Henry. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/. Martin’s, 2010. 477-482. Print.
I feel as though this was very repetative, but for an introduction piece to sociolinguistics it would be adiquate.