British slang and its classification

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1.1 Tasks of the course work

1.2 Definition of slang


2.1 The origin of slang.

2.2 Types of slang.

a) Cockney rhyming slang

b)  Polari

c)  Internet slang

d)  Slang of army police

e)  Money slang

2.3. Phonetic peculiarities of slang

2.4. Morphological characteristics of slang




Slang is a language which takes off its coat

spits on its hands - and goes to work.

Carl Sandburg


1.1 Tasks of the course work

The understanding of the native speakers' language is the international problem for our people. Our secondary schools teach the students only the bases of the English language. Our universities do not prepare them to the British streets accommodations pubs where people use their own language the language that differs from that of their parents. They use other words- they use slang. None of the most advanced and flexible ways of teaching English of any country can catch modern quickly developing English.

Some scholars divide the English language into two different languages: the Standard English language and slang. This fact proves that slang comes to be a very numerous part of English. Ignorance of slang causes a great miscommunication between students and native speakers.

The language of the previous centuries contrasts from the modern language. The life does not freeze in the same position. It always develops. And it makes the language develop too. That is why the present work is devoted to this social phenomenon.

The aim of my course paper is to analyze different approaches to the definition of slang to determine the most important groups of the British slang to show its lexical phonetic and morphological peculiarities.

The object of my study is the wealth of English language ambiguity of its vocabulary and the most common rules of slang usage in Britain.

The subjects of my research are various points of view on slang its history and types and linguistic characteristics common for the British slang.

Choosing the topic of my investigation I `m perfectly aware of the fact that slang is unlimited so it is almost impossible to analyze every word of it. I hope to summarize different points of view on slang and it is my hope that more readers should discover this interesting layer of the English language. Although the work could hardly cover all the aspects of the phenomenon the task is as exciting as challenging.

To achieve the set aim I determine the following tasks:

1. to search the origin of slang;

2. to study the words' transition through English vocabulary;

3. to study the problem of the classification of slang;

4. to understand the aim of the modern usage of slang;

5. to distinguish different kinds of slang;

6. to study the ways of slang word- formation;

7. to analyze phonetic peculiarities of slang;

8. to compare the results of the analysis.

1.2 Definition of slang

Every adult speaker has a concept of slang--knowing at the least that some words and expressions transgress generally accepted norms of formality or appropriateness and in some way do not fit the measure of what "good" language is. Despite such recognition by almost all speakers scholars with formal training in linguistic analysis have almost ignored slang--though they acknowledge having the same intuitions about this type of vocabulary as do all speakers. In truth most linguists have given no more thought to slang than have people who claim no expertise in language. In the English-speaking world in particular the description of the form and function of slang has been left largely to lexicographers rather than to others who study language for a living.

Webster’s "Third New International Dictionary" gives the following definition of the term slang:

1. Language peculiar to a particular group as:

a) the special and often secret vocabulary used by a class (as thieves beggars) and usually felt to be vulgar or inferior: argot;

b) the jargon used by or associated with a particular trade profession or field of activity.

2. A non-standard vocabulary composed of words and senses characterized primary by connotations of extreme informality and usually a currency not limited to a particular region and composed typically of coinages or arbitrarily changed words clipped or shortened forms extravagant forced or facetious figures of speech or verbal novelties usually experiencing quick popularity and relatively rapid decline into disuse.

The "New Oxford English Dictionary" defines slang as follows:

a) the special vocabulary used by any set of persons of a low or disreputable character; language of a low and vulgar type;

b) the cant or jargon of a certain class or period;

c) language of a highly colloquial type considered as below the level of standard educated speech and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense."

As it is seen from these quotations slang is represented both as a special vocabulary and as a special language. This causes confusion. If this is a certain lexical layer than why should it be given the rank of language or a dialect of even a patois and then it should be characterized not only by its peculiar use of words but also by phonetic morphological and syntactical peculiarities.

In general all linguists agree that slang is nonstandard vocabulary composed of words or senses characterized primarily by connotations of extreme informality and usually by a currency not limited to a particular region. It is composed typically of coinages or arbitrarily changed words clipped or shortened forms extravagant forced or facetious figures of speech or verbal novelties. They are identified and distinguished by contrasting them to standard literary vocabulary. They are expressive mostly ironical words serving to create fresh names for some things that are frequent topics of discourse.[1]

Slang consists of the words and expressions that have escaped from the cant jargon and argot (and to a lesser extent from dialectal nonstandard and taboo speech) of specific subgroups of society so that they are known and used by an appreciable percentage of the general population even though the words and expressions often retain some associations with the subgroups that originally used and popularized them. Thus slang is a middle ground for words and expressions that have become too popular to be any longer considered as part of the more restricted categories but that are not yet (and may never become) acceptable or popular enough to be considered informal or standard. (Compare the slang "hooker" and the standard "prostitute.")

Slang fills a necessary niche in all languages. It can serve as a bridge or a barrier either helping both old and new words that have been used as "insiders' " terms by a specific group of people to enter the language of the general public or on the other hand preventing them from doing so. Thus for many words slang is a testing ground that finally proves them to be generally useful appealing and acceptable enough to become standard or informal. For many other words slang is a testing ground that shows them to be too restricted in use not as appealing as standard synonyms or unnecessary frivolous faddish or unacceptable for standard or informal speech. For still a third group of words and expressions slang becomes not a final testing ground that either accepts or rejects them for general use but becomes a vast limbo a permanent holding ground an area of speech that a word never leaves

Slang words cannot be distinguished from other words by sound or meaning. In fact most slang words are homonyms of standard words spelled and pronounced just like their standard counterparts as for example slang words for money such as beans brass dibs dough chinc oof wards; the slang synonyms for word head are attic brain-pan hat peg nut upper storey; drunk- boozy cock-eyed high soaked tight and pot (marijuana). Of course these words are alike in their ordinary standard use and in their slang use. Each word sounds just as appealing or unappealing dull or colorful in its standard as in its slang use. Also the meanings of beans and money head and attic pot and marijuana are the same so it cannot be said that the connotations of slang words are any more colorful or racy than the meanings of standard words.[2]

All languages countries and periods of history have slang. This is true because they all have had words with varying degrees of social acceptance and popularity.

The same linguistic processes are used to create and popularize slang as are used to create and popularize all other words. That is all words are created and popularized in the same general ways; they are labeled slang only according to their current social acceptance long after creation and popularization.

To fully understand slang one must remember that a word's use popularity and acceptability can change. Words can change in social level moving in any direction. Thus some standard words of William Shakespeare's day are found only in certain modern-day British dialects. Words that are taboo in one era (e.g. stomach thigh) can become accepted standard words in a later era. Many prove either useful enough to become accepted as standard or informal words or too faddish for standard use. Blizzard and okay have become standard while conbobberation ("disturbance") and tomato ("girl") have been discarded. Some words and expressions have a lasting place in slang; for instance beat it ("go away") first used in the 16th century has neither become Standard English nor vanished.

Language is dynamic and at any given time hundreds and perhaps thousands of words and expressions are in the process of changing from one level to another of becoming more acceptable or less acceptable of becoming more popular or less popular.

Slang is very informal use of words and phrases for more colorful or peculiar style of expression that is shared by the people in the same social subgroup for example computer slang sports slang military slang musicians’ slang students’ slang underworld slang etc. Slang is not used by the majority of native speakers and many people consider it vulgar though quite a few slang phrases have already come into standard usage. Slang contains many obscene and offensive words and phrases. It also has many expressions that are acceptable in informal communication. Slang is highly idiomatic. It is flippant irreverent indecorous; it may be indecent or obscene. Its colorful metaphors are generally directed at respectability and it is this succinct sometimes witty frequently impertinent social criticism that gives slang its characteristic flavor. Slang then includes not just words but words used in a special way in a certain social context. The origin of the word slang itself is obscure; it first appeared in print around 1800 applied to the speech of disreputable and criminal classes in London.

Language is the property of a community of speakers. People rarely speak or write with only themselves as the audience. It should not be surprising then that some components and forms of language are socially motivated. Slang is one kind of vocabulary that serves the social nature of language. In an important article in 1978 Bethany Dumas and Jonathan Lighter make the crucial point that slang must be identified by its social consequences by the effects its use has on the relationship between speaker and audience.

Dumas and Lighter posit four criteria for identifying a word or phrase as slang .[3]

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 familiarity either with the referent or with that less statusful or less responsible class of people who have such special familiarity and use the term.

3. It is a tabooed term in ordinary discourse with persons of higher social rank 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.

They conclude that "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". In other words Dumas and Lighter's formulation requires that the type of lexis called slang be recognized for its power to effect union between speaker and hearer. Whether or not the particulars of their definition are necessary or sufficient Dumas and Lighter are right. Slang cannot be defined independent of its functions and use.

Despite the difficulties of defining the term slang does have some consistent characteristics.[4] Slang is lexical rather than phonological or syntactic though in English at least body language and intonation are often important in signaling that a word or phrase is to be interpreted as slang. Nor is there a peculiarly slang syntax. Slang expressions do not follow idiosyncratic word order and slang words and phrases typically fit into an appropriate grammatical slot in an established syntactic pattern. Furthermore the productive morphological processes responsible for slang are the same ones responsible for the general vocabulary i.e. for English compounding affixation shortening and functional shift.


Slang derives much of its power from the fact that it is clandestine forbidden or generally disapproved of. So what happens once it is accepted even in some cases embraced and promoted by ‘mainstream’ society? Not long ago the Oxford English Dictionary characterized slang as ‘low and disreputable’; in the late 1970s the pioneering sociolinguist Michael Halliday used the phrase ‘anti-language’ in his study of the speech of criminals and marginals. For him theirs was an interestingly ‘pathological’ form of language. The first description now sounds quaintly outmoded while the second could be applied to street gangs – today’s posses massives or sets – and their secret codes. Both however involve value judgments which are essentially social and not linguistic. Attitudes to the use of language have changed profoundly over the last three decades and the perceived boundaries between ‘standard’ and ‘unorthodox’ are becoming increasingly ‘fuzzy’.

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