Slang, jargonisms, vernacular and vulgarisms
Special colloquial vocabulary
There is hardly any other term that is as ambiguous and obscure as the term slang. Slang seems to mean everything that is below the standard of usage of present-day English.
Much has been said and written about it. This is probably due to the uncertainty of the concept itself. Having been subjected to a detailed linguistic specification the term slang has not been given a more or less satisfactory definition.
Some linguists, when characterizing the most conspicuous features of slang, point out that it requires continuous innovation. It never grows stale. If a slang word or phrase does become stale, it is replaced by a new slang. It is claimed that this satisfies the natural desire for fresh, newly created words and expressions, which give to an utterance emotional colouring and a subjective evaluation. The purpose of using slang words and expression is to escape the dull familiarity of standard words, and the established routine of everyday life, to make the utterance fresher and a little more personal.
This consideration of slang clearly shows that what is labelled slang is either all kinds of nonce-formations so frequently appearing in lively everyday speech and just as quickly disappearing from the language, or jocular words and word-combinations that are formed by using the various means of word-building existing in the language and also by distorting the form or sense of existing words. Consequently any new coinage that has not gained recognition and therefore has not yet been received into Standard English is easily branded as slang.
There are many kinds of slang, e.g. Cockney, public-house, commercial, society, military, theatrical, parliamentary and others. There is also a standard slang, the slang that is common to all those who, though employing received standard in their writing and speech, also use an informal language which, in fact, is no language but merely a way of speaking, using special words and phrases in some special sense.
The vast majority of slangy words are spicy and picturesque metaphors, metonymies, hyperbole and irony. The most popular images of slang are food, money, sex and sexual attraction, people’s appearance and character. For example there is a whole chain of slang synonyms denoting “money”:
ackers, cole, cly, gelt, moo, moolah, mopus, oof, spondulics, boot, chuck, hatdstuff, lettuce, lolly, green goods, hay, shoestring, bread, soap, salad, sugar, poke, iron, balsam, dust, brass, tin, fatcorn, red, sand, bundle, oil, shells, etc.
Slang expressions are created in basically the same way as standard speech. The words used as slang may be new coinages, existing words that have changed their meaning and have been widely adopted by the group who uses them or borrowings as in Ukrainian шарити, розчехлятися, капуста, зелень, гальмо, спікати, мані, гирла. Some slangy words that are used nowadays can have long history and even a definite author. E.g. Ukrainian slang words “лахати” and “кльово” originated from so called “лебійська мова”, a kind of the jargon spoken by Poltava kobzars in XVIII – XIXth: “лахати” – дерти лаха – сміятись; “кльово”- клево – добре.
In the non-literary layer of any language there is a group of words that are called jargonisms. Jargon is a recognized term for a group of words which aim is to preserve secrecy within one or another social stratum. Thus the word grease means 'money'; loaf means 'head'; a tiger hunter is 'a gambler'; a lexer is 'a student preparing for a law course', ken - a house which harbours thieves, spellken - a play-house or theatre, to queer a flat - to puzzle a silly fellow, плавати – показувати неглибокі знання, риба – набір слів, що точно відбивають розмір і ритм музичного твору при перекладі, балерина – відмичка, академія – в’язниця, ажур – на сьогодні.
Jargon or social dialect is social in character. The process of creation and usage of different jargon elements depends on different factors such as speakers’ age and education, profession, common interests, etc. In Britain, in the US and Ukraine almost any social group of people has its own jargon: the jargon of thieves and vagabonds, generally known as cant (Ukrainian – “арго”); the jargon of jazz people; the jargon of the army, known as military slang; the jargon of sportsmen, and many others. Within the sphere of social dialects “childish speech” and the speech of elderly people are also singled out as special subtypes (льоля, кака, коко, цюця, etc).
Both jargon and slang differ from ordinary language mainly in their vocabularies. The structure of the sentences and the morphology of the language remain practically unchanged. But slang, contrary to jargon, needs no translation. It is not a secret code. It is easily understood by the speaking community and is only regarded as something not quite regular. Jargonisms and slangisms do not always remain the possession of a given social group. Some of them migrate into other social strata and sometimes become recognized in the literary language of the nation. There are hundreds of words, once jargonisms or slang, which have become legitimate members of the English and Ukrainian literary language, as, for example, the wordskid, fun, queer, bluff, fib, humbug,formerly slang words or jargonisms, are now considered common colloquial. They may be said to be dejargonized.
Vernacular, contrary to slang and jargon, is not a possession of a certain social group. It is the colloquial language of uneducated people. The main features of English vernacular are the distortion of grammatical norms, omission of auxiliary verbs, incorrect usage of tenses, mispronunciation of words, functional parts of speech and inflexions:
E.g. Ah’m getting’ th’ coops ready for th’ young bods, he said in broad vernacular (D. Lawrence) – instead of I’m getting the coops ready for the young birds.
The main feature of Ukrainian vernacular is the usage of Russian words (русизмів) ( прівєт, пока, дєвочкі), usage of low colloquial and expressive lexical units (шлятися, випендрюватися, пика) and violation of grammatical and stylistic norms of the language (немаловажний, міроприємство, etc).
Vulgarisms are expletives and swear words which are of an abusive character, like damn,'bloody, to hell', goddam and obscene words which are banned in any form of intercourse as being indecent.
Vulgarisms are specific language units charged with bright expressiveness and emotiveness. The tradition of using low colloquial elements (or invectives) dates back to the ancient times. The famous public speakers resorted to them for different purposes. Vulgarisms were powerful means of satire and flagellation in I. Kotliarevskyy’s, S. Rudanskyy’s, I. Nechuy-Levytskyy’s, I. Franko’s, I. Svitlychnyy’s, V.Vynnychenko’s, O.Dovzhenko’s, J.Andrukhovych’s prose.
The notion of vulgarism is subjected to historical changes. The changes in the social morals entail the changes in social concepts about what is good or wrong, about what is permissible and what is impermissible. At the beginning of XXth century the words damned, damn, bastard, bloody were tabooed. Their appearance in a text was considered unacceptable and thus they were substituted for darned, darn or represented only by their first letters d…, b…, for example:
There we were, in the hell of a country – pardon me! – a country of raw metal…and there’s no such God darned – pardon me! – mistake as that (J. Galsworthy).
It was the middle of XXth century that marked the introduction of these lexical elements into the literature.
All those medical bastards should go through the ops they put other people through. Then they wouldn’t talk so much bloody nonsense or be so damnably smug (D. Cusack).
All language taboos have been banished from the modern literature nowadays and no modern literary character can do without vulgarisms in his speech. Aiming at complete and natural description of modern life and modern characters a writer cannot disregard the facts of everyday language. Consequently all words irrespective of their rank and aesthetic value occur in all types of literary texts.
Lexical units that belong to the four-abovementioned heterogeneous subgroups of special colloquial layer may be used in publicistic texts and newspaper articles in order to describe a certain social milieu, different features of modern culture and various popular categories. Due to its bright stylistic colouring and expressiveness the special colloquial vocabulary is the powerful means of creating the image of literary personage, characterizing his educational and cultural level, way of thinking and speaking. That is why a literary device known as speech-characterization is so abundantly used in emotive prose. The usage of special colloquial forms is the most conspicuous element of this literary device. Colloquialisms have long become the powerful source of humour, irony and satire.