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Slang: A Transitional Language

Throughout a childs developmental years most surrounding adults (such as parents, teachers and caretakers) act as principal models for standard speech and grammar skills. Children learn to interact with others through constant attempts to emulate the various styles and melodies of communication that are demonstrated all around them. At some point during this long process of edification, kids become young adults with a need to cultivate a sense of individualism. Dialogue takes on a whole new style, and peers have more influence than ever on vocabulary development.

This paper will explore the development and usage of slang, paying close attention to the key role it plays in the transition from dependence to independence, for it is during this period of growth that language will become an important tool in self-discovery. According to the Web Site The Learning Network, slang is a vernacular vocabulary not generally acceptable in formal usage. It often conveys a cutting, sometimes offensive, no-nonsense attitude and lends itself to poking fun at pretentiousness.

Just about every culture and sub-culture set has its own version of a local vernacular, most of it derived from commonly used words, and sometimes developing into standard speech. According to Judi Sanders, creator of the College Slang Page, the noun form of slang refers to nonstandard terms or the nonstandard usage of standard terms. It is a kind of informal language that generally follows the grammatical patterns of the language from which it stems, but reflects an alternate lexicon with undertones of familiarity.

Slang develops in all parts of speech, including verbs, adjectives and complete reference phrases, which give the speaker a broader range of vocabulary to share thoughts, ideas and experiences. It intertwines with standard speech giving it local and personal flavor. The process of slanging involves the creation and use of jargon, and may entail both nonverbal and verbal cues. For example, the inflection and tone with which a word or phrase is spoken can transport it from Standard English into the realm of slang. As in any language, slang reflects the experiences, beliefs and values of its speakers (Sanders).

It rallies people around common attitudes and creates a sense of community for all those drawn in. It is not a dialect all its own though; slang is an enhancement of language in the native tongue. It adds color, style, and texture, and turns up the volume to ten on the dial. When the feeling or thought is too extreme for simple words, slang offers a way to add a verbal exclamation point that catches the listeners attention. Some might argue that the proper use of speech is a better marker for maturity, as opposed to using a more informal and trendy vernacular.

If knowledge and wisdom are signals of inner growth, how can using such words as wassup and da bomb indicate the crossing into adulthood? Rather, wouldnt this form of speech reveal a persons immaturity and lack of development? In order to better address these questions, we must look at the context in which transitional slang is generally used. If it is spoken in formal situations such as interviews or meetings with authority figures, it can be a warning sign of a young mind that has not yet developed an ability to judge situations and people.

If it is used in less formal situations such as at school or in community settings, then it is appropriate and might be seen as a sign of forward thinking. Throughout a persons childhood there is constant encouragement to model the speech and behaviors of the adults in charge. This is a healthy practice because children will learn volumes of skills from watching and rehearsing over a long period of time. As a child grows into a teenager, though, there is a strong need to stretch and discover who he or she is growing into.

In our culture high values are placed on individuality and self-determination; we pride ourselves in being crowned a nation of rugged individualists. Slang helps us to establish individuality and personality when used in suitable situations. When spoken in school it helps to build confidence, and when used at home it spurs the process of separation that is important when becoming an adult. No longer does the youth have to speak in an uncomfortable borrowed language, for he now owns the vernacular tied to the thoughts and gestures of his newly developed language.

Does this mean that ten years from now there will be a generation of young urban professionals slinging around the phrase You da bomb, dawg! while sitting in board meetings? Most certainly not. It is highly doubtful that the word wassup will even be found in anyones word bank in the year 2010. What happens, slowly and gradually, is that a transformation takes place in maturity. Once individuality is established in the life of a young man or woman, displays of rebellion are more often found in subtle forms, such as union protests and store boycotting, and phrases like those damn kids will somehow creep into everyday discourse.

Before any of this happens though, the adult within must be discovered. In the particular population of slang language users that this paper focuses on, the speakers are often young adults aged 14 to 25, and typically in a period of life where the struggle to pull away from the adults on whom they once depended is most evident. On campuses where young minds are seeking to find the quickest path to independence, it is an essential tool in carving out an identity. If self-expression is the suit we wear while crossing the bridge to adulthood, then slang is the belt, shoes and accessories.

Most transitional slang-words are clear derivatives of normal speech and do not exclude the average listener, but be warned: there are some expressions that are way out in left field and might leave anyone over the age of 25 thoroughly confused (Burke 98). Is this the purpose for alternative language? Did deviant 19-year-old rebels wanting to overthrow the adult establishment develop this as a means of encrypted communication? To quote a 20 year-old female student at Sacramento State University, NOT! (That simply means no in proper English.

Transitional slang is an essential factor in the aim for growth and independence, and is not necessarily a sign of poor upbringing. In reality it can serve as an indicator of a strong mind with increasing confidence. Language is constantly evolving, stretching and growing to reflect the culture in which it resides; it is fitting that speakers should be stretching and growing as well. In order to gain a better understanding of this unique version of slang, we must first hear it in action. A stroll through any high school or college courtyard during lunchtime will put you at ground zero of the transitional slang phenomenon.

You can expect to be hit with words like wassup and da bomb, or quite possibly the locals might invite you back to their hizou. But there is no need to be frightened. You are not in enemy territory, and the language is usually quite easy to pick up on. Slang terms and words are typically developed in one of three ways. The first way is the transformation of standard vocabulary. This can happen through blending (combining two words into one), by way of folk etymology (changing a word to make it more understandable or familiar), or occasionally from antonomasia (to take a name from a persons name or a place).

Sometimes this language alteration comes about as a form of laziness, such as dropping several sounds or syllables (called clipping or derivation). For example, on most campuses the phrase (or question) all right has transformed and blended into the single word aiight. Another term that has undergone this type of transition is www, altered to the single-word dubdub for easier pronunciation. Just saying double-u- double-u-double-u is an awkward dance of the speaking organs, therefore alteration is necessary to develop a user-friendly version of the term.

Of course, many phrases are developed this same way, by shortening an entire sentence into a simple two or three word phrase, meant as a catch-all for similar circumstances. Its all good is a common way of telling someone that everything is OK, and theres no need to worry. The second trigger in the development of slanguage is the incorporation of hidden meaning. This can be a form of a private joke between the users of the language. For instance, calling a girl a Shasta is an unflattering term, yet anyone unfamiliar with it would have no clue what the meaning is.

In reality, it refers to the cheap quality of the soda brand Shasta, suggesting that a girl is not the highest quality or first pick for a one-night-stand, but due to the lack of more suitable choices, she will have to do. This term is considerably funny, until it refers to you. The third way that slang develops is through transformation of a single word or phrase into a different meaning, changing the meaning rather than the form of the word. Bad has become good; bones are now money; sweet is no longer just a taste or personality type, but has also become an adjective for something fun or great.

How these definitions evolve is anyones guess, but they are easily popularized through TV shows like South Park, and pop-culture personalities, such as Emenem. Over a long period of time Standard English will frequently change from one definition to another as well, reflecting the changes that society makes. Sometimes the change in a slang words definition will not be totally off base, still resembling the initial meaning to a certain degree. The word jet can signify a quick exit, similar to the speed of a jet, and bumming something from someone else (spare change, for example), is similar to what a bum would do on the streets.

Slang, particularly transitional slang, is notable for its liveliness, humor, emphasis, brevity, novelty, and exaggeration. However, slang is not just limited to the campus scene. Most slang is faddish and ephemeral, but some words are retained for long periods and eventually become part of the standard language (e. g. , phony, blizzard, movie) (Learning Nertwork). Much of our current expressions were unheard of over 100 years ago, and many of the new slang terms circulating on high school and college campuses may some day become common speech.

The web site The Learning Network lists the following examples of the words that have evolved into our lingo over the past century: of madnessloony, nuts, psycho; of crimeheist, gat, hit, heat, grifter; of womenbabe, chick, squeeze, skirt; of mendude, hombre, hunk; of drunkennesssloshed, plastered, stewed, looped, trashed, smashed; of drugshorse, high, stoned, tripping; of caressingneck, fool around, make out; of states of minduptight, wired, mellow, laid back; the verb to goscram, split, scoot, tip, jet; miscellaneous phrasesyou push his buttons, get it together, chill, she does her number, he does his thing, what’s her story, I’m not into that.

Slanging is a practice that is very old, ever changing with the growth of those seeking to understand their own identity. It is a fascinating language to study because it reflects so much of the sociology of those who are using it. Regardless of where a person lives, his or her economic status, upbringing or value system, chances are every vocabulary includes at least a handful of slang terms that occasionally come out in speech for a more dramatic effect.

If we take a moment to reflect on the slang of our own generations, we will be able to trace the transition from dependant to independent, and alienation to inclusion in the community. This is a language worth celebrating, first for its ability to empower those seeking to use it, and finally for its amazing capacity for gathering a diverse population into a common goal: self-discovery.

As teenagers and young adults explore and develop this unusual language, they make paths for future generations to expand upon and make new additions that reflect their own times. Eventually a persons speech will tone down to better reflect the society he or she has grown into, but always, somewhere deep inside, a sense of identity and individuality will remain strong as long as the language of youth lives on.

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