non-oral-origin slang

Peter Trudgill peter.trudgill at UNIFR.CH
Sat Jun 21 09:42:02 UTC 2003

>I still hold out, saying that slang is fundamentally and essentially oral --
>in its **origin**.  Please reply if you can show that this is not the case.

This doesnt really say anything  - all language is fundamentally and
essentially oral in origin. Most languages are after all not written.
It is true, of course, that some stylistic features, and some
grammatical devices, are more common in written than spoken language.
But slang is essentially a matter of vocabulary, so that is not a
factor here. The only forms of lexis which are most normally
introduced first in writing are words in technical registers e.g.
scientific terminolgy. Surely we can agree that slang is vocabulary
(including  phraseology) which is at the extreme, most informal end
of the formal-informal stylistic continuum. Informal styles are, it
is true, more common in speech than in writing, but there is no
necessary connection - one can be informal in writing as well as in
speech. And because we have a continuum, we have to accept some items
are more slang than others. Slang is also more likely to be ephemeral
than other parts of the vocabulary - but this is not inevitable -
some slang words have been around for a very long time. Note also
that lexical items can chronologically slide up and down the
continuum - e.g. french tĂȘte 'head', originally from the Latin for
pot (moving from informal to neutral seems to be one way in which
slang words gain a longer lease of life). And slang also tends to be
more regionally restricted than other parts of the vocabulary - which
is why it is of central interest to ADS. If I say I am tired or
fatigued, no American will misunderstand me (well, I suppose GWB
might have trouble with that second word). But if I say I am
knackered, there might be at least  a minor problem. But there is
nothing to stop me writing knackered if I want to. Of course, this
would most often be in an informal context, like a letter or an email
to a friend.
Peter Trudgill
Professor of English Linguistics
Fribourg University
Av. de l'Europe 20
1700 Fribourg

Telephone (UK):
01603 618036

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