Anna-Brita Stenström

From slang to slanguage:
a description based on teenage talk

Slang is a slippery concept, which is notoriously difficult to define. One reflexion of this is that some words are still defined as slang in the dictionaries after hundreds of years, although one of its main characteristics is that it is short-lived. Another difficulty consists in knowing where to draw the line between slang proper and slangy language. In this paper, which is based on the talk of teenagers, more precisely London teenagers, I suggest that slang should be seen as subordinate to ’slanguage’ (slangy language), which covers not only ’proper’ slang words in accordance with the dictionary definition of slang (e.g. booze, junkie), including certain taboo words (dickhead, screw you), but also vogue words (e.g. rough, sad), ’proxy’ words (e.g. like for SAY), and some pragmatic markers used in an unorthodox way (e.g. cos, innit). My conclusion is that we are faced with a gradient, ranging from prototypical slang words, via marginal cases to the typical teenage use of particular words and expressions. The study of slang in British English teenage talk, as manifested in COLT (The Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language), indicates that proper slang words are used far less frequently than certain taboo words and pragmatic markers in terms of type/token ratio, in other words that slang in the traditional sense (excluding taboo words) is far less common than one might expect. It also indicates that the use of slang is not gender-specific, which some studies have suggested.