2. The Concept of Teenage Language
3.1 Word-formation Processes
3.2 Vogue Words
6. Bibliography21 Appendix;
Material form the blog “readplatform.com” (RP)
Material form the blog “stuffyouwillhate.com” (SYWH)
Material form the blog “thestylerookie.com” (SR)
Material form the blog “sincerelyjules.com” (SJ)
In September 2010 a huge debate started in Britain after the famous actress Emma Thompson had given an interview for the BBC during which she complained heavily about the language of teenagers. “I went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing their ‘likes’ and ‘innit’ and ‘it ain’ts’, which drives me insane”, she said indignantly. Her statement probably mirrors what the majority of adults think of the language used by teenagers today. “Parents and teachers often have a critical and negative attitude towards adolescent language, judging it as ‘sloppy’ and attempting to correct vernacular features such as local accents, slang words, discourse particles or code-mixing.” (Androutsopoulos 2005: 1501) This debate about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of vernacular language use traces back to the very roots of modern sociolinguistics.
The American linguist William Labov was the first who conducted several quantitative studies concerning language variation in the 1960s (cf. Becker & Bieswanger 2006: 193). He tried to find out how the social background of speakers influences their language use, and why people decide to use either standard or nonstandard language. Concluding from his studies, he developed the concept of language prestige, which assumes that standard forms have obvious (overt) prestige, whereas non-standard forms of language have a kind of hidden (covert) prestige among its speakers (cf. Becker & Bieswanger 2006: 197). So he argued that speakers do not merely use non-standard forms of language because they are uneducated or not able to use the standard form, but because the non-standard form carries symbolic or indexical meaning that the speakers want to draw on. According to that, language choice can be used to express identity or to mark group membership.
Taking Labov’s concept into consideration, contemporary teenage language should not be solely interpreted as a sign of an increasing lack of education or language decay. On the contrary, it is an expression of children’s growing identity that seeks for separation from the adult world. “Adolescence is a turning-point in life, as the individual matures both physically and cognitively, and thus has a direct influence on language acquisition and development.” (Martinez 2011a: 5) Hence the age factor plays an important role in the acquisition and use of language during adolescence, although it is not the only variable that has to be considered when analysing teenage language. Like any other language variety, it underlies “sociological variables, such as type of education, ethnicity, cultural and social background” (Martinez 2011a: 7) or gender, which leads to the simple fact that there is no single teenage language. Instead, it is quite multifaceted and changing and, therefore, a fruitful field for linguistic studies.
Despite its commonly acknowledged linguistic status, “distinctive speech patterns in adolescence received scholarly attention only in the last decades of the 20th century.” (Androutsopoulos 2005: 1496) Since then, some aspects of teenage language have become quite popular among sociolinguists: “the swear words, the slang words, the discourse markers, and (primarily phonological) dialect features.” (Stenstrom, Andersen and Hasund 2002: 17) Apparently, lexical analysis is the predominant approach chosen by researchers, while grammar analysis plays only a minor role. The reason for the focus on vocabulary is probably the innovative character of teenage language. “Adolescents are the linguistic movers and shakers, at least in western industrialized societies, and as such, a prime source of information about linguistic change and the role of language in social practice.” (Androutsopoulos 2005: 1496) The short life span of their language is the key feature, which separates it from the typically stable adult language.
Following the common trend in this chosen field of research, this paper will investigate teenage language on a mostly lexical level. Different word-formation processes like clipping or blending as well as the use of vogue words, which are words that have suddenly become fashionable in connection with a change of meaning, will be analysed in detail. Furthermore, special attention will be paid to swearing. Although different studies have proven that swearing is also common among adults, teenagers’ use of swear words is different in choice of words and function (intensifier, abusive, expletive). It plays a crucial role in teenage group interaction and socializing and is thus worth analysing.
“Certain aspects of youth language, especially slang innovations, are frequently attributed to mass-media influences.” (Androutsopoulos 2005: 1496) Apart from television and radio, the internet has become the prime medium of information and especially the exchange of information for teenagers. Internet and mobile phones have almost completely substituted face-to-face interaction, which put both kinds of media in the focus of linguistic attention during the last couple of years. While chat rooms and personal homepages were the prime sources of online interaction at the beginning of the “internet age”, the internet has experienced a fast growing trend since the beginning of the 21st century: web logs. “As with some of the newest aspects of online communication, research into web logs is still evolving.” (McKay, Thurlow and Zimmerman2005: 192)
Web logs, most commonly known as blogs, will provide the material for this paper’s analysis of teenage language on the internet. Since “teens [create] blogs as diary-style testimonials referring to the details of their everyday life, daily troubles, thoughts and emotions, even consumer talk, with listings of favourite brands, television and movie critique” (McKay, Thurlow and Zimmerman 2005: 192), blogs are a perfect source to investigate the latest trends in teenage language. A comparison of different online newspaper and magazine articles led to the selection of four blogs for the analysis. These blogs proved to be frequently visited by a huge number of teenagers who also contribute to the blogs as co-writers or commenters of blog entries .2 The blogs readplatform.com and stuffyouwillhate.com are platforms for the rap and metal music scene, which have a dominating male audience, while thestylerookie.com and sincerelyjules.com are typical fashion blogs, which attract a huge female audience. Due to the fact that the identity of internet users is unknown, the only sociological variable that can be considered in this age-related study is gender. Thus the following chapters will also point out gender differences and similarities that became obvious during analysis. Finally, this study will not consider features that typically belong to the linguistic field of webspeak or netlingo including emoticons or certain spellings like the substitution of words by numbers or single letters (2 for to, u for you etc.).
2. The Concept of Teenage Language
What became clear in the introduction was that teenagers often decide to use nonstandard forms of language. What still remains open is the question why exactly teenagers use this form regarded as slang. “The persistence of slang, swearing and all the rest calls for some kind of explanation. There must be some positive values connected with all this bad language. Within sociolinguistics this kind of positive value is usually called covert prestige.” (Andersson & Trudgill 1990: 9) Here we come back to Labov’s concept, which states that slang, although generally rejected as bad language, fulfils, however, a positive function.
Vivian de Klerk (2005: 112) gives a good and precise explanation for teenagers’ use of slang: “they need to be ‘modern’, they need to establish themselves as different, and they need to belong, as members of a group whose habits and values are different from those of their parents, other adults, and other young people.” As the title of her article indicates, she understands slang in adolescence as a marker of exclusion and inclusion. Since adolescence is a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood, teenagers often find themselves in desperate need for a group to belong to. This group is supposed to substitute the family as a fix point of reference in their lives where they can talk about problems orjust exchange gossip. “Teenagers generally have a drive towards peer conformity and attempt to avoid social stigma. They wish to be seen as distinct from both the adult world and from other teenage groups.” (Stenstrom, Andersen and Hasund 2002: 18) The language functions as a marker signalling their group membership to others (outsiders), while at the same time it can be used as a secret code for communication.
Not only does slang have an impact on the world outside the group, it also serves important purposes among the group members. “The language of a group functions as a kind of glue which maintains cohesion between the members of this group.” (Andersson & Trudgill 1990: 79) Communication is thus important for the maintenance of a social structure. It is used to establish common ground by showing that the members share the same knowledge and interests. Furthermore, group members can find as well as give advice and feedback. For most teenagers being with friends and having conversations is the most important leisure time activity, often referred to as hanging out.
During the time they spend together, teenagers develop an identity not only by using a certain style of language. “Speech stylejoins with other aspects of style (e.g. dress and other adornment, substance use, musical taste, territory, activities) all of which are continually changing.” (Eckert 2005: 106) Consequently, the influence of certain registers and styles of the music and fashion scene have to be considered in the analysis of the blogs chosen for investigation. They are part of teenage group identity and language.
Apart from the influence of a chosen style that shapes group identity, certain members can have enormous impact on others. Teenage groups are often not homogenous constructions, but hierarchical and competitive. Those who lead the group enjoy huge prestige and are able to influence the group’s identity and language. “Having a narrative to tell and having the right to tell it is an indication of social status.” (Eckert 2005: 99) Bloggers who became famous in their scene can be seen as such leading trend-setters of a group. Their opinion and evaluation of, for instance, new songs and clothes is highly influential. They are in the position that thousands of peers read whatever they have to say and how they say it. Therefore, the analysis of famous teenage blogs is having the finger on the pulse of time concerning linguistic change. They are the source oflanguage innovation in the 21st century.
If you go through the various linguistic articles and books discussing teenage language, you will find a lot of different terms that define the language of teenagers like “teenage talk”, “youth language”, “youth speak” and also “youth slang”. Taking the last example, the term slang is often used to refer to teenage language. In linguistic studies of teenage language, it is more precisely employed to describe the word choice of teenagers. “There are perhaps a handful of features which could be regarded as typical of slang grammar, but there are very few compared to the enormous number of words belonging to slang.” (Andersson & Trudgill 1990: 73) The vocabulary is thus what constitutes slang including, of course, youth slang. Therefore, this study starts with an analysis of words typically used by teenagers. Special attention will be paid to their innovative character expressed by the use of different word-formation processes, as well as the use of words to indicate group membership and “coolness”. Although slang dictionaries and some websites offer suggestions for the explanation of many slang words, “[c]lear definitions of the meaning of commonly used slang terms and expletives are generally not available: the very essence of such words rests in their vagueness and adaptability.” (de Klerk 2005: 114) As a consequence, words have to be interpreted with the help of the context, which makes it, at least in some cases, hard to give a clear definition of slang words.
As Androutsopoulos (2005: 1497) points out, there are some areas that are “known for their abundance in youth slang [like] mental and emotional states, sexuality, states of intoxication, evaluative and intensifying vocabulary.” Having a look at slang words deriving from word-formation processes in this study, the findings agree with Androutsopoulos’ statement that these words mostly fulfil an evaluative function or describe emotional states.
The analysis of teenage blogs revealed that clippings belong to the most frequently used word-formations. Comparing the four blogs, readplatform.com has the biggest amount of clippings, most of them nouns, while the other blogs contain only shortened forms of adjectives and no example of shortened verbs. The reason for the dominating number of adjectives that have become slang vocabulary by the use of clipping is the support and feedback function of a group and its language. As has already been pointed out, adolescence is a time during which the individual is trying to build up a personal identity and this process is marked by insecurity. That is why teenagers are looking for confirmation by their peers. Famous blogs often allow their visitors to leave comments giving them the chance of evaluating entries and exchange opinions.
(1) Daisy Nguyen: OMG - LOVE this look! So easy, and RED! FAVE color. FAVE outfit! (SJ 34)
(2) Dipika Syngai: I love your playlist and you look so damn fab and your friends as well. (SR 27)
(3) Christian Jensen: Glad I’m not the only one who’s butt is legit hurting over this. (SYWH 16)
The examples (1) and (2) include shortened versions of positive adjectives that are used to show agreement. Fav(ourite) and fab(ulous) seem to be the most frequently used adjectives that have undergone the process of clipping. Other examples are brill(iant) and amaz(ing). Since support of group members by positive evaluation belongs to the most important functions of teenage language, adjectives carrying a positive meaning are commonly used. This causes two problems for teenage language use. Firstly, words that are often used enter standard language and become old-fashioned, which contradicts the teenage drive for modernity. Secondly, these words like favourite and fabulous, which actually carry strong positive meaning, lose their position as strong expressions due to their frequent use. From a teenage perspective, one could say that they have become linguistically worn. In order to restore the taste of modernity and also a strong meaning, they undergo the process of clipping. Here we can perfectly employ Labov’s concept. The words given in the example are often used by a majority of people to express positive meaning or agreement. Thus they have overt prestige. By the use of clipping, these words are also used by teenagers or certain groups of teenagers, which gives them covert prestige as well.
While clipping merely fulfils an intensifying function in the examples discussed above, it can also lead to a change of meaning. This is shown in example (3), where we find the word legit used as an adverb. It derives from the adjective legitimate and used to carry the same meaning (legal, acceptable).As one could conclude from example (3) it has been given the meaning of an intensifier like really or extremely. Further research on the popular website www.urbandictionary.com, where mostly young people try to give their own explanation of slang words, confirmed the assumption that legit has recently undergone a process of change in meaning. One user describes the word legit as follows: “this word was obviously a short form of "legitimate" but it no longer holds the same meaning as legitimate, since it has become very popular to use the word legit to mean something "cool".” Even teenagers themselves seem to realize that the meaning of the word has changed. Moreover, the clipping of legitimate broadened the use of the word, which, as shown in example (3) above, can also function as an adverb.
(4) [...] and won’t stop until it has its own Wikipedia page (Urban Dictionary isn’t legit) (RP 4)
Having a look at another example for the use of legit, it turns out that the original meaning still exists. Furthermore, legit as an adjective is seemingly not put before a noun unlike the original legitimate. Instead, it is often used as a subject complement in connection with a form of be. Summarizing the findings concerning legit, one can truly say that this word is a perfect example of the innovativeness and “productivity of certain non-standard word-formation types and procedures of formal modification (such as clipping, redundant suffixes etc.).” (Androutsopoulos 2005: 1499) The development of this word started with a shortening just to make it fashionable and appropriate for teenage language, which finally led to a process of change affecting meaning and even the grammatical use.
Apart from the various adjectives influenced by clipping, the study revealed that nouns underlie this type of word-formation, too. Although only the users of readplatform.com were found to make use of shortened nouns, their relatively high number allows drawing conclusions from them.
(5) Matty Crunk thinks “this is the biggest vid on road at present”. (RP 18)
(6) Taken from the forthcoming Smiff N wessun and Pete Rock collab LP “Monumental” (released on the 28th of June) which is set to be fucking awesome (RP 32)
Since readplatform.com is a blog that comments specifically on topics belonging to the rap music scene, there are some words, especially nouns, which are used more often than others due to the restricted topic area. This causes again the problem of overuse triggering word-formation processes. As in the example (5), vid is taken instead of video. Many entries on this blog discuss music videos, which is probably the reason why video was shortened. Another explanation which can be offered in that case is the typical use of registers. In the previous chapter, it was stated that social groups develop their own language as a secret code and to show the existence of shared knowledge. What might become clear in example (5) but definitely in example (6) is the use of clipping to create scene-related registers. Thus vid means not only video but music video, which can get an even more precise sense of rap music video. Moreover, collab as a shortened form of collaboration refers to a joint music project by at least two musicians or bands. While someone who is not familiar with the rap music scene could probably guess what is meant by vid, this person might have some difficulty in finding out what is meant by collab without having an appropriate context. So the clippings found on readplatform.com like the examples mentioned above and others like exec or zine help to constitute a music scene-related language that is apparently preferred by teenagers to mark their membership of this group.
As the findings about teenagers’ use of clipping have shown, word-formation processes are mostly employed for positive evaluations, which are usually colourful expressions of agreement. The following account will offer more evidence for this assumption.
(7) Christian Jensen: Because let’s face it, if you want to beat those guys and their own game, you seriously need to put in some Olympic-Gold-Medal-grade effort and training. (SYWH 18)
(8) Stefania and Caroline: your crown is very edward scissorshands-suburbia and pink lemonade (SR 14)
The results of the previous subchapter led to the assumption that teenagers need to express their opinion or evaluation of different things so frequently and in such an extensive way that commonly used adjectives are not sufficient anymore to serve their purposes. Therefore, they use clippings to emphasize or even change the meaning of existing adjectives. By means of compounding, they go even further and create their own words used for evaluation. In example (7) a visitor of the blog wants to say that huge effort and hard training is necessary to succeed. Instead of using general adjectives or adverbs, he creates a long noun by combining four nouns with the help of hyphens, which functions as a noun modifier for effort and training. This makes his expression very figurative while at the same time it constitutes a kind of superlative. Most people would agree that the Olympic gold medal is the highest possible achievement of a sportsperson. Consequently, this person has to undergo a very hard training. So the utterance in example (7) is not only a playful and innovative form of language use, it perfectly puts into words what the visitor of the blog wants to express.
While the compound in example (7) cannot be regarded as a register of the group because it rather draws on general knowledge, the expression edward scissorshands- suburbia, which is used to describe a crown, requires a certain background knowledge to be understood. The visitor of the blog who wrote the comment probably assumed that the other readers know the movie “Edward Scissorhands” and its setting in the American suburbs, which enables them to get an idea of the imagination that the commenter alludes to. It is thus not only a fancy and unconventional way of describing a fashion accessory, it also appeals to a shared knowledge among the readers of the blog and strengthens cohesion inside this group.
There are further examples for compounding in the corpus, which emphasizes that both adolescent boys and girls use this figurative way of expressing either positive or negative evaluation. “Now more than ever before, young people must also negotiate and make sense of an intensely semioticized world as post-industrial economies are premised increasingly on symbolism, imagery and ‘design-intensity’.” (Thurlow 2005: 6) This offers a possible explanation for teenagers’ preference of such pictorial expressions. Since mass media and advertisements tend to substitute pictures for language, teenagers’ language becomes more and more figurative. The meaning of a single word is seen as insufficient and therefore replaced by a long compound or even a phrase.
(9) All the tracks I’ve heard off the LP are pure butter and this is no exception, all the verses are super tight like fat girls in lycra (RP 29)
Here we have an example of a typical like-phrase that creates a funny image in order to describe or explain something. Indeed, it does not belong to the category of word- formation, but as a conclusion to this subchapter it confirms the above-said assumption that teenage language tends to use long, figurative expressions instead of plain adjectives or adverbs.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1316062/Yes-teen-speak-drives-mad-adult-jargon-FAR-worse- -innit.html, date: 21/8//2012.
2 Apart from readplatform.com, all blogs chosen for analysis offered their visitors to leave comments on the entries, which allowed this paper to analyse not only the language of a few bloggers, but of a huge audience from different English-speaking countries.
According to Langenscheidt Universal-Worterbuch Englischer Slang (2009: 278), it is only a shortened version of legitimate.
- Quote paper
- Nicolas Raedel (Author), 2012, Teenage Language Online. An Analysis of Teenage Blogs, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/212917