Defining the Positive and Negative Effects of Slang Usage

Academic Paper, 2013

6 Pages, Grade: 92.00


Slang: Defining the positive and negative effects of slang usage

Slang is a rather complex subject, similar to the complexity of Biology. I believe there are different levels to slang. I also believe that slang itself can be identified as a second language, depending on who speaks it and where it is spoken. All my life I have spoken slang. I grew up around people who also spoke slang rather frequently. I guess one could argue slang has been a part of my very fabric since I was able to speak and remember. Growing up I did not understand that I was speaking slang. I had never given any serious thought to the way I spoke or the people around me. I never had to. I did not realize I spoke differently or “wrong” until I was measured up against someone else’s speaking, primarily white people. When I was a child I could remember being corrected by my teachers, all of whom spoke slang, but they had the ability to code switch when it was necessary, an ability I had not yet possessed. It would often make me feel less confident when I was corrected by my teachers for speaking incorrectly, considering the fact that it was done so frequently. I could never understand why I had to adjust my speaking if my teachers understood me perfectly fine. I remember feeling a strong sense of discomfort when I spoke slang among people who did not speak slang. Trying to adjust was like learning another language and very troubling for me. It often made me question, “What is slang?”, “Why can’t I just speak the way I am comfortable?” and “Why is slang so bad if I’m perfectly understood?” All of these questions lead to my exploration of slang and compelled me to do extensive research on the subject matter. I want to understand, “why is slang considered bad in certain settings if the communication is effective?” Slang has evolved tremendously over the years. There is not any objective defining of slang. Researchers have speculated how useful and useless slang is or has been over the years. It cannot be said that slang was ever meaningless it has been based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system (Reves, H, 1926).

Literature Review

Defining Slang

Where slang comes from is questionable (Reves, H, 1926). Slang has been defined by some researchers as the changing of words in dialogue; it comes into sudden popular acceptance or favor, has a meaning, usually metaphoric, which is known by a particular set or class and which constitutes a sort of language that is a criterion for distinguishing members of a group. Slang is ever-changing, because of that it has a brief period of popularity and then dies or interestingly evolve into legitimate speech (e.g. bling, bling, twerking). Sometimes, slang is not straightforward and at times can express strong disapproval in outwardly advisory lines (Pollock, F 1926). Slang must be seen as a component of a multitude of issues of interest to skilled people in language, aging, character, register shifts, introduction of new things, diffusion and pragmatics (Eble, C.C. 2003). Slang as ordinary English usage is often minimized or omitted in descriptions of the language. Slang must also be seen as a part of the continuum of kinds of words that people use daily to communicate with one another, at jobs, grocery shopping, making doctors’ appointments and performing the many other spontaneous dialogued acts occasioned by living (Eble, C.C. 2003). Adams (2002) asserts that “Slang or indirection, [is] an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in the highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in pre-historic times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies….Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize” (p.360).

Negative Slang

Slang is often thought of in categorical ways, especially among certain groups. Slang can be positive or negative in power or capacity depending upon its use in communication encounters. Negative slang refers to casual dialogue, such as commonly used verbal obscenities that listeners may perceive as offensive (Joseph P. Mazer & Stephen K. Hunt 2008, Vol.25 No. 1 pp. 44-55). Some slang words or phrases may be viewed negatively by an outsider if they are not a part of a certain group, like when African Americans use certain phrases such as, (e.g. “What’s up my nigga?” or “You a bad bitch!”). Old studies showed many of the negative expressions used by college students are expressions used by others who are habitual users of slang, yet students seldom show originality in the choices they make of slang vocabulary, or in the twists they give to usual expressions (McPhee, M.C. 1927). According to (Adams, 2002), “Curricular study of American English, should include the study of “bad” American English, of profanity, sexual slang, underworld slang, and pejorative terms, for a number of reasons: first, it is intellectually irresponsible to teach only part of a subject in order to be polite; second, “bad’ American English is used of ten and thoughtlessly and is, therefore a subject that needs classroom treatment, for both intellectual and social reasons; and third, many react to “bad” words in an equally thoughtless way and wrongly attempt to obstruct their use for the wrong reasons.”

Positive Slang

There is a presumed good side to the underside (negative) of slang, which is considered positive slang. Positive slang is the opposite of obscene, offensive and vulgar words. Positive slang refers to casual dialogue that a speaker uses to try and connect with the listener (Joseph P. Mazer & Stephen K. Hunt, 2008 Vol. 9 pp. 20-28). Some people use positive slang to be humorous and to stay cultural connected. There was a study done in South Africa, Gauteng among youth of different ages, regions, gender, race etc. The researcher found that positive slang made the youth feel good in their lives, brought on endless laughter, the replacement and changing of words and positive slang manipulated and dictated how they said their hellos and goodbyes (Bembel & Beukes 2007). Positive slang also served as a stepping stone to distance oneself away from a world defined solely based on dominant ideologies. The more positive slang is spoken; standardized dialect is challenged through its pragmatic desire. In this way, pragmatic expressions offer the ability of rebirth and offer valuable innovation as speakers give even well-worn linguistic features new discourse homes and special abilities (Roth-Gordon 2007). Positive slang can also be beneficial when faced with challenges in foreign places where you are beyond unfamiliar with the native’s language. It can provide a way to kind of shape shift and assimilate oneself. Positive slang may very well then become a second language or become of some essential convergence. Studies have shown that when most foreigners come to America or any other institution in which they are not familiar they would often trivialize their heritage and language to adopt positive slang for the purposes of strong affiliation to English, networking and friendships (Preece, 2010).

RQ1: Does effective usage of positive or negative slang correlate with what age, racial, gender or regional group people are assigned to?


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Defining the Positive and Negative Effects of Slang Usage
The University of Memphis
Communication Research
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Slang, positive effects, negative effects, age, gender, origin, regions, history
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Eliza Williams (Author), 2013, Defining the Positive and Negative Effects of Slang Usage, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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