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‘Slanguage’ within a tricky tongue

Do you ever ‘LOL’ or Reply ‘ASAP’? In America, ‘Obama’ means “cool and intelligent”. “Don’t worry about the exam, just ‘chillax’ (Chill+Relax)”. Then, ‘presh’ is precious; ‘bromance’ is close to male friendship. The endless list is as informal as it gets, Yeah! These words and phrases aren’t taught in English classes. They are slang, notoriously indefinable.

Does such usage make you sound stupid? Do you find it incomprehensible? Has it crossed limits? Should it be banned? Do you feel anachronistic? You are not alone. Thousands of such “words” trend on social media. Many old-timers struggle when youngsters employ current slang. Often, you need a translator! The weirder you sound, the more you are admired! This bizarre usage steadily infiltrates mainstream language.

Know the appropriateness

Using slang may not be appropriate and may also harm somebody’s life chances if they are unable to learn it. If you are unable to express yourself clearly, others may not understand you and may genuinely misinterpret your words.

There is a big difference between the evolution of a living language and simply not knowing or bothering to use words properly. Many don’t know the correct form and use slang not out of choice but unknowingly. When you say “I wouldn’t of done that” and seem unaware that this isn’t actually English, it is pathetic! That’s the obstacle that youngsters with improper language skills have built before them.

Some slang words have been part of the English language for many years. Text-speak is more annoying, especially with touch screens and hundreds of inclusive free texts to send. At least, pick your language according to your audience. Even if words don’t change, meanings do. For example, ‘gay’ meant happy earlier; now, it does not; ‘decimate’ (from Latin decimare meant to take a tenth person or thing) now is used to mean to destroy all rather than just one-tenth.

Linguistic fancy ignores the difference between sexes (“guys”). “Awesome” has become a default word. Roadside panipuri, as well as newborn babies, are both “awesome”. Why use ‘absolutely’, when a simple ‘yes’ suffices? What used to be called a “four-letter” abusive word, now appear in mainstream magazines and newspapers! When obscenity becomes the norm, what words are left to describe truly vulgar things? Worse, it’s used by people of all ages and backgrounds. Some of these manipulations, to the chagrin of purists, have even managed to enter into the dictionary.

Lack of role models

Words don’t just convey meaning, they actually shape thinking. Do teachers stress the importance of correct usage? Earlier, the impact of TV/radio was less and there was no internet. Elocution was taught. No one advocates the Queen’s English, but have we not become extremely lazy with language? Today, part of the problem is a lack of role models. Many publications use sloppy grammar. Also, some celebrities deliberately use street slang to sound ‘cool’.

Thanks to dwindling reading habits, many are puzzled with: There and Their, Your and You’re, Loose and lose, even Two and Too. Spelling or grammar mistakes during earlier times were met with a rap on the knuckles and an instruction to spell the word correctly 100 times. Now, many in the teaching profession often mumble with pointless add-ons such as, “yar know ar mean”. Who will lead us back to a sense of pride in language?

Space for slang

Slang is now more socially acceptable because a fair segment of linguists believed that when selectively used with skill, it adds a new and exciting dimension to language. Slang protagonists argue that this kind of language has always been there. Borrowed words are a different topic. ‘Pyjamas’ came from India, ‘Shampoo’ from Urdu. ‘Television’ is part Latin, part Greek, yet we think of it as one word. Some even ask if English is multicultural.

Language is what we use for communication, is their defense. Twitter and Facebook have helped spread and standardise terms that might otherwise have stayed regional. American lexicographer, Noah Webster, dismissed slang as “low, vulgar, unmeaning language”. James Kelman, the Scottish novelist, caused a small literary furore two decades ago when his book “How late it was, how late” won the Booker prize. A judge declared that the book was unreadably bad and said the awarding of the prize was a “disgrace”. The Times of London called the award “literary vandalism”.  A few authors turned to slang narratives as a more authentic mode of storytelling.

“The linguistic sky isn’t falling, so ‘chill’”. “The English language has endured many changes over time, so tweeting, texting in emoji isn’t going to be the cause of our lingual ruin”, but then, who is to police the slanguage?


(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)
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