Вы не зарегистрированы


Psychology of Slang

Submitted by Кирилл Вадимович Бушин on Sat, 02/02/2019 - 20:45

Муниципальное бюджетное образовательное учреждение

Гимназия имени А.В. Кольцова городского округа

Город Воронеж


Учебно-исследовательская работа

по английскому языку





Выполнил ученик

9 «В» класс

Бушин Кирилл


Научный руководитель: учитель английского языка Польская Татьяна Николаевна

Воронеж 2019 г.


1. Introduction


As a teenager, I can say that today we are literally swamped with new slang. Every day there emerges a new word, expression or abbreviation, for example ‘woke’, ‘extra’ and ‘on fleek’. Surely, the proliferation of media networks inevitably entails the appearance of new phrases and contractions, but we must admit that they have also spread to everyday speech. Does this make our society less intelligent? Let’s find out.

The aim of my investigation is to understand why we use slang and what effect it has on our speech and life in general.


2. What is slang?


Slang is non-standard language that members of different groups use in order to determine group identity and exclude outsiders. It is generally agreed that a word or phrase should be regarded as slang if it fulfils at least two of the requirements below:

1) It's an inappropriate term in conversation with people who have more authority or higher social status.

2) Its users have an understanding of whatever is referred to.

3) It replaces a common traditional synonym.

Linguists distinguish such types of slang as youth slang, argot, chatspeak and many others.


3. Why do we use slang?

3.1. Traditional approach


So why do people use slang expressions? It is usually believed that most of them are teenagers, which suggests that this phenomenon is closely related to the peculiarities of adolescence. Let us try to determine the reasons for the use of slang, basing our assumptions on the characteristic teenage behavioural reactions:

  • Grouping. As a means of separating insiders from outsiders and establishing group solidarity, slang helps to maintain good relationships with peers and feel like a member of a closed community.
  • Expression. Young people enthusiasticly use informal words and phrases being attracted by their originality and swagger. This can be perceived as an act of self-expression.
  • Protest. Slang also embodies protest against the conventional. Often teenagers just do not want to be understood by adults. For this reason they use terms that only refer to their world and are often incomprehensible to people of other age groups.
  • Imitation. Slang can also be used for the purpose of imitation of a specific individual or collective image, which the speaker admires. For instance, nowadays many teenagers tend to copy popular rappers and anime characters.
  • Hobby. Slang is definitely a manifestation of interest in an activity. Athletes, musicians, gamers — all of them have a specific slang.

Thus, we’ve come to the conclusion that teenagers apply slang to assert their membership in a group, separate themselves from and make them feel superior to the mainstream. Besides, slang gives an opportunity to display individuality. This is the traditional view of slang.


3.2 Modern approach


But if most scientists agree that slang is an essential human feature and it has existed as long as mankind itself, perhaps we should not associate it with adolescence and seek for some other deeper explanations? It appears that the psychodynamic psychology of slang is inextricably linked with: 1) the defense of the ego against the super-ego, and 2) concurrent desire and unwillingness to be human.


3.2.1 Defense of the ego


In 1923 the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud introduced a structural model of the psyche in his book ‘The Id and the Ego’. There he put forth the idea of ego and super-ego.

Ego represented the realistic, conscious part of the individual’s psyche and super-ego represented the unconscious part, playing the critical and moralizing role. In other words, we can think of superego as a parent and ego as a child inside every person’s mind.

Taking this theory into consideration, we might look at slang as a treatment for damaged egos. The family implies an oppresive hierarchy of rights and obligations and sometimes, in these conditions, the child needs remedies for his or her weakness.

With this in mind, we can allege that slang is crucial for the development of the self and society would simply be impossible without it. One of the paradoxes of slang is that such a flippant and seemingly superficial linguistic phenomenon turns out to be so vital to proper human growth.

This proves the fact that slang is more than just a tool of group identification, only because it existed before groups, and it continues to exist over time as old groups break up and new ones are formed.


3.2.2 Concurrent desire and unwillingness to be human


"Concurrent desire and unwillingness to be human" — how is it connected with slang? What I mean here is that despite our ambition to be civilized and decent, it is seen as perfectly normal to periodically feel a need for connection with our animal nature (which slang can establish). If we consider it deeply, we can find parallels with some other phenomena e.g. dark comedy and myth.

The similarity between slang and dark comedy is the celebration of human vulnerability and animality. Sigmund Freud in his 1927 essay Humour (Der Humor) proposed his understanding of black comedy:

The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure ... When, to take the crudest example, a criminal who was being led out to the gallows on a Monday remarked: ‘Well, the week's beginning nicely’, he was producing the humour himself; the humorous process is completed in his own person and obviously affords him a certain sense of satisfaction.

In other terms, dark comedy makes fun of critical situations instead of taking them at face value. Just as slang mocks fake pomp and glitz instead of exalting it.

As for myth, we can make use of analytical psychology and examine the trickster archetype identified by the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung. The trickster is an archetype of a character who achieves some positive effect by commiting actions that go beyond the general rules of behaviour. Tales about tricksters: devious people who use trickery to get food, steal treasures or cause any kind of trouble can be found in all cultures. For instance, in Greek mythology the figure of trickster is represented by Hermes, the patron of thieves and the inventor of lying. Other famous examples include Baron Munchausen and Karlsson-on-the-Roof. Slang provides us an opportunity to play the trickster’s role, to glorify wit without a sense of responsibility.


4. Attitude


 There is a perception that when slang spreads outside a local group and becomes culturally accepted it can become harmful for the purity of a certain language. However, modern linguists tend to acknowledge its non-static nature and consider slang terms valid along with the neutral ones.

As the literary scholar Wylie Sypher said, ‘…man is not man without being somehow uneasy about the “nastiness” of his body, [and] obscenity… is a threshold over which man enters into the human condition.’ We might replace obscenity with slang and discover that, unfortunately, we have not advanced far beyond this threshold and sometimes are even unable to reach it.


5. Poll


In the process of research I was wondering what picture of slang people had. Therefore, I decided to carry out a poll. The questionnaire was a form on Google Forms and included 4 questions:


The number of respondents amounted to 30 — 10 people from each age group — 14-29, 30-55, 56-80. The survey showed that most people understood correctly or almost correctly what slang was. 56.7% said that slang was the language of individual groups, 23.3% defined slang as vernacular, and the remaining 20% incorrectly considered slang a dialect. Moreover, two-thirds of those who thought that slang was a dialect belonged to the third age group (56-80).



Opinions about the reasons for the use of slang expressions were divided. The majority (73.3%) agreed that slang was associated with the sense of freedom. More than half of those surveyed (56.7%) thought slang helped to express one’s ideas more clearly and 43.3% believed that slang was a defense mechanism. The least popular point of view (30%) was that teenagers tried to stand out using slang.



As far as attitudes are concerned, 50% approved of slang, 26.7% were indifferent to it and only 23.3% reacted negatively.



To sum up, many people understand what slang is and if they do not approve of it, at least it does not put them off.


6. How does slang catch on?


Experience has shown that some slang words and phrases remain popular for centuries and others get outdated very soon. For example, the word ‘cool’ which initially meant ‘moderately cold’, in the late 19th century started to be associated with style and elegance and some of the other things with which it is currently associated. Now you can say ‘cool’ about anything that you consider good: films, music, cafés etc. But not all slang terms prove to be as durable. In the 1940s, if you had dressed smart, someone could have called you ‘spiffy.’ If you had lived in the 1950s, you would have heard people say ‘swell.’ Today, young people might say you’re ‘on fleek.’ Call someone ‘spiffy’ now and they would think that you are a time traveller from the past.

Language is constantly changing. Some words and expressions become popular and persist as time goes by while others go out of fashion. So what is the underlying cause of this phenomenon?

American psychologists Jonah Berger and  Ezgi Akpinar have found out that our senses have a great influence on linguistic success. Almost always there are several ways to convey the same idea. For instance, an unfriendly person can also be described as ‘cold’. Similarly, a smart student can be called ‘bright’. At first sight, this factor may seem insignificant. But, in fact, linguistic success is largely dependent on it. Jonah Berger and  Ezgi Akpinar discovered that phrases which metaphorically refer to senses become more popular over time. They gave people a list of sensory metaphors and other phrases that mean the same thing, and found that sensory metaphors are 50 percent more likely to be remembered 10 minutes later. In the 1800s the phrase ‘sudden increase’ referred to a dramatic rise in the number, amount or value of something. However, the phrase “sharp increase”, which was introduced around 1900, is now much more popular. By the same token, formerly people would use the phrase “promising future” to say that something good was yet to come, but, the phrase “bright future” soon took over and now is used 2.4 times more often.

The social element enhances this advantage, increasing the likelihood that other people will hear the phrases and also use them in their speech.


7. Conclusion


The aim of my investigation was to study reasons and motives for the use of slang and assess its significance in language and human life in general.

In the course of the investigation, I identified the impulses that urge individuals to resort to slang and defined it as an inherent part of human development and well-being. It makes an invaluable contribution to the formation of the personality and society. Therefore, there is no point in imposing any limitations in this sphere of language.

I would like to finish with a quote by the great English writer Michael Adams:

Some people think that slang is bad. They think it’s vulgar, sloppy, repetitive, Chuck Taylors with a jacket and tie. ‘Use the words you’ve got’, they say, ‘not the words you want’. But no one cares to hear about how dissatisfied you are with the language you’re given. Rather than complain about slang as ‘bad’ language we should celebrate its playful resistance to the commonplace and to see it as the expression of an innate human capacity, not only for language, but for poetry.


I hope, the results and conclusions of my research can have a practical use in further studying of the problem.


8. References