What is "Informal English"?
No living language is simply one set of words which can be used the same way in all situations. The nature of language is such that there are in infinite variety of different ways to arrange its elements. What this means is that there are many ways to say the same thing, depending on where you are, who you are talking to, and how you feel. You are all advanced enough in your study of English to realize that you do not talk to a roommate the same way you would talk to your roommateís mother. You do not talk to a bartender the same way you would talk to a judge. You do not refuse a panhandler with the same words you would use to refuse a second helping of mashed potatoes at a formal dinner. One of the main factors which determine which words and structures are appropriate is the degree of formality of the situation in which you are using the language. In CELOP and in academic situations in general, we use a relatively formal set of words and structures. In this course, we will be examining the specific vocabulary and structures used in less formal situations.
What are "Informal Situations"?
When and where is Informal English appropriate? The are many situations in everyday life where informal English is allowed, even preferred. Some examples include: While playing sports While studying with friends At a bar or informal restaurant At a party or reunion While watching a sporting event With close family members With friends while shopping, studying or hanging out At work (depending on your job) On a date At the movies While listening to popular music On public transportation When accosted on the street by people you donít know In email In notes On the telephone with friends
What is "Slang"?
Slang is a subset of a language used by one particular group. It consists of words and expressions which will not be found in the dictionary, and can be distortions of existing words or entirely invented terms. It is used in informal situations. It
is not appropriate in formal situations.
Who Uses Slang?
Slang is used by all kinds of groups of people who share situations or interests. The group which uses these words is always in the minority, and often use slang to set themselves apart or make it difficult for ordinary people to understand them. When a particular new expressions is known and used by a large majority of the population, it is no longer slang, but part of the regular language or usage.
Note: Slang and Informal English are NOT the same. Some slang can be used in formal situations, and some of the words that can only be used in informal situations are not slang.
Can you think of any examples?
Why Does Slang Exist?
Slang fulfills at least two different functions, depending on whose point of view you take. For the groups that use slang, it is a way to set themselves apart, to express themselves in a distinct and individual way, and sometimes to keep secrets from being known by others. But for the society in general and the development of the language, slang performs another role. For the language, slang is like a linguistic laboratory, where new words and forms can be tested out, applied to a variety of situations, and then either abandoned or incorporated into the regular language. Itís like a trial period for new words. If they allow people to say something that cannot be said using traditional language, and a majority of people accept them, then these words and expressions join their regular language.
What Happens to Slang Words and Expressions?
After a period of between a few months and many years, slang is used by limited groups with something in common. The far majority never reach the popularity and level of use to become regular words, and are soon forgotten and not used. A few reach widespread usage and can be found in each new edition of the popular dictionaries. Many of the words we use everyday and can find in the dictionary began life as slang. Even Shakespeare used slang.