Abstract: With the development of the society, slang is accepted by more and more Americans. This thesis analyses features and functions of American slang. The author draws a conclusion that American slang reflects the cultural characteristics of Americans’ humor, informality, self-confidence, anti-authority, innovation consciousness and pursuit for time efficiency. Slang is a sort of informal language, the original purpose is to express vulgarly or use it as a jargon or cant. With the development of the modern American culture, the modern American slang has become a common linguistic phenomenon which is different from jargon and argot, spreading all over any aspects of life.
In American English, slang is also one of the major parts in people’s life and can reflect the social life about civilian requirements and characteristics of language expression. According to accurate statistics, the daily American vocabulary is about 10000-20000 words, of which 10% about 2000 words are slangs, these slangs are frequently used in people’s daily life, with strong expression and abundant culture feature, therefore, only by having some certain knowledge on American slangs can we speak American English properly and natively. Here is what I am going to discuss on the characteristics of modern American slang, and the translation of American slang as well, so as to improve people’s understanding and the use of American slangs.
The basic characteristics of modern American slang
The most significant feature is informality, which is the origin of the slang and nature of it. Because of the informal expression of American slang, moreover, comparing the American English with British English, the former is actually more flexible and informal. Therefore, it also determines the informality of American slang and makes it even more apparently. For instance: A:Excuse me. I have to catch some Zs. (Excuse me. I have to take a nap.) B:I thought you just woke up. Sleepyhead.(I thought you just woke up. You are lazy and sleepy.)
In this example, a typical slang “catch some Zs” by the speaker means taking a nap, and “sleepyhead” means a person who loves sleeping, both of which are limited to oral English expression frequently, generally not used for formal expressions. In addition, common American slang expressions such as “kiss ass (sycophancy)”, “hit the road (set out)”, and “take a dump (defecate)” are typically informal. It is because of its obvious informality that Americans like advocating freedom of expressions in some light-hearted situations that need humorous atmosphere to ease embarrassing scene. Both politicians or ordinary people prefer using slangs to light up the atmosphere.
America is a country that desires for freedom. In pursuit of innovation, people are unremitting to new things and new ideas, which creates a large number of novel American slang words and provide a perfect condition. Furthermore, one of the characteristics of American slang is innovative. American slangs always use the original or new words to reflect new things, new development and new concept. Like the word “jazz” , it was first used to express a kind of music in New Orleans. Along with the development of jazz, Americans soon produced “bop” (pop), “far – out” (fashion), “beat” , “cool” (modern), etc. Because of the style of jazz, the word “jazz” generates some new meanings, such as “exertion”, “cordiality”, “frenzy” and so on. The old American drug addicts created the slang nose candy, black stuff, shooting gallery referring to drug.
The blacks create and use slang a lot, such as dog juices (cheap wine), cakewalk (a kind of hip-hop dance), breakdancing (break), etc. Since the 1980s, some modern terms have been popular among the young, such as “bag your faith (left)”, “big time (serious)”, “golden (women)”, “worms (ugly people)”. They are the creative use of the phrases from the slangs. The generation of slang is inseparable from the creative use of the original English vocabulary, and the creation of new words plays a vital role as well. The United States is a multi-national country with immigrants, and constantly the moving in immigrants creates new words, making the American slangs increase rapidly. All of these prove that American slang is innovative.
In American English, the use of slangs are very common. It has something to do with the pursuit of flexibility, innovation, humor in American English, also with the history of United States. In the history of the United States, “westward movement in the contemporary” formed the largest population flow, so that the regional dialect and the jargon from all classes including cant have been widely spread. Because the official does not emphasize on “literary language”, and has made few “language purification”, thus jargon and sayings which were constantly used , have formed today’s omnifarious slangs that Americans generally use. In the 20th century, American slangs had a development which progressed by leaps and bounds. During the two world wars, the Vietnam war, the Korean war, and the cold war period, a large quantity of slangs generated. Moreover, American social problems, such as racial discrimination, civil rights movement, family disintegration, sexual liberation, gay so on and so forth, much more American slangs have mushroomed. English slangs can be defined to common colloquial language, and according to the definition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (1985), slangs are frequently used as colloquial words and phrases.
It cannot be taken as Standard-English, therefore this demonstrates that, slang is Nonstandard-English. Nevertheless, slangs are very popular among the English-speaking countries nowadays. Slangs are spoken by people in daily speech, and even magazine and literary works may find a large number of them. With the development of the society, slangs are widely used by more and more people, especially in America, slang can be found favorable in the Americans’ eyes. It is accepted by both upper-class and lower-class, and especially the college students who tend to use up-to-date words that form a kind of characteristic style of themselves. Slang plays an important part in American English. It is reported that slang accounts for one of the tenth of American average vocabulary. People’s attitude toward slang varies from person to person. Some think that slang cannot be used on the formal occasion, for it is spoken by the illiterate people only and the slang terms are so coarse.
Some even think that slang is the filthy language, and advocate abandoning using it. However, others hold the opposite idea. They think that slang play an important role in English language, because of its fresh, lifelike, humor and adequate expressions. One must admit the undeniable fact that slang is spoken by more and more people. In modern times, if one is not familiar with American slang he or she could not capture the slang expressions in the movie and common fictions, and, what worse, one would 0make mistakes when they are talking with the Americans. An example will clarify the fact. A guide asks the tourist “anybody wants to take a leak?”(Does anybody want to go to the restroom?), and, of course, what the guide said would make the tourist surprise. It is the uneducated vulgarity of expression at all. Therefore, one should bear in mind that it is very important to study language in a sociocultural context; the language has existed in close contact with culture. From the example one can know that misusing slang would result in misunderstanding in the communication. It can not tell others that one is good at English.
It is not thus; moreover it shows that one just has half-back knowledge about slang. Americans speak colorful, idiomatic English that may have little resemblance to the language one studied in school. Even a native English speaker might be confused by the combination of slang that characterizes American conversation. So it is very important to capture the American slang expression in order to know others correctly. This thesis starts with the analysis of the cultural condition of American slang, and its purpose is to probe into the features of slang so as to bring the relationship between slang and society culture to light. Ⅰ.American Slang is quite a controversial language, people have different attitude toward it. It is no wonder that the definition of slang is so variety.
However, the slang terms have their own characters, and, of course, the definitions of it are more or less described in the same way. A. The Definition of Slang Slang is a rather special parole. It is neither the word that beyond the regular role of grammatical usage, nor rural dialect. Although it is quite different from acrolect which used on the formal occasion, people quite like to use it in daily speech. As a matter of fact, the meaning of most slang is similar to the words of colloquial style. Some consider one word is slang, while others might not think so.
For example, the old may believe the word bike is slang, but the youth might not .Bicycle is trisyllabic, while bike is monosyllabic, it is so troublesome to pronounce the word with trisyllabic, and of course, the youth prefer to omit some other two syllables, and bike is spoken by the youth more often. To some certain slang, it is hard to tell the differences between slang and colloquial style. One of the definitions of it is, “the body of words and expression frequently used by or intelligible to a rather large portion of the general public, but not accepted as good; formal usage by the majority” (Flexner, 1975:3).
Courtney from Study Moose
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