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Studies in Current Adolescent Slang

Nancy J. Eaton, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Document Type Open Access


The idea of studying language at the substandard level of slang might not seem especially attractive to those inured to social proprieties, prescriptive grammar, and the cultivation of elevated speech. However, at the slang level language is often dynamic, original, and notably lacking in self-consciousness. Concrete and earthy, it is as refreshingly honest as it is sometimes distressingly crude. At the same time, it often suffers by being faddish, tending to generalization on the one hand and affectation on the other. Some of it dies early, some of it lives on, and every day new slang enters speech. Because, for the most part, it is socially-identifying, slang is highly revealing about those who use it, reflecting their values, their experiences, and their needs.

This study takes its origin from a desire to understand better this level of language as it is manifested among adolescents today. Although the study focuses on current speech habits, it cannot avoid uncovering information about its speakers, so integral to thought and action is the language-symbol. Since slang supposedly is uninhibited speech (though, as we discover, it can be self-consciously cultivated by the young), it often lays bare the personality from which it emanates. The investigation of what adolescents talk about and how they talk, emphasizes graphically the inseparability of language and life.

For this study to have been possible at all, the assistance of many individuals was required. I am, therefore, particularly indebted to my classes at Longmeadow High School for their cooperation, interest, and enthusiasm in providing the necessary language data. Generous and unselfish in their efforts for this project, they were not merely contributing but vital and sustaining to it. Also, I wish to thank my research advisor, Dr. Audrey Buckert for her interest and helpful suggestions.