Research article
Issue: № 3 (7), 2016


The article deals with synchronic analysis of the main characteristic features of youth jargon and their historical determination. The authors disclose and compare such terms as “youth jargon”, “youth slang”, “argot” and analyze some tendencies in their studies.

Language transformations and specific sociolects which include youth jargon as well are widely discussed in scientific literature of recent years. Although modern Russian linguistics - as well as foreign language studies - is closely focused on this phenomenon, informational, social and linguacultural changes are getting to this focus only when they become evident in the everyday, e.g. in casual life of society. Due to the process of rapid “internetization” of society, many language aspects and peculiarities of their usage in youth communication seem to be left unconsidered. The relevance of the problem marked is determined by a growing interest towards some speech behavior peculiarities of the youth being a specific group of modern society. It should be mentioned that value orientation and traditions of youth communication, specific sub-systems, connected with English lexical and terminological systems influence the change of modern language system and that leads to changes in native speaker personality. Scientists now agree with the idea of modern youth jargon being multifunctional, although the description of jargon in general and youth jargon in particular haven`t undergone significant changes and moved beyond original definitions none of which is claimed to be generally accepted. The analysis of definitions found in different types of dictionaries shows that jargon is characterized by having its own vocabulary and expressivity of speech patterns but lacking specific phonetic and grammar systems. The variety of lexical items used in the language peculiar to a certain sphere to name real, hypothetical and imaginary objects is determined by a specificity of activities and world model existing in a person`s mind at a certain moment, but it always contains the traces of past definitions. Nowadays, many researchers consider jargon and slang to be relative, often understanding jargon as realization (or verbalization) of communication, e.g. as a communicative act or the process of communication.

It is safe to say that today there is a tendency of social groups mixing in terms of growing role of common information spaces (social networks, forums and other means of communication provided by the Internet) in communication. Jargon expressions living in youth subcultural area are easily taken by adults and children. Colloquial language analysis shows that generic lexical items are often transformed into jargons and turn into special state expressions. Reverse process is also possible: a jargon expression becomes a generic one and can be widely used in everyday speech. Obviously, there is no unambiguous divide between jargon expressions and generic words and it is clear that alongside with a special component there is a variety of relations standing behind this phenomenon which are specific for a certain society as well as for a unique personality of each human being. Apparently, modern linguistics is going through some changes in the aspect of youth jargon considering approach and these changes are being determined by current state of society.

 It is pertinent to consider the phenomenon of youth jargon. This phrasing, taken from French lexicology, was first used by Kvitka-Osvonjyanenko in his Russian language novel “Pan Khalyavskiy” (1839) when describing “mysterious language of seminarians”, e.g. the students of theological schools in the 18-19th centuries. In the author’s words, seminarians used to add a suffix “us” to each word which turned their speech into “particular conspirators’ language”. According to O.A. Anischenko, putting together the words “mysterious” and “conspirators” in that quotation already gives us ground to speak of comparative function of jargon [1]. Written by N.G.Pomalyavskiy in the 19th century, “Seminary sketches” (“Ocherki bursy”) documents the fact of existence of seminarians’ language being a set of specific speech patterns an lexical means which distinguish the form of communication of that group from others. Later J. Baudouin de Courtenay would also mention that studying the youth’s language, saying it was “secret or half-secret language of students, high school pupils” and some other social groups. Nevertheless, youth speech only draws linguists’ attention in the beginning of the 20th century in terms of the school system being reformed with boys and girls studying together. In addition, the revolution and civil war leave a lot of straying children and teenagers whose language is influenced by prison jargon and thieves’ cant and that in its turn very soon becomes an inalienable part of school communication. This period is supposed to be the opening phase of youth jargon research [1]. The period though is followed by long down time connected with political conditions and official ban of research activity in this area with the interest brought back only in 1950s. Researchers assume this can be explained by the fact that Russian literary language of that period is characterized by the process of common jargonization determined by the ongoing process of democratization: with compulsory education being launched, not only intellectuals but much more people begin using it. As L.P.Krysin puts it, “at first, jargonization mostly appeared in oral colloquial language (that was marked out by colloquial speech researchers), and then, closer to these days, it became common for the media, publicistic writing, politicians’, deputies’, journalists’ and even writers’ speeches” [4]. Many linguists consider exactly youth jargon to be the leading factor in the process of literary language jargonization. According to V.V.Khimik, the reason for this is that it is precisely the youth “who turn to be originators, exciters of new tendencies in a language” and being the most active part of any society “can exert decisive influence on all the rest members of that society, predetermining the state of the most part of communicative space” [6]. Almost then, in 1960s, a term slang comes to a general use in Russian linguistics. Existing from the 18th century in English linguistic tradition, this term denotes a phenomenon distinguished from the 16th century as “a vulgar speech” of criminals (also known as cant). The Oxford Dictionary defines slang as a vulgar language in its original meaning, from the 19th century used to denote non-literary colloquial speech, neologisms of all types, some special meanings of generic words and so on. As a famous researcher of English uncodified language E. Partridge underlines, the content of slang is highly diverse and can include the words inadmissible for a well-bred Englishman as well as the words widely used in well-educated people’s communication, especially the youth [9]. Consequently, slang is supposed to involve all non-standard lexical items, words and state expressions which are absolutely different in point of their stylistic characteristics and usage sphere: criminal jargon expressions (cant), professional terms, collocations, colloquialisms, abbreviations and so on [3]. Foreign sociolinguistics accepts the following distinction between the three terms slang, jargon and cant. As it was said before, slang is a common term denoting all non-standard lexical items of the language used in everyday life of its native speakers as colloquialisms, whereas jargon is one of its forms, mostly (but not necessarily) connected with a professional sphere of a certain social group [7]. Jargon expressions help build up communication more efficiently, identifying social and professional affiliation of a speaker. It is evident, that in English linguistic tradition jargon expressions are practically similized to professional terms, which is at odds with Russian language studies: jargon denotes a much wider set of colloquial words. Cant and argot are defined as criminal slang rarely used in everyday communication of society and mostly aimed to carry out the function of conspiracy. It is important to add here that the influence of thieves’ slang on other sociolects in English tradition is much less vivid, and the usage of argot expressions in the speech of people who are not connected with criminal circles is almost impossible due to its high level of secrecy. In this regard, in English linguistics criminal slang, alongside with argot and cant, is often called cryptolect [7]. Summarizing abovementioned it is necessary to say that the term slang in English linguistics often refers to a) specific speech patterns and lexical items of certain social groups and subcultures, b) generically used lexical items of colloquial nature for informal communication. Apparently, for English lexicography the advantageous question is not the distinction between slang, jargon and argot, but the specificity of the process of transferring words from slang to colloquial speech and defining these two phenomena.

In Russia, the term slang becomes more popular in 1980-90s which correlates with the growing popularity of English as a foreign language at that time. E.M.Beregovskaya considers this period to be the third wave of interest towards youth jargon research and associates it with “the era of stagnation in Russia, when suffocating atmosphere of social life gave birth to various youth subcultures and “hippirized” young people invented their own slang as a gesture of protest against official ideology” [2]. According to the researcher, the bright trait of youth jargon at that point in time is English loan words domination which in fact was imitation of western style of behavior. She also appeals not to see only negative side of such phenomenon as “argot, no matter how you call it – jargon, slang, sociolects”, because it can be considered as a way of enriching colloquial and literary language. The researcher puts these terms together using them as synonyms and preferring slang only in terms of “englization” of youth communication of that time [2]. It certainly satisfies the main demands of modern tendencies in linguistics: youth jargon is still the most flexible language segment being open for loan colloquialisms and constantly enriching the language with neologisms. 


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