The study of social varieties of English with special emphasis on the Am. E. CB slang

Master's Thesis 2010 66 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics





1.1 What is language ?
1.2 Language typology
1.3 Typological Classification
1.4 Genetic Classification
1.5 Social and regional varieties of English
1.6 Register, jargon, sociolect
1.7 Professional language
1.8 Varieties of English
1.8.1 Standard English
1.8.2 Scottish English
1.8.3 Welsh English
1.8.4 Irish English
1.8.5 American English
1.8.6 Other varieties

2.1 Definition of slang
2.2 The position of slang, its effects on society and the justification for its use
2.3 Types of slang
War Slang
Criminal Slang
Urban Slang
Internet Slang
Prison Slang/Grypsera
Political Slang
Afro-American Slang
Vice Slang
SMS Slang
Sex Slang
2.4 On CB radio
2.5 The CB Community
2.6 The importance of handles
2.7 Beware of the bears - law enforcement officers in the CB universe
2.8 CB slang as a type of anti-language


SUMMARY – Polish version




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People are surrounded with change and development in almost all spheres of life, however, out of all aspects of human existence, language is the only one which evolution is almost impossible to scrutinize in its full spectrum and beauty. Language requires no regulations[1], it simply flows, living its own life of unrestrained freedom, like a tiny, independent organism it develops, alters and adjusts to the surrounding reality. As an American lexicographer once perfectly put it, language […] is an uncompromising mirror […] an untouched record of thoughts, feelings, successes, failures, and intent of the people.[2] While many linguists tried to analyze, document, as well as describe the intricate ways of language functioning, most of them were unsuccessful in their ventures. The vast majority of ordinary people use language every day, but few feel compelled enough to stop and wonder about the phenomenon of speech and why the human race is the only species on planet Earth that is privileged to be endowed with such aptitude.

Despite numerous studies and extensive research, language is still an unfathomable subject for many individuals. Unfortunately, considering the fact that there are over 6000 natural languages, many of which not even being close to be referred to as documented, the situation is even less likely to change in the nearest future. However, abstruse and complicated language studies appear to be, there are more and more linguists who strive to explain the phenomenon of language. Additionally, considering an immense leap in advanced technologies such as voice recognition, text to speech/speech to text conversion algorithms, language translation devices and sophisticated speech simulators, a completely new spectrum of possibilities opens for any future research, allowing for a more accurate scrutiny of all natural lingoes.

The main thesis of this work is to touch upon the phenomenon of language, specifically, provide its definition, discuss the subject of language categorization, as well as enumerate and analyze the focal terms that make up the very foundations of most natural lingoes. It will also present a detailed insight in the world of colloquial speech, and related phenomena, focusing predominantly on the linguistic aspects and the analysis of CB slang. What must be mentioned is that this work’s thesis is not merely to define the most common terms in language studies, but to express and illustrate the beauty, the complexity, and the unfathomability of language phenomenon. It is to prove the versatility, as well as the speed rate in which languages evolve, alter and shape accordingly in the ever-changing reality, making language studies an inexhaustible research field for generations to come. The work is divided into two chapters :

Chapter 1 is an attempt to describe the phenomenon on language with all its intricacies and peculiarities. Next the definition of language typology/classification will be provided together with examples based on both typological and genetic classifications. Following subchapters will focus on scrutinizing and differentiating between the focal terms revolving around the use of language, namely: variety, dialect, accent, register, jargon and sociolect. Special attention will also be given to breaking the term professional language into its constituent parts, discussing the terminological inconsistencies among different authors and the relation with other linguistic phenomena such as slang, euphemisation and jargon. The second part of Chapter 1 will present an extensive description of the main varieties of English spoken on the British Isles and around the world respectively, together with the definition of Standard English. It will pinpoint the idiosyncrasies of different variations in terms of grammar, pronunciation as well as the dissimilarities in vocabulary structure and usage. Due to space limitation, it will only focus on the main varieties of English, spoken around the world, however, other prominent examples such as New Zealand, South African or Canadian variations of English will also be touched upon.

The prime focus of Chapter 2 will be placed on the phenomenon of slang, both its literary and linguistic definitions, etymology as well as its application in everyday life. It will also mention the accomplishments and the influence of the founding father of colloquial speech studies, Eric Partridge, together with a brief historical outline of slang dictionaries. Subsequent subchapter will try to depict the position of slang in the contemporary world, its far-reaching effects and ramifications, as well as the reasoning behind its use. Next, examples from several prominent slangs will be provided together

with explanations, to illustrate the diversity, heterogenousness and their application

in miscellaneous branches of expertise/interest. The second part of Chapter 2 will be devoted to the subject of CB slang. First, it will focus on the historical background of the CB phenomenon, briefly discuss its technological aspects and debate whether its existence was simply a fad or an invention which was key in the development of today’s means of communication and one that brought about a social revolution on both American and European roads. Following subchapters will attempt to describe the CB community not merely as a loosely tied group of individuals, but as a cohesive body bound together by customs, rules and handles. The last element will be analyzed thoroughly in subchapter 2.6, focusing on the reasoning behind certain handles, the choice and the psychological aspects of choosing one’s own individual on-the-air pseudonym in the CB universe. Finally, the linguistic picture of the law enforcement officer in the CB world will be presented, followed by a list of the most common CB slang terms, together with their semantic and social analysis. Since the main focus of this work is the image of the police force, the vocabulary that will be discussed will comprise terms related with subfields such as: Law Enforcement Officers, Means of Transport, Police Attributes and Actions present in the CB universe.


1.1 What is Language ?

Language is an endemic phenomenon, it is literally everywhere, both

in its spoken and written form. What seems peculiar, however, is that considering

the prevalence of the term, not many people are competent enough to formulate

a concise and accurate definition. According to Graddol (1994:1), anyone who can speak a language knows something about what a language is. But it cannot be assumed that those who know how to use language can readily tell us what language is. Linguists have long strived to create one, reliable definition that would successfully embrace the scope of language and all its elements. It is, however, extremely difficult to capture its essence and ubiquity. It demands methodological effort to discover, describe and scrutinize the basic principles which govern its functioning (cf. Graddol 1994).

The most uncomplicated and unassuming definition portrays language as a set of signals by which we communicate (Todd 1987:6). Unfortunately, it is an oversimplification of the matter, since it is impossible to define language in all its scope and complexity with a single sentence. In Słownik wiedzy o języku Płóciennik and Podlawska define language as:

[...] narzędzie porozumiewania się ludzi, dlatego najważniejszą funkcją, którą pełni on w każdej społeczności, jest funkcja komunikacyjna. Aby język mógł ją właściwie realizować, musi mieć wystarczający zasób słów ( àsłownictwo) i gramatykę, czyli zbiór reguł decydujących o powstaniu słów z morfemów, tych zaś z fonemów. Słowa zbudowane według określonych reguł wchodzą ze sobą w związki, tworząc wypowiedzenia i teksty.[3]

Language is not only a linguistic phenomenon embodied in speech, but also a powerful device for conveying information by means of metalanguage. In fact, through body language, gestures, facial expressions, the way we sit, our eyes, the shape of eyebrows and lips, as well as many other signals, we can convey even more important messages than those delivered by words (cf. Płóciennik and Podlawska 2005). Language can also take form of written passages and audio recordings and […] it must be made concrete, and transmitted and received by one or more of the human senses (Freeborn 1993:76). That is why in his comprehensive work The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Crystal (1997:454) defines language as the systematic, conventional use of sounds, signs, or written symbols in a human society for communication and self-expression. One word that is missing in this ‘almost perfect’ depiction is ‘ arbitrary ’. Every single language is both systematic and arbitrary (see Todd 1987:6), meaning that there are no two languages with exactly the same patterns of behaviour, still, however, each language is defined by a strict set of rules. To clarify this point it is enough to look at the following example. The English word dog can be translated into French chien and German Hund. No visible connection between those words and the four-legged barking mammal can be observed. Although the selection of lexical items seem completely random and arbitrary, it is perfectly natural for the native speakers to use these terms in all three languages. The same lack of relation can be seen in the following sentences:

I like meat.

In German:

Ich mag Fleisch.

In French:

J'aime la viande.

Looking at the above given examples, we cannot state that any of them

is ‘better’ or more ‘appropriate’ than the others (cf. Todd 1987). The arbitrariness is expressed in both the selection of words and their combination, but also certain regularity can be seen in that similar ideas are expressed in similar manner.

What needs to be concluded, is that there is no notion of inferiority among natural languages. Even the most remote and obscure ones spoken by literally few individuals, demonstrate the same level of linguistic abstruseness and sophistication as the major languages spoken by millions of people. It seems that regardless of geographical location, customs, the level of technological advancement or the number of speakers, all natural languages are as subtle and highly organized so as to suit their users’ needs. Additionally, the human being is the only species in the contemporary world that mastered the phenomenon of speech. In fact […] nothing in the animal kingdom even approximates to human language for flexibility, complexity, precision, productivity and sheer quantity. Humans have learnt to make infinite use of finite means (see Todd 1987:6).

1.2 Language typology

The existence of over 6000[4] languages means, that linguists were compelled to decipher a way to classify them for practical descriptive reasons. While the term typology may not seem as unknown to the majority of people, it requires a brief clarification, when referred to in the field of Linguistics. In fact, we can define it in two distinct ways.

In the first definition, typology is referred to by Croft (2003:1) as a classification

of structural types across language. In simple terms, languages are allocated to certain types and typology attempts to define them and classify languages into those types. This kind of typology is widely known as typological classification.

According to the second definition, typology will seek and study patterns that are systematic in all languages. We will refer to such way as typological generalization.

As the name suggests, linguists following this particular way of language classification, will strive to find generalizations or more elusively language universals.

So far two approaches are prevalent and used for categorizing languages. The first one is referred to as typological classification and is based on grouping languages according to their similarities and differences from a linguistic point of view. The latter

is genetic (or genealogical) classification, which examines relationships among languages and seeks common origins.

1.3 Typological classification

One possible way in which we can analyse languages, is to observe […] their characteristic patterns of word order (Graddol 1994:5). For instance, in most natural languages the subject (S) occupies the position before the verb (V) which is followed by an object (O). Other languages like Welsh would rather be associated with the VSO pattern, however, such syntactic configuration is fairly infrequent. What we gain from this observation is that, the vast majority of languages is based upon the SOV structure and other variants are of minor prevalence (c.f. Croft 2003). The second option lies in dividing world languages into four categories:[5]

1) Isolating languages – this category gathers primitive languages, in which there are no affixation processes and words are usually monosyllabic. Chinese is a prime example here.
2) Agglutinative languages – this category holds more sophisticated languages such as Latin or Hungarian, in which words are made of syllables/parts with definite meaning and the capability to function separately.
3) Inflective languages – in those languages a lot of grammatical meaning
is expressed by affixes, which cannot function on their own. Polish[6], English and German are examples of such languages.
4) Incorporating languages – In these languages, the lexical items are so complex that they can function as whole sentences. Some languages belonging to this category include Eskimo, Australian Aboriginal languages and Chukchi (example below) :

Təmeyŋəlevtpə γ tərkən.

t-ə-meyŋ-ə-levt-pəγ t-ə-rkən


‘I have a fierce headache’ (see Skorik 1961:102).

Over the last few years typological classification have been streamlined and turned out to be extremely gratifying for linguistic research. Despite its obvious limitations and incongruities it still plays a potent part in language categorization process.

1.4 Genetic classification

The main task of genetic classification is to show historical relationship between languages. There are no languages which did not undergo changes over time, as a result, numerous varieties emerged and a number of those turned into individual languages. Depending on how long ago they began to diverge from each other, we may observe how close such varieties are related.

If languages are said to have evolved from a single parent language, they are regarded as members of the same language family. Considering the staggering amount

of natural languages, there exists about thirty of such families, incorporating at least 4000 languages, and plausibly as many as 6000 different individual languages. The family with the largest population and distribution in the world is indubitably the Proto-Indo-European family of languages.[7] Many of the European and Indian languages belonging to this group, are believed to have derived from a single, prehistoric, linguistic ancestor, which has unanimously been called Proto-Indo-European (cf. Yule 2006). According to this assumption, Polish and for instance Punjabi are linguistically related, while Polish and Zulu are not. In order to categorize world languages, linguists try to visualize relationships between languages by means of family trees. Figure 1 shows one version of theIndo-European family of languages.

Much like typological classification, genetic classification has some major constraints. Firstly, while Proto-Indo-European family presents a ‘cohesive linguistic universe’, mostly due to extensive research and the amount of data gathered over the centuries, other families fail to deliver sufficient and reliable information. One of the reasons is the lack of historical evidence, patterns of population migration, interaction between communities and the size of certain societies, that prevented linguists from establishing a reliable and precise paradigm for different language families.

Secondly, genetic model disregards instances of interaction between languages after the supposed historical divergence. Much like ideas, traditions and objects permeate from one culture to another, certain lexical items are introduced into one language from another. English for instance has numerous loan words, and has been the source of many in a number of different languages. Unfortunately, the process of borrowings

is deceptive for linguists, since it gives rise to similarities between languages which are linguistically unrelated. Additionally, apart from vocabulary items, this mechanism may sporadically concern pronunciation and grammar. Taking all these arguments into account, both historical and present-day relationships between languages are much more complicated than the picture presented by family trees. Still, however, genetic classification maintains a potent position in language analysis by pointing out certain differences and similarities within contemporary languages.

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Figure 1. The Indo-European family of languages

(Image taken from http://abagond.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/diausa.gif).

1.5 Variety, dialect and accent

When you hear someone speak, it is easy to tell whether she/he speaks with

a British, American or Welsh accent; there is no need for them to produce a specific word or phrase, in order to reveal their linguistic background. Accent is something you hear straight away, it is the way people pronounce sounds. There is no person devoid

of pronunciation, some individuals may speak with a flat intonation, others with a more melodic one (cf. Yule 2006), but everyone of us speaks with a specific accent.

Everyone who speaks with an accent uses a distinct dialect, a type of language that reveals one’s social background. Danesi (2000:77) defines this term as […]any form of speech considered as differing in specific ways from a real or imaginary standard form. He additionally distinguishes between social dialects; ones […]spoken by a specific group of people of a similar level of education, social class or occupation and geographical dialect; ones […] restricted to a certain area or locale. A dialect is composed of lexical items, specific grammar and is frequently spoken with a certain accent (cf. Yule 2006). Accent, however, is not an inextricable part of a it, because we can observe an American trying to pretend to be British and addressing someone with an all right mate! exclamation using and American accent.

While all speakers admitting to be speaking English share certain similarities, there are also ways in which their ‘languages’ differ. When we consider a Polish, Welsh

or a Scottish speaker of English, we may ask whether they speak the same language. Some linguists suggested the term idiolect to refer to a […]personal dialect of an individual speaker (Yule 2006:243), which is […]often implemented in order to describe the peculiarities of an individual’s understanding of a language, particularly his or her deviation(s) from the generally accepted patterns of usage or norm (Burkhanov 1986:106). This, however, does not show to what extent two people can differ and still speak the same language. Mutual comprehensibility may also be taken into consideration: as long as two individuals understand each other without constraints, they are said to be using the same language. This criterion, however, has some limitations and its main problem is that it […]admits of degrees of more or less (Chambers and Trudgill 2004:4). To illustrate its short-sightedness it is sufficient to look at the instance of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish speakers, who can easily understand each other, yet Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are separate languages.[8] Another example concerns inhabitants of parts of Britain and America who can find it almost impossible to understand each other, but we regard them as using the same language.

The common misconception has its foundations in the scope in which the terms language and dialect can be used and most of the circumstances are clearly non-linguistic. Naughty and arrogant pupils are often reprimanded by the teacher with a Watch your language young man! order. The same situation concerns the term dialect, which can be understood as a different version of the standard language, a quaint and poetic speech

or the language type spoken in the countryside. None of these, however, correspond to the way in which linguists portray both terms.

Considering the controversy and misunderstanding while referring to language and dialect, a more general and neutral name should be given to encompass all the above mentioned phenomena. In order to achieve that, we can use the term ‘variety’ to mean a language, a dialect, an idiolect or an accent. The term ‘variety’ is an academic term

used for any kind of language production, whether we are viewing it as being determined by region, by gender, by social class, by age or by our own inimitable individual characteristics (Bauer 2002:4).

1.6 Register, jargon and sociolect

We already know that a number of terms in linguistics are mistakenly taken

by ordinary people, as having synonymous meanings. In previous subchapter, the term dialect and idiolect appeared, however, no social perspective of these phenomena has been discussed. While the two are mainly concerned with geographical regions and individual speakers respectively, no attention was given to the language spoken by specific social groups.

Such language will be referred to as a social dialect or, contractedly, sociolect and will on the basis of words, structures and pronunciation reveal the social background

of an individual. When looking at the community, we generally distinguish two main groups; the ‘middle class’ and the ‘working class’. Members of the first group will on most occasions be more educated and will rather be associated with white-collar jobs. On the contrary the latter will most likely be less acquainted with long years of study and will occupy the manual work industries. Further divisions in class patterns can be established by adding words like ‘upper’ or ‘lower’, making for instance ‘lower-middle-class-speech’. This modifications, however, focus mainly on the financial background, rather than linguistic factors.

When someone is said to be using working-class speech, we are referring to a social dialect. Obvious differences between sociolects can be observed primarily in the scope and sophistication of vocabulary items used. A very simple sentence like: John, there’s a man outside who wants to see you, will look like this: John, there’s a gentleman outside who wants to see you when uttered by a middle or upper-middle-class member, and like this: Oi mate ! Some bloke outside wanna see ya when said by a working-class person. Other examples will include terms like quid <> pound, minger <> unattractive or pissed <> drunk.[9]

While analyzing instances of language in use that may reveal information about

a social dialect, we will treat class as a social variable and pronunciation variation

as a linguistic variable. After those two are scrutinized, we then may proceed

to investigate systematic variations encompassing both variables by looking at the frequency with which individual speakers in a given class use each version of the linguistic variable. Research in this field will focus not on establishing a typical pattern for one social class or another, but rather the regularity in specific form usage in a particular group.

The style of speech will also be highly influenced by register which is defined

by Yule (2006:210) as a conventional way of using language that is appropriate

in a specific context. Those may vary from occupational (e.g. among bankers), situational (e.g. during examination), and topical (e.g. discussing computer games). It is not difficult

to observe distinct features that occur in the examination register (you have a lot

of convincing to do), the banking register (banks are using billions of dollars of federal bailout money to buy other banks instead of boosting their lending) as well as the computer games register (the game offers a compelling story line, mind-blowing graphics and

a competitive multiplayer mode, it is a must-have for all PS3 owners).


[1] We create language spontaneously, we coin neologisms and frequently shape the language in ways that are completely unintended by dictionary/grammar books writers.

[2] Quotation after www.bbc.com.

[3] Translation (mine): Language is a tool which people use for communication, therefore its most important function within any society, is the communicative function. In order to fulfill its aims, language needs to have a sufficient number of words (àvocabulary) and grammar, a selection of rules that govern the creation of words from morphemes and morphemes from phonemes. Words are composed based upon specific principles and connect with each other, creating utterances and sentences.

[4] The number is hard to estimate precisely and opinions on the exact number of world languages vary among linguists.

[5] While the distinction may seem valuable, it is not very precise and reliable for a few reasons. For example, the difference between agglutinative and inflective categories is very unclear, since there are many languages that can be allocated to both categories.

[6] Polish can also be placed in the former group based on the following example : kot <> koty (inflectional) and skoczyć <> odskoczyć (agglutinative), since the suffix y cannot function separately while the prefix ‘ od ’ can.

[7] For more language families see Taitt (1996:6-9).

[8] Example from Chambers and Trudgill (2004:3).

[9] First terms will be used mainly by uneducated people, the latter by middle or upper-class members.


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Title: The study of social varieties of English with special emphasis on the Am. E. CB slang