Understanding the Uses of Slang
Due to the prevalence of slang, and the imaginative ways that language is used to create new words, it could be useful to study the nature of slang in schools, and get to understand its formation and uses.
Decoded Science: Do you think slang should be taught formally in class?
Professor Curzan: Teachers should still teach students how to move between more and less colloquial kinds of language depending on the purpose and situation—and in fact, it can be easier to do that if teachers talk about how slang works and when it can be used more and less effectively. Think about what I’m doing at the beginning of my History of English course each day: the students share a couple of slang words, and we use this to talk about different word formation processes (reinforcing technical linguistic information), to examine the power of words to amuse and offend, to think about social boundaries that some of the words create, to reflect on language change, etc. These are very important topics, which we get to through talking about slang (a topic that fully engages students in language study).
Decoded Science: Do you have a prediction for the next punctuation mark that will be changed into a word? How about ‘apostrophe’?
Professor Curzan: Interesting question…. I think I’ll put my money on “asterisk” to do something interesting things in the future. It is being used in texting to do things like fix a typo and mark actions that accompany, for example, *sigh.* So I am going to imagine that we could use it to introduce a repair to spoken language as well—that is, when we need to correct something we’ve said. But if this happens, I think it would be a shortened version of the word. Maybe “strix”? (A good number of us pronounce this word with a final “ks” rather than “sk”—hence the final “x.”) Or “star”?
Language – A Constantly Changing Variable
Language is changing and developing on a daily basis. To keep up with language changes and understand their social uses, focusing on the creative use of language appears a good exercise to try especially in a formal setting in classrooms.
What do you think will be the next unusual slang word? Perhaps you already know some interesting ones? Maybe the next new punctuation mark exchanged for a word will be a dash, ampersand or maybe as Professor Curzan predicts, ‘asterisk,’ ‘astrix’ or ‘asteriks’.
By the way, have you ever checked how you pronounce the name for that little star *?
Curzan, A. Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore. (2013). Lingua Franca. Accessed May 26, 2013.