A variety of terms distinguish the kinds of languages and vocabularies that exist outside the mainstream of standard, formal language. Here are twelve words and phrases that denote specific ideas of language usage.
An argot is a language primarily developed to disguise conversation, originally because of a criminal enterprise, though the term is also used loosely to refer to informal jargon.
Cant is somewhat synonymous with argot and jargon and refers to the vocabulary of an in-group that uses it to deceive or exclude nonusers.
- Colloquial Language
Anything not employed in formal writing or conversation, including terms that might fall under one or more of most of the other categories in this list, is a colloquialism. Colloquial and colloquialism may be perceived to be pejorative terms, but they merely refer to informal terminology.
Colloquial language — whether words, idiomatic phrases, or aphorisms — is often regionally specific; for example, variations on the term “carbonated beverage” — including soda, pop, and coke — differ in various areas of the United States.
A creole is a more sophisticated development of a pidgin, derived from two or more parent languages and used by people all ages as a native language.
A dialect is a way of speaking based on geographical or social factors.
Jargon is a body of words and phrases that apply to a specific activity or profession, such as a particular art form or athletic or recreational endeavor, or a medical or scientific subject. Jargon is often necessary for precision when referring to procedures and materials integral to a certain pursuit.
However, in some fields, jargon is employed to an excessive and gratuitous degree, often to conceal the truth or deceive or exclude outsiders. Various types of jargon notorious for obstructing rather than facilitating communication are given names often appended with -ese or -speak, such as bureaucratese or corporate-speak.
This term vaguely refers to the speech of a particular community or group and is therefore loosely synonymous with many of the other words in this list.
- Lingua Franca
A lingua franca is a language often adopted as a common tongue to enable communication between speakers of separate languages, though pidgins and creoles, both admixtures of two or more languages, are also considered lingua francas.
Patois refers loosely to a nonstandard language such as a creole, a dialect, or a pidgin, with a connotation of the speakers’ social inferiority to those who speak the standard language.
A simplified language arising from the efforts of people speaking different languages to communicate is a pidgin. These languages generally develop to facilitate trade between people without a common language. In time, pidgins often evolve into creoles.
A vocabulary of terms (at least initially) employed in a specific subculture is slang. Slang terms, either invented words or those whose meanings are adapted to new senses, develop out of a subculture’s desire to disguise — or exclude others from — their conversations. As US society becomes more youth oriented and more homogenous, slang becomes more widespread in usage, and subcultures continually invent new slang as older terms are appropriated by the mainstream population.
A vernacular is a native language or dialect, as opposed to another tongue also in use, such as Spanish, French, or Italian and their dialects as compared to their mother language, Latin. Alternatively, a vernacular is a dialect itself as compared to a standard language (though it should be remembered that a standard language is simply a dialect or combination of dialects that has come to predominate).
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