Thursday, 28 October 2010

two ideas for studying slang

A lot of students are interested in studying the slang that they and their friends use. Here are some ideas for new things to do with slang...

  1. A synonym study--slang words almost always duplicate a meaning that already has a word. E.g. if you say wicked to mean 'excellent', you could've used excellent, right?  But it's also the case that within the slang vocab, there can be a lot of redundancy--lots of words for approval, maybe for intensity, for size, attractiveness, and possibly for things or activities that are important to the group (e.g. sex). Why does a slang need a lot of words for the same thing--and are they really the same?  If it's a big enough slang, this might be investigated by looking at the contexts in which the words occur.  E.g. words of approval (I'm dating myself and not being very imaginative here, but, for example: cool, wicked, amazing, brilliant).  Theoretically, any of them could describe anything--but do they?  Do any of them tend to go with people more (a cool boy? a wicked boy?) or with films, or... ?  If it's a smaller slang, it could still be studied by collecting usages, maybe interviewing informants...
  2. Sound slang neologisms follow any known trends or reveal any unknown ones for what kinds of sounds tend to go with particular meanings?  You might've seen the bouba/kiki effect experiment on the web, which shows that people have real preferences for certain sounds going with certain meanings.  Does this work across neologisms in slangs? You don't need to stick to one slang in this case--you might want to look for as many neologisms in as many communities/languages as you can, in order to determine whether there's evidence that neologising is led by 'phonosemantic' tendencies.

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