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It is worth noting that language is a social phenomenon since its primary purpose is to provide means of communication to people. For this reason, the study of language and its structures cannot occur in isolation from the analysis of its functioning in various social strata and groups. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the notion of colloquialism and discuss its relation to society.
Language is a system, which changes and evolves together with society (Saparova, 2016). Grammar, syntactic structures, and vocabulary are altered and adapted to meet the changing linguistic needs of people. The inevitable result of this process is multiple variations that may be divided into two large categories, which are formal and informal language. The first category implies that the person adheres to specific grammar and syntactic rules to achieve a professional or academic-sounding form. The second category implicates the use of language in informal conversations and in a more relaxed environment (Saparova, 2016). In this case, language and its structures may be changed according to the current needs of the speaker.
A colloquialism is a word, phrase or some other form that is used in an informal language. Often enough, colloquialism is associated with slang; however, these two structures differ from each other in many ways. Speech may contain a lot of slang and slang expressions or, the reverse, use only informal structures. Slang may be used depending on the situation, but it is not an essential element (Danesi, 2016). Spoken language is regarded as a linguistic variety, and it should be used in informal situations, which means that its use is not universal in character. Interestingly, in the philosophy of language, colloquialism is sometimes regarded as ordinary, natural language in contrast to the specialized forms used in logic and other areas of philosophy.
Difference Between Stylistic Forms
It is crucial to emphasize that informal speech involves a variety of forms with stylistically reduced and sometimes vulgar undertones that are beyond the norms of literary speech. Vernacular language is not typical for academic or professional writing, but it is used by multiple social groups and acts as a sociocultural characteristic (Saparova, 2016). Moreover, various structures may be used in different types of verbal communication, for example, in playful speech, dispute, and so on. Thus, informal speech is a whole linguistic layer, which designates stylistically reduced means of language that are used in a certain situation to achieve specific communicative goals. The understanding of this stratum is complicated by the differences between the variants of the English language and their social and territorial differentiation.
Colloquialisms differ from slang or jargon not only structurally but also in their scope. In particular, slang is words and phrases that are used by certain social groups such as teenagers or soldiers. According to Danesi (2016), “slang is a version of a language that crystallizes in certain periods of a society’s history, typically arising within certain groups or communities for reasons of groups solidarity or allegiance” (p. 121). Spoken language may include the elements of slang, but it may also resort to such forms as abbreviations or expressions known to the majority of native speakers. Interestingly, informal speech may turn slang expressions into colloquial ones.
Jargon is another subcategory that is often discussed in terms of informal speech. This notion should be discussed in light of a particular activity, profession, or group of people (Danesi, 2016). This linguistic aspect refers to the language used by individuals, who work in a particular area or in a community of people with common interests. Thus, slang is used to express ideas that are discussed by a group of people, who intentionally choose stylistically marked terms. Jargon may exhibit a unique use among practitioners of the relevant disciplines. In this case, it will act as a barrier to communication for those individuals, who are not familiar with this area of knowledge. Curiously, in the majority of instances, jargon and slang are a social variation of language (Danesi, 2016). Meanwhile, colloquialism may be both a social and geographical variation. Colloquialisms may be geographically defined (for example, in British and American variants of English), and they will be used in everyday speech in accordance with specific territorial standards. Moreover, colloquialism suggests that words that have a formal meaning may also have a conversational, connotative meaning.
Therefore, colloquialisms are words and idioms familiar to all groups of people, which are used in informal oral and written speech but are not acceptable in the areas of formal business communication (Kołłątaj, 2010). Unlike other subcategories of informal speech, colloquialisms are used by all native speakers, and almost all idiomatic expressions may be classified as colloquialisms. This logic places colloquialism somewhat higher than other subcategories due to the fact that it is the complete reflection of the free, lively voice of everyday speech (Kołłątaj, 2010). However, just like other linguistic subcategories (jargon and slang), colloquialism exhibits ethical and stylistic diminution.
Effective Delivery of Message
The structures of any language are in constant motion since they reflect all the processes occurring in the life of society. Informal speech is particularly sensitive to changes and innovations because it is the most dynamic and adaptive system (Kołłątaj, 2010). Such factors as the growth of the productive forces of society, the development of science, technology, and culture, the formation of new social relations are directly reflected in the language through colloquialism. For instance, the emergence of such colloquial term as “troubleshooter” is associated with scientific and technological progress and the development of the theory of psychoanalysis. However, it is necessary to take into account the fact that the act of speaking always reflects social and individual characteristics of a person. These factors include the expression of will, psychological and emotional state of a person, sociolinguistic and pragmatic characteristics that are linked together through colloquialism (Kołłątaj, 2010). All these aspects are reflected in the use of colloquial expressions, which help convey the message more effectively.
In addition, it may be assumed that a speaker uses colloquial expressions purposefully in accordance with a certain pragmatic situation. The parameters of a pragmatic situation are the setting and place of the communicative act, the purpose of communication, the ethnic and psychological characteristics of the participants, and the personal relations between them (Kołłątaj, 2010). In this regard, expressive colloquialisms may be used in order to equalize the interlocutors socially.
The pragmatic focus of a communicative act often leads to the fact that the descriptive content of colloquialisms is overshadowed by evaluative or emotional connotations (Cavallaro, Ng, & Seilhamer, 2014). The evaluation enclosed in a specific colloquial expression reflects interests of the speaker based on positive or negative judgments about the subject matter of the discussion. The emotion contained in colloquialism encourages the interlocutor to stick to a specific line of conduct (O’Connor & Raile, 2015). Thus, a colloquial expressive statement may have a hidden evaluative judgment of a person, and colloquialism with an initially negative (or neutral) connotation may acquire a positive emotional charge. This assumption leads to conclusion that the purpose of the conversation may be achieved easier through the use of emotionally-colored colloquialisms.
In addition, the use of colloquialisms allows conveying the message not only more efficiently but also quicker. The deficit of time in the modern world leads to the fact that a large number of truncated forms is used colloquially (O’Connor & Raile, 2015). As a result, the semantics of a word or expression is transmitted by a morpheme or a short word (for example, info – information, grad – graduate, ASAP – as soon as possible). Colloquialisms reflect the word-formation mechanisms of a language, which strive for the achievement of optimal sufficiency, which assumes that each linguistic meaning should have an adequate form of expression (Cavallaro et al., 2014). The examples presented above suggest that the fast pace of social life consistently leads to the folding of descriptive structures into one motivated linguistic unit.
The semantics of numerals is another illustration to the statement that colloquialism eases and accelerates the process of communication. Numbers may get a new meaning when used during informal communication. For example, “the nineteenth hole” is an idiomatic expression used to indicate a place where players meet to have drinks (“The nineteenth hole,” n.d.). It is possible to argue that this expression is slangy; however, as stated earlier in this paper, most of the idioms should be regarded as colloquialism. Thus, colloquialisms are affected by extra-linguistic factors, which complicates their classification and, at the same time, makes them an interesting object for study.
Colloquial language is essential for effective human interaction and communication. It is used to express emotions and thoughts, and it facilitates mutual understanding between people on a daily basis (Cavallaro et al., 2014). The discussion and examples provided in this paper allow stating that this linguistic structure does not follow the established logical, grammatical, syntactical and other rules. Nevertheless, such an unrestricted form allows for more effective and rapid delivery of messages.
However, the use of colloquialism is culturally and geographically oriented. If interlocutors do not have the same background or are unaware of certain linguistic tendencies, it is quite possible that miscommunication will occur (O’Connor & Raile, 2015). Colloquial expressions are stylistically marked, and some of them may not be appropriate for all types of situations. In addition, the interlocutor may use colloquial words or phrases incorrectly, which will distort the core of the message. Therefore, despite the practicality of the use of colloquial structures in a conversation, speakers should strive for being accurate when utilizing them to achieve their intended communicative goal.
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It can be concluded that colloquialism is a language structure essential for the effective communication of people. It has an unrestricted character that allows interlocutors to express their thoughts and emotions in a form preferable for them and understandable for each party. Colloquial words and phrases allow delivering the message faster and more effectively. Nonetheless, since colloquialism is socially and culturally defined, it is crucial to use it thoughtfully to avoid miscommunication.
Cavallaro, F., Ng, B. C., & Seilhamer, M. F. (2014). Singapore colloquial English: Issues of prestige and identity. World Englishes, 33(3), 378-397.
Danesi, M. (2016). Language, society, and new media: Sociolinguistics today. New York, NY: Routledge.
Kołłątaj, A. (2010). Reduplication in English rhyming slang. Acta Neophilologica, 12, 93-103.
The nineteenth hole. (n.d.). In Cambridge Dictionary online. Web.
O’Connor, A., & Raile, A. N. (2015). Millennials’ “get a ‘real job’” exploring generational shifts in the colloquialism’s characteristics and meanings. Management Communication Quarterly, 29(2), 276-290.
Saparova, M. R. (2016). The problem of stylistic classification of colloquial vocabulary. International Scientific Journal, 5(1), 80-82.