Primary and Secondary Slang
This new emphasis in the fortunes of American slang, by the way, points to one of its important distinctions, that between what we call “primary” and “secondary” slang. Primary slang is the pristine speech of subculture members, so very natural to its speakers that it seems they might be mute without it. Of course they would not be, since we know that slang is by definition always an alternative idiom, to be chosen rather than required. Much of teenage talk, and the speech of urban street gangs, would be examples of primary slang. Secondary slang is chosen not so much to fix one in a group as to express one’s attitudes and resourcefulness by pretending, momentarily, in a little shtick of personal guerilla theater, to be a member of a street gang, or a criminal, or a gambler, or a drug user, or a professional football player, and so forth – and hence to express one’s contempt, superiority, and cleverness by borrowing someone else’s verbal dress. Secondary slang is a matter of stylistic choice rather than true identification. The increasing currency of the “Washington-Los Angeles-Houston, etc.,” sort of slang may mean that in the future secondary or acquired slang will be our major variety. That is, the old disreputable groups will blend gradually into the mass, and slang will become more a matter of individual wit and self-advertisement, with its sources no more apparent than those of, say, a dirty joke. In fact it may be conjectured that even now the strong influence of black slang and gay slang has less to do with those subcultures per se than with the fact that both put a very high premium on verbal skill. Blacks, for example, are particularly given to rhyme and other prosodic features that seem to be increasingly prominent in slang.
Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1962