Tõnu Tender. Tartu

This paper is about slang, therefore actually not about folklore but rather about linguistics. How could this theme be connected with a folklore conference at all? Hereby I would like to recall the definition of folklore by Jakob Hurt (1896): /.../ old songs, fairy tales, local narratives, proverbs, riddles, special sayings and ways of speaking, place names, customs and ways of the people, folk belief and superstitions, old ways of healing and healing words, children games and jokes. All these subjects are scientifically taken together and their study is called with a foreign word - folklore (Hurt 1896; Barkalaja 1995, 40-41). We see that Jakob Hurt permits us to speak also about the language in the framework of folklore.

First I shall briefly discuss the term of slang as most of the listeners are folklorists and not linguists. The concept of slang has extended in comparison with the earlier definitions. Nowadays slang is no more considered to be characteristic only of the language used by criminal element. Linguists have tried to define slang and everybody seems to have his own attitude towards it and his own definition. Renown slang researchers say that it is very easy to use slang and very difficult to define it (Partridge 1970, 1). Often we may recognise slang as a phenomenon, but still cannot define it (Andersson, Trudgill 1990,69). Some linguists argue that no good definition of slang is provided in the literature (Andersson, Trudgill 1990, 69). Attempts have been made to solve the etymology of the word, but these have been unsuccessful (Partridge 1970,2-3; Homyakov 1971,29-32; Hubachek 1980, 127). We can state that the meaning of the word has changed in the course of time and even nowadays almost every researcher gives his own, more or less different meaning to the term. We may conclude, however, that in writings in English the word slang denotes the same phenomenon of language for which the term argot is used in French (Partridge 1970, 3; Homyakov 1971, 44-56; Crystal 1991, 58; GL I960, 564; LD 1987, 105; LGR 1989, 532-533; BSE 1970, 181; Ahmanova 1969, 53; Tender 1994, 294-297) and jargon (zhargon) in Russian (Partridge 1970, 3; Flexner 1967, VI; EV 1963, 970; TNEB 1989, 871; Crystal 1991, 56; GDU 1865b, 910; LD 1987, 990; GL 1962, 324; BSE 1972, 122; Ahmanova 1969, 148; Bondaletov 1987, 4-5; Tender 1994, 295-297).

Slang is considered to be a colloquial language, which has highly variable, transitory and informal vocabulary and is characteristic of any definite social group, class, professional group or circle of friends. According to the alternative definition slang is a language, which has two main characteristics - hypersynonymy and hyperpolysemy. According to this definition the main characteristic feature of slang is total synonymality. Synonymality is a condition of lexemes none of which is the primary designation for its designatum in its language. In terms of this definition the vocabulary of slang consists of alternative linguistic expressions or units (Wescott 1980, 403-404).

Why is slang used at all? Slang is employed because of many reasons according to its multi-purpose nature. In some cases information has been "coded" as to avoid eavesdropping, some users find it more economical of laconic means of communication. It also has to do with valuation, humor and novelty (Flexner 1967, X-XII; Partridge 1970, 6-7; Crystal 1991, 53; Heering 1988, 29-34; Tender 1994, 298-299).

Slang as linguistic phenomenon is universal, it can be found in any language (Penttinen 1984, 7; Rätsep 1976, 119; Labov 1982, 17-18). Slang is produced only by a living language, i.e. slang gives evidence of the vitality of its mother language.

Slang is almost as old as connected speech itself. Slang elements appear already in Gilgamesh - the oldest survived epic on the stone tablets (Penttinen 1984,7). More particular information concerning slang dates back to ancient Greece and Rome (Partridge 1970,3 S—40; Tender 1994,292).

Europe slang has a considerable history of its own. The first thief slang dictionaries date back to 15th-16th centuries (Homyakov 1971, 58; Partridge 1970, 41; Tender 1994, 292).

An attempt to compile thief slang in Estonia was made in 1914. Police recorded some 40 words and expressions (Tender 1994, 346; Tszernõsz 1988, 160-161). More systematic approach to slang research was made in Estonia at the University of Tartu the 1926. Within the span of 11 years one master's thesis on children's secret language or cant and some seminar theses on the pupils', students' and soldiers' slang fell into disfavour. At the same time articles dealing with slang were published in local periodicals (Tender 1994,346—347). After World War II public attitude towards slang fell into disfavour. There was no actual prohibition concerning the slang research, but the scientific value of any kind of slang research was doubted. Nevertheless, slang materials have been compiled by the Estonian Language Society (Emakeele Selts). There are about 50,000 cards of words and expressions and hundreds of pages of slang vocabulary in the Estonian Language Society collections. Study course theses and diploma theses have been written at the University of Tartu and at the Pedagogical University (== teacher-training college) in Tallinn as well. One doctor thesis was written about Estonian (Tallinn) pupils' slang in 1992 (Tender 1994, 347-349). But all materials available and existing should be treated and valued critically. Slang as a phenomenon belongs to the colloquial or spoken language, but quite often research materials have been compiled by using written questionnaires. It is possible to proceed further with slang research only on the lexical level, for the contextual background is missing in written questionnaires and the only existing materials are just words or example sentences. Some slang collectors have been more exact - they have written down the information concerning the language user, place and time of the actual communication, situation etc. Some collectors have neglected even the above-mentioned general data (Tender 1994, 349).

Proceeding from the materials already available, we can make some generalizations. For example, it is possible if we consider the sources (= formation) of the slang. Slang forms according to general linguistic rules and processes.

* For example, the vocabulary of standard language (= literary language) acquires due to some associations wider or expanded meaning. The most common way to create (produce) slang is to use metaphor (and metonymy). For example: padi 'pillow' - 'sleepy person'; ülikond 'suit (of clothes)' - 'young man'; kapp 'cupboard or wardrobe' - 'athletic, strong, vigorous person'; krokodill 'crocodile' - 'ugly female (girl or woman)'; nagu 'face' — 'friend or man (anybody)' (Tender 1994, 349-350).

* Slang obtains some of its vocabulary also from foreign loans. There are loans in every language, but the Estonian language is especially exposed to them today. For Estonian youngsters many foreign words seem familiar (or powerful) enough so that they use them in slang, too. E.g., absull< absoluutselt - 'absolutely'; deprekas < depressioon (depre + -kas) - 'depression'; diskussima < diskuteerima - 'discuss' (Tender 1994, 350-351). How many loans there are in the Estonian slang? According to Allan Roosileht and Aimar Laulik there were only 3% of loans in Tallinn pupils' slang (Roosileht & Laulik 1979, 69). In 1990 there were 15% of loans in Tallinn pupils' slang, according to Mai Loog (Loog 1990, 167). Matsin and Ehasalu there was 39% of loans in the slang of musicians of Estonia in 1990 (Matsin & Ehasalu 1990, 8). Rait Maruste found about 45% of loans in the the slang of criminals (Maruste 1988, 142-152). In the professional slang the quantity and source of loans is different. In the slang of criminals, the loans originate mostly from the Russian language, in the slang of musicians, the majority of loans are from English (Matsin & Ehasalu 1990, 8). Some researchers have studied connections between the loans and the topics (Loog 1990, 167-169).

I would like to point out an interesting phenomenon in the Estonian slang. Sometimes the Estonian words and expressions are translated into a foreign language or the Estonian names are pronounced as foreign names. E.g., Saup-city 'Supilinn' - 'notorious part of Tartu, where the names of the streets denote vegetables, like Kartuli tänav (=Potato street), Herne tänav (=Pea street) ';Huigorod 'Lasnamäe' - ' Dickstown - notorious part of Tallinn, mainly inhabited by the Russian-speaking people (immigrants) from the former USSR territories < Russian khui + gorod '. Seldom there occur expressions which are combined from two different language: get van tserez pläkk vindõu' lase jalga, mine minema' - 'fuck off < Eng. get... black window + Rus. von cherez '; getnaahui 'lase jalga, mine minema' - 'fuck off < Eng. get + Rus. nakhui' (Tender 1994,351).

The main loan source is English: sliipima 'magama' -' sleep' ;kissima 'suudlema' - 'kiss'. But there are of course loans from other languages, e.g. from Finnish: /pollo 'pudel' - 'bottle'; tagi 'jakk' - '(leather) jacket'.

* Dialect words are used as well: semmima - 'flirt, court'; kabistama — 'to paw a girl'. Some archaisms still remain in useage: paadialune — '(waterfront) loafer, tramp, bum'; obrok- 'ground rent, mainly characteristic of feudal Russia, now it marks a situation when a young boy gives some money or sweets to older boy(s)'; burlakk- 'person with a big luggage' (Tender 1994, 351-352).

* Abbreviations are used in slang mainly for economizing and for fun: ab 'abort' - 'abortion' (an euphemistic expression, used by girls); knr 'keegi naine rääkis, s.t kuulujutt' - 'rumour'; tekk 'äanapaevä eesti keel (õppeaine Tartu Ülikoolis)' - 'the modern Estonian language (discipline at the University of Tartu)' (Tender 1994, 352).

* The "cutting" of words is a linguistic phenomenon: longer words are shortened in speech, astro < astronoomia- 'astronomy'; fantast fantastiline- 'fantastic' ;süst<süsteem- 'system' (Tender 1994, 352).

* Anagram (the game with letters) enables to make the speech more humorous: poialpöiss < poialpöiss - 'Turn Thomb < Tom Thumb'; möladraama < melodraama (India melodramaatiliste filmide kohta) -möla - 'bosh', möladraama - 'bosh-drama' < melodrama (used for the melodramatic movies produced in India).

* Metathesis is popular as well. Metathesis is similar to anagram. It is used for euphemistic reasons or simply for humour. It is called in Finnish sananmuunnos-munansaannos, in Estonian sõnamdng-monasang, but in English it is very difficult to find a good name for this phenomenon - game with words > wordgame - gard(en)wome(n). Juta Silk (name of a girl) - sitajulk (heap of excrement); perutava hobuse nurse (the snort of a skittish horse) - norutava hobuseperse (the arse of a depressed horse) (Tender 1994, 353).

* Contraction or blend is very popular in the English language, in Estonian it is less frequent: võrsikon 'võõrsõnade leksikon' - 'lexicon of foreign words = lexfor'; Marjustin 'Marju Lauristin > Marju + (Lauri)stin (professor of the University of Tartu, exminister in the Estonian government)'; Vääduard 'Eduard Vääri > Vää(ri) + (E)duard (professor of Finno-Ugric languages in the University of Tartu)'; pederatsutama 'pede + ratsutama' - 'homo + ride a horse = homoride'.

Derivation is a very important source for creating slang. Derivation helps to economize the speech. In Estonian the suffix-kas seems to prevail: idikas 'idioot' - 'idiot'; pubekas 'puberteediealine nooruk' -'a youth in puberty'. But the derivation is not always shorter than the original (starting) form of the word: Ellekas 'Elle - the name of a girl'; pohmakas 'pohmelus' - 'hangover'; tramburaikas 'tramburai, kärarikas pidu' - 'a noisy party';

Suffix -a: jota 'joodik' - 'drunkard, toper'; lulla 'luuletus'- 'poem, piece of poetry'; küssa 'kusimus' - 'question'; massa 'masin, auto' -'car';

Suffix -ar: grammar/krammar 'grammofon' - 'gramophone'; tuupar 'sober, suvaline tüüp' - 'friend or man (anybody)'; kopsar(id) '< sl kopsuprillid 'rinnahoidja' - 'lung spectacles = brassiere';

Suffix -er: kitter'kitarr' - 'guitar'; grammer/krammer 'grammofon' - 'gramophone'; mikker 'mikrofon' - 'microphone'; raamer 'raamatukogu' - 'library';

Suffix -ka: krimka 'kriminaalromaan või -film' - 'detective novel or movie'; naiska 'naine' - ' woman'; piuka 'pioneer';

Suffix -ku: telku 'televiisor' - 'TV set'; tenku 'tennisemang' - 'ten-nis'; venku 'venelane' - 'Russian';

Suffix -s: jäts 'jäätis' - 'ice-cream'; kots 'kodu' - 'home': liks' 'likoor'-' liqueur ' ;nats 'natukene, veidi'-'a little,a bit';sõps 'sõber'-'friend'; õps 'õpetaja' - 'teacher';

Suffix -u: leitu 'leitnant' -' lieutenant' ;spiku 'spikker' - 'crib, pony';

Suffix -ur: kildur 'humoorikas inimene ehk killumees' - 'joker' < kild = 'broken piece' - 'nali, teravmeelsus' = 'joke' ;pihkur 'käsikiimleja, onaneerija' - 'onanist'.

It is characteristic to slang to use many different and nonproductive suffixes.

In the Estonian slang some suffixes from foreign languages are used, but they are not too productive, though (Tender 1994, 353-354).

Slang as a linguistic phenomenon is universal, it can be found in any language. Slang is produced only by a living language - slang gives evidence to the vitality of its mother language. Slang is a natural linguistic phenomenon and its thorough and detailed linguistic research is quite necessary.


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