In English and, presumably, many of the world's other commonly spoken languages, there exists a rough category of words considered slang. This concept is not quite the same as taboo (many slang words are not really related to taboo topics), colloquial language (I think that a number of colloquial lexical items, like "yeah," could not be reasonably classified as slang), new/youth words (COVID is obviously not slang; on the other hand, some slang terms are quite old).

I feel that standardized writing plays a role in the concept. Slang words are ones which are significantly less common in formal writing than in everyday speech. However, this also applies to non-slang colloquial words and linguistic features.

Formal education also seems to play a role. Educators use colloquial words and newer features of their language often (One of my teachers said "your guys's" at least half a dozen times when explaining the instructions for the SAT), but they are unlikely to utilize slang terms very much. Speakers learn these words in other places.

Because of these factors, I am wondering whether a concept of "slang words" exists in cultures whose languages don't have significant written traditions and aren't taught in any formal education system. Do such cultures recognize certain words as slang? Is the concept as prominent in these cultures as it is in the Anglosphere?

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    Every culture has various registers of speech. There's nothing that truly separates slang from other words, it's just what gets used in the less formal registers
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 21, 2023 at 3:55
  • Slang is used usually to hide bad "concepts" behind beautiful words, even when proper words exist for the "bad" things. Please remember that originally "pussy" meant "cat". So any society which has a language and has some emotions associated to good or bad, will develop some type of slang. Probably, the only place in the universe where slang is unlikely is planet Vulcan (reference to the Star Trek series, home planet of Mr. Spock) - where people train to NOT have feelings / emotions, just reason.
    – virolino
    Apr 21, 2023 at 7:02
  • @virolino there's plenty of slang for neutral or positive topics e.g. "cool". The main thing is as curiousdanii says, that it's used in less formal registers and so tends to deal with less formal topics - some of those are "bad", but plenty of things are not
    – Tristan
    Apr 21, 2023 at 9:52
  • @Tristan: you are right, there are several "kinds" of slang. But as a minimum, there is the slang I explained above. Now the interesting thing is if they have the concept of "slang" itself (additional to the words themselves) - which is the object of the question.
    – virolino
    Apr 21, 2023 at 10:07
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    There are probably some Amerindian languages and suchlike without much slang. I think that slang is connected to cities and economic development (classes).
    – Lambie
    Apr 21, 2023 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


Now, if I may, the opposite is quite possible, too, that is, a language that is mostly written and has therefore no slang. Italian is historically the learned language of Italy, it has been so for many centuries: that means that in everyday conversations people in Italy use their native language/dialect. Italian being almost only a written or learned language, it means there's no informal version of it. That is especially remarkable in dubbed medias, when they try to invent Italian slang versions of (usually) American slang words, for example, when in movies they try to translate "cool" into Italian. Whatever they come up with sounds extremely weird and contrieved...

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    While it was undoubtedly true that people in Italy used to speak the local language in their homes, this has become less and less common and varies geographically (e.g. there are regional languages that are high prestige, and others that are low prestige). If I recall correctly the amount of speakers using standard Italian in informal contexts has passed 50% in the early 2000s and grown up quite quickly from there. And Italian slang is absolutely a thing, although it's not homogeneous either geographically or temporally (but what slang is?). Jul 6, 2023 at 15:28
  • Denis, regional differences are definitely a thing, you're right, but I was thinking particularly about movie dubbing, and about how awkward it sounds when they try and find a way to translate into Italian American slang words or expressions, even very common words like "cool": they usually resort to dialect words that make it uncomprehensible to Italians who don't speak that specific dialect, or make something up, which usually sounds comical or weird.. .
    – Sgnaroccus
    Jul 6, 2023 at 18:12
  • I don't think this has anything to do with a perceived lack of slang, and more with the difficulty of translations in general, and of movie dubs in particular (they have additional constraints like matching the words to lip movements). As to the example of the word cool it is true that it has no equivalent in contemporary slang - people use figo but it is significantly more informal than cool - but if you go to the 80s there were the perfect translations ganzo or togo (now extremely out of date). Jul 7, 2023 at 8:58

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