Communication is an integral part of a culture. There are standards, or more specifically, a code, which governs a culture’s communication. This code of speaking helps for inclusion and exclusion into social groups within that culture, along with expressing attitudes specifically understood by that group.
The culture of focus in this article is New York City and its speech code of urban lingo used by young adults and adolescents. New York City is the most diverse place in not only the United States, but the world. Considering there are more than a 200 languages spoken from different wakes of life that people come from, especially the copious population of young people, it’s of no surprise that there is not only a specific, but also a diverse code of speech amongst its youth. Although the melting pot is diverse, there is organization to its speech.
The use of street-lingo is a cultural pattern among youths in NYC. It is crucial in governing speech, because it sets a communicative connectivity for young adults, regardless of their diverse backgrounds and heritages. Lingo is a form of diversity in itself, since not only do the words vary, but so do their forms and utilizations depending on context, for example: “deuce” in literal English means “two,” but via lingo means “goodbye,” because one gives the peace-sign as a signal of saying goodbye, which involves holding up two fingers while departing.
Once again though, the form and utilization changes by situation: “deuce” means “two,” which also means “peace,” but if someone was playing a video game and another person wanted to go second then that person would claim “deuce” to signal that they are the second person to go, which refers back to the literal meaning of two, not the peace-sign or goodbye. Lingo is what helps govern cultural patterns of interaction among young people in Queens.
The claim that lingo is a cultural pattern of speech code by simply “adolescences” and “youths” is too broad; there is specific social criteria that these young adults meet. Many of them are generally socialized through urbanized environments on the streets, and have cliques and groups, which allow them to proliferate their usage of lingo amongst one another, which prepare them for interacting among other groups or people.
These urbanized, social environments are formed as early as elementary school. NYC’s elementary school system exposes youths to the diverse ethnic backgrounds of other children from a very early age, which over time becomes a wealth of cultural word exchange. Psychologist Noam Chomsky posed his theory on Language Acquisitioning, which explains that children are language sponges that prime at the age of ten. Thus, the children of New York City are exposed to kids from all kinds of backgrounds and ways of speaking, based ethnically and socioeconomically, on the basketball court, streets, schoolyard, and more – absorbing an array of words to utilize by adolescence.
A crucial factor among these urban, street-smart youths, as opposed to those in a suburban or rural area in a place such as Grinnell, Iowa, is that most of these young adults are extremely influenced by rap and hip-hop, and extremely receptive to what’s said; these artists that produce hits are setting linguistic trends through their music, which are then adapted into regular lingo and the codes of speech that go with it.
For example, popular rap and hip-hop artist Lil' Wayne, has a song called Fireman, which came out in 2005. The chorus of the song goes: “I’m the Fireman, fa-fire, fireman, I got that fire I'm hollering, I got that fire come and try me.” Lil' Wayne is rapping about being a drug dealer. The “fire” he is referring to is code for drugs, most likely marijuana, since Lil Wayne is a known marijuana user and advocate. Regardless of what drug it refers to, Wayne’s lingo has undoubtedly stuck throughout New York City.
Urban environments are always the most popular in terms of drugs as that is where the most trafficking occurs, and its youth reflect that by their usage of such lingo. For example, it would not be uncommon for a young adult who was searching for street drugs to approach another of equal status and inquire “yo do you know who I could cop that fire off of?” which translates to “Hello, do you know someone I could purchase marijuana off of?” – a literal translation which no urbanized, adolescent of NYC would actually ask. Rap and hip-hop listeners are a big factor that is apart of the youth that generate the speech code of urban lingo.
There is almost no limit to the pattern of speech with regards to the lingo-code, assuming one had been immersed and grown in the New York urban environment. I consider myself an articulate person, but I’ve been known amongst my closest friends and family, and shocked my newly acquired companions with the dynamic switch of pattern between formal diction and street words.
For example if my friend asked me how my day was, I might respond, “What’s good my dude? I’ve had a relatively chillin’ day, but I was appalled at the audacity and abrasiveness of my boss for calling out the edits that ya boy worked OD hard on. What a provocative prick she is.” The pattern and lingo of usage has almost no limits in context if one is an urban native and proficient in the use of urban lingo.
The code of speech is designed to exclude those that one is unfamiliar with or may dislike, and include members of a social group or clique, along with those affiliated with said member(s). There are specific rules to both these exclusive and inclusive words though as the context of the situation changes. In terms of exclusion, there are various words that that make it clear of whom one is unfamiliar with. Basic lingo such as “yo, what’s good, what’s poppin’, wassup,” and more are all greetings one would most likely use to a New York adolescent one was unfamiliar with. For example, say two high-schoolers were on a basketball court and a student separate from their group asked to play with them, they might greet them and request as following: “What’s good? You mind if I play with you guys?”
Assuming the two kids didn’t like the one trying to participate, one of them might respond back with “nah son you’re deuced.” Notice, as was used before, the word “deuce,” which can mean goodbye. In this case, “deuce” means goodbye in a negative and exclusive sense by implying to the outsider to depart away – attributing to the change of context along with the change of meaning using the lingo.
In terms of inclusion, the lingo gets more elaborate and specialized. Phrases become more specific and can even be so that they are designated among one social group. I could say a few phrases to affirm happiness and encouragement towards one of my friends from New York. For example, say I was content with a gym workout with my best friend “yo my sonjamino that was some dope weight pumping we did earlier. We boys, we boys,” which literally translates to ‘hey friend that was an awesome work out we had. I’m affirming that we’re good friends because of it’ – most people outside our social circle probably wouldn’t understand that.
The speech code undoubtedly has rules of exclusion and inclusion that changes with the social context and how the lingo is used. There can be problems for the user of the language though, involving speaking to people who might not be socialized in the same urban way they are or just aren’t from an urban setting in any sense. Obviously, it would be unjust to say that every youth from New York is an urbanized, hip-hop/rap listening, multi-cultured lingo speaker.
The speaker’s urbanized exposure and manner of speaking can be almost embarrassing when speaking to someone who is entirely unfamiliar with the lingo-infused speech. For example, if a fully urbanized New York guy at a party went up to a girl in an attempt to flirt with her in such a manner it might go something like this: “Oh waddap girl you tryna come chill at the crib with ya boy after this?” she responds: “Uhhh…was that even English?” The code is not perfect and has its fallacies; one can only make assumptions when using it towards someone they are unfamiliar with. The best use of the code is for getting any kind of point across, negative or positive, in an urbanized social or group setting one is very familiar with, or connecting with other urban people.
In terms of getting one’s point across, having a language that an entire group is familiar with helps improve the point, because the words used are so specific to that group. Whether someone is upset or jubilant, the group will understand what that person is trying to say, potentially even more than they normally would, because they are using language so specific and meaningful to that social circle. New York City is the most diverse place around and needs a communication tool that tributes it. That device is the use of lingo, which is developed and acquired specifically from such a versatile place of communicators. NYC and its governed speech code of urban lingo exemplifies the cultural specificity of communication and its importance in social contexts.
Russell Steiner | Elite.