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Slang Analysis in a Series for Young Audience: Sex Education

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Some researchers claim that slang has become a part of our daily language, especially among young people, and if we think about it, we will realise that it is everywhere (on social media, in conversations, in films, in TV series, etc) (Adams, 2009). In addition, it is important to take into account that slang is a part of the informal register and it is not a synonym of ‘vulgarism’. Although slang is commonly used among young people, it does not mean that adult people do not use it. When we talk about slang research, researchers have focused on translating slang in order to understand better its use. However, nowadays there are no in depth investigations about the slang use among adult people because it is thought or presupposed that it is only used by young people. In this way, in this paper I analyse the use of British slang in a British series called Sex Education and if its use is affected by the age of the characters. Additionally, I am comparing the use of the slang when a young person addresses to an adult and when an adult addresses to a young person. Thus, the aims of this paper are (1) to analyse the use of slang among young and adult people (2) to analyse and compare the use of slang in conversations between young and adult people. The database for this research consisted of the compilation of scripts of the two first chapters of the first season. Once the compilation was done, I searched for slang words or expressions and I separated them according to the age. Moreover, I made another section for the conversations, in order to accomplish the second aim of this paper. I expect the results to prove my points that when young people are in a conversation with an adult, they use a more appropriate language and that adult people also use slang.

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Introduction

Knowledge of slang has a great importance for understanding daily conversations or dialogues. Slang words or expressions help to have a closer conversation with the person you are talking with, because the informal register is commonly used between equals. A central issue in the use of slang, is the tendency to think that is part of the vulgar language or that it is used only among young people. In support to this statement, Hill, Merino and Hill (1997) in the dictionary ‘English Slang’ claim in the introduction (p. 3), that slang are very informal words and expressions used between people of the same class, age or work group.

The term slang, in the 18th and 19th centuries, was the vulgar language used by the thieves (Allan & Burridge, 2006). In fact, there is an slang expression called ‘slanguage’ that has been in the English language for more than a hundred years, which its first appearance was in 1879, and it can be found in some dictionaries such as the Oxford (Burridge, 2011). Nowadays, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (Ayto & Simpson, 2010, p. ix), slang is a ‘colourful, alternative vocabulary’. In addition, Adams (2009) claims that slang is used by all of us. On the contrary, according to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, slang is an informal rather offensive language used by people of a particular social group, such as young people or criminals. In addition, Maurer (2013) adds that slang is beyond normal words, and they are used in a certain social context. Additionally, Hill, Merino and Hill (1997, p. 3) support that slang is part of the informal register and the words or expressions are used between equals. However, there is not a general definition of the term, but all the definitions mentioned before have something in common: Slang it is an alternative vocabulary inside the informal register which is used by people of the same social class, group or age. Nevertheless, there are not exhaustive investigations about the slang use among adults because it is popularly thought or presupposed that it is only used by young people, even though the meaning of the term shows that it is not true.

The objective of the present research is to analyse the use of slang among young and adult people, and in conversations, in the first two episodes of Sex Education (2019), and demonstrate that slang is also used by adult people and that young people does not use slang when they are addressing to an adult. In order to accomplish the objectives of this present paper, two research questions are formulated:

  • RQ1. Do the adult characters of Sex Education use slang in the same way as young characters?
  • RQ2. Do the young characters of Sex Education use slang when they are addressing to an adult? Does it happen the same when is the adult character the one who is addressing to a young one?

Corpus and Method

Materials

Materials for this research article included: a) the first two episodes of a British series called Sex Education, to have a context to work with b) the scripts of the episodes of the series mentioned before, to make a proper and effective selection.

Sex Education

In this research, the database was taken from the first two episodes of the British series called Sex Education, using the scripts of the episodes. This series, created by Laurie Nunn, was released to the public on January 2019 via Netflix. The argument tells the story about a teenage boy, Otis (Asa Butterfield), with a sex therapist mother, Dr. Jean (Gilian Anderson). Otis teams up with a high school classmate, Maeve (Emma Mackey), to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school (IMDb, 2019).

The episodes do not have name, so I am going to refer to them as ‘Episode 1’ and ‘Episode 2’. The average length of the episodes are between 46-52 minutes and each episode follows a story around the argument of the series. ‘Episode 1’ introduces the main characters to the audience and ends with the proposal of Maeve to Otis, to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school. ‘Episode 2’ shows to the audience how Otis is struggling being a sex therapist.

Scripts

As mentioned before, the data were taken from the first two episodes, using the scripts of them. The scripts were taken from the website Open Subtitles, and they were the main unit of work, even though the episodes were consulted in order to have a context. The scripts contained the transcription of the episodes, making it easier and faster to work with and making the selection in a more effective way. The scripts were in .srt format so they needed to be converted to .doc format, so they could be read.

Procedure

In order to have results for this research article, it was necessary to collect information and analyse it.

Data collection

Firstly, I chose the series I was going to work with. As I watched Sex Education when it was released, I knew that it was plenty of slang words and expressions, so choosing the episodes was easy and that is why I chose the first two ones. Secondly, I searched the scripts of the two episodes in order to have all the dialogues transcribed. Thirdly, I read the scripts and started highlighting all the slang words I was finding, and when I had a doubt, I consulted the online website ‘Urban Dictionary’, Cambridge Dictionary, WordReference and the dictionary called English Slang written by Hill, Merino and Hill in 1997. The corpus of this research consisted of 5274 words from ‘Episode 1’ and 4565 words from ‘Episode 2’. The fourth and last step of this part, was collecting all the slang words and expressions I found, and writing them in another document with the sequence where they appear, in order to do a more effective analysis.

Data Analysis

It is important to remark that in this paper, a young person is considered a teenager and an adult is considered a person of more than 30 years old. The data chosen and analysed, were selected from the characters who belong in one of this two groups.

In this way, the first step after all of the slang words and expressions were put together in a single document, was separating them according to the age (if a young person or an adult said it) and if it was a conversation between an adult and a young person. Secondly, I took the first separation of data and I calculated the percentage of use in order to find the answer to the first research question, by comparing the slang words and expressions with the total words that the corpus has. Thirdly, in order to find the answer to the second research question, I took the second separation of data and paid special attention to whom was addressing to whom. In this way. Thus, the objectives of this paper were accomplished.

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