Status of U.S. underworld dialect in context of American English: sociolinguistic aspect

Bakalinsky, Michael L.

1: Zaporizhya National University, Ukraine 2: "ZIGMU" University of Humanities, Zaporizhya, Ukraine


The issue of the underworld and its dialect or "cant" has been addressed by sociolinguists both in the Soviet/post-Soviet and Western countries (L. Cole, M. Halliday, A. Schweitzer, A. Khomjakov, L. Stavits'ka etc.). The author of the article stands on the position that the goal of the U.S. underworld dialect is not only to conceal information. Using the language analysis and operating R. Jacobson’s theory of language functions, the author carries on polemics with the works on the underworld dialect available and proves that the dialect does not have only the esoteric and metalingual functions.

Further on, the status of the U.S. underworld language is analyzed. The scientists mentioned consider the underworld and its dialect solid homogeneous entities. The research conducted has revealed that the U.S. underworld is structured by numerous criminal groups, with each one having its own social dialect. E.g., rat and hitman lexemes belong to different part of the U.S. underworld dialect: rat belongs to general lexicon of the underworld, whereas hitman is a part of the Mobspeak, La Cosa Nostra dialect. According to A. Grimshaw's theory of social and language structures isomorphism, the U.S. underworld system is verbalized in its dialect. Based on the data received, the author proposes that the U.S. underworld dialect should be considered a language not a dialect because, as any other language, it has the core (language units peculiar to all the outlaws) and the periphery levels (language units incorporated into the use of various criminal groups). Having analyzed works in philosophy, cultural anthropology and linguistics, the author proposes to designate the U.S. underworld language as the system within Standard Colloquial English, which in its turn structures the Standard American English system, i.e. in the pattern of “SYSTEM IN SYSTEM”. This hypothesis is based on L. Cole’s conception saying that “dialects should be seen as rule-governed linguistic systems”.

The author analyzes the U.S. underworld conceptual world mapping and demonstrates that it differs from the conceptual world mapping of various criminal groups (e.g., La Cosa Nostra).

Session: POSTERS: Focus on variation, migration, minority languages
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer