12 Types of Language

By Mark Nichol

A variety of terms distinguish the kinds of languages and vocabularies that exist outside the mainstream of standard, formal language. Here are twelve words and phrases that denote specific ideas of language usage.

1. Argot
An argot is a language primarily developed to disguise conversation, originally because of a criminal enterprise, though the term is also used loosely to refer to informal jargon.

2. Cant
Cant is somewhat synonymous with argot and jargon and refers to the vocabulary of an in-group that uses it to deceive or exclude nonusers.

3. Colloquial Language
Anything not employed in formal writing or conversation, including terms that might fall under one or more of most of the other categories in this list, is a colloquialism. Colloquial and colloquialism may be perceived to be pejorative terms, but they merely refer to informal terminology.

Colloquial language — whether words, idiomatic phrases, or aphorisms — is often regionally specific; for example, variations on the term “carbonated beverage” — including soda, pop, and cokediffer in various areas of the United States.

4. Creole
A creole is a more sophisticated development of a pidgin, derived from two or more parent languages and used by people all ages as a native language.

5. Dialect
A dialect is a way of speaking based on geographical or social factors.

6. Jargon
Jargon is a body of words and phrases that apply to a specific activity or profession, such as a particular art form or athletic or recreational endeavor, or a medical or scientific subject. Jargon is often necessary for precision when referring to procedures and materials integral to a certain pursuit.

However, in some fields, jargon is employed to an excessive and gratuitous degree, often to conceal the truth or deceive or exclude outsiders. Various types of jargon notorious for obstructing rather than facilitating communication are given names often appended with -ese or -speak, such as bureaucratese or corporate-speak.

7. Lingo
This term vaguely refers to the speech of a particular community or group and is therefore loosely synonymous with many of the other words in this list.

8. Lingua Franca
A lingua franca is a language often adopted as a common tongue to enable communication between speakers of separate languages, though pidgins and creoles, both admixtures of two or more languages, are also considered lingua francas.

9. Patois
Patois refers loosely to a nonstandard language such as a creole, a dialect, or a pidgin, with a connotation of the speakers’ social inferiority to those who speak the standard language.

10. Pidgin
A simplified language arising from the efforts of people speaking different languages to communicate is a pidgin. These languages generally develop to facilitate trade between people without a common language. In time, pidgins often evolve into creoles.

11. Slang
A vocabulary of terms (at least initially) employed in a specific subculture is slang. Slang terms, either invented words or those whose meanings are adapted to new senses, develop out of a subculture’s desire to disguise — or exclude others from — their conversations. As US society becomes more youth oriented and more homogenous, slang becomes more widespread in usage, and subcultures continually invent new slang as older terms are appropriated by the mainstream population.

12. Vernacular
A vernacular is a native language or dialect, as opposed to another tongue also in use, such as Spanish, French, or Italian and their dialects as compared to their mother language, Latin. Alternatively, a vernacular is a dialect itself as compared to a standard language (though it should be remembered that a standard language is simply a dialect or combination of dialects that has come to predominate).

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11 Responses to “12 Types of Language”

  • Caroline

    interesting re your definition of Argot as Argot is french for slang.

  • Caroline

    Hello, another thing! Patois – again interesting re your social inferiority comment as I thought that (for example in the Caribbean) it was a language developed by slaves giving them the freedom to converse without the slave masters understanding and as such, can be seen as almost the opposite of inferiority as it’s an act of independence, subversiveness and pride!

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Caroline:
    The word French is always capitalized since it is either a proper noun (the language) or a proper adjective, e.g. French cuisine. Likewise, always capitalized in the English language are these:
    Arabic, Bengali, Cree, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Erse, Farsi, Flemish, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Icelandic, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Navajo, Old Norse, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Sanskrit, Scythian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Telegu, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Yiddish.

    I also saw this just recently on the Internet: “She speaks Chek.”
    It is astonishing when people do not even know how to spell “Czech”.
    That mistake was not done just once, but rather it occured in statements like these, too: She was born in the Chek Republic, and she is one of the tallest and most popular Chek models.
    She wasn’t even born in the Czech Republic because that one did not exist when she was born, and she was born in Czechoslovakia.

    Also, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States, used to speak of Czechoslovakia (in about 2004), when Czechoslovakia did not even exist anymore. We have the same problem with some American politicians who still speak of the “Soviet Union” in the present tense. Such people should know better! Else, they would be better off working in a factory or on a farm, and not in government work.
    D.A.W.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Wow, Mark, what an eye-opener of an article. I had no idea these terms (some of which I knew, others are new to me) were so specific in their definition and usage. English is such a rich language, so full of delicious variety! Granted, my head is swimming a bit with all these new terms but it’s a good feeling anyway.

  • dragonwielder

    I seem to remember something from a college linguistics course that a creole is more than just the evolution of a pidgin. It went something like this: parents speak a pidgin, and have kids, and the kids speak the pidgin except suddenly it now has its own structure and grammar rules, and this new structured pidgin (the children’s native language) is a creole.

    That was my understanding of how it worked, anyway. I suppose it makes sense that if you speak a pidgin long enough it develops its own structure and rules and becomes a creole, and that it’s not necessarily a generation thing. I could be wrong, though. Something to research, I guess! 🙂

    Anyway, good article! I love linguistics-related topics.

  • Mark Nichol

    Dragonwielder:

    I agree with your definition, which is what I was trying to (concisely) convey in the article.

  • thebluebird11

    Yes, I have something to say. In fact, I have 2 things to say. And I may yet come up with more.
    1. IMO, I think that comments on this site should not be longer than the original post.
    2. Also IMO, while I think that Mark is, unfortunately, fair game for commenters to point out any errors or typos he may make in his post, I also think that Mark should have the privilege of being the one to offer guidance and make corrections to the comments on this website, because for one commenter to correct another seems to me to be rude, unless there is a verifiable factual error. When it is a matter of a commenter’s typo or some other trivial thing, like missing a capital letter, I think people should let them slide unmentioned, to avoid perhaps embarrassing someone and making them feel unwelcome at this site. Nobody is perfect.

  • Jon

    @thebluebird11 – I have to agree with both those opinion points of yours, particularly when the comments aren’t really about the post in question. 😉

  • Olivia Morrissette

    I found this article interesting and worthwhile, and thank you, Mark. There are a number of show-offs posting here, though, and they make me want to show off, too, and point out that the title of the article should have been written “Twelve Types of Language” rather than using the numeral 12. There, I feel so superior now. (Just ragging! The posts are all interesting, too, and point out how complex our language is.)

  • thebluebird11

    @Jon: Thanks…appreciate the support!
    And now Olivia can feel superior to Mark, which is fine, because he can pull rank here anyway LOL. Are we all happy now?!

  • Andy Knoedler

    Here’s another form of language not mentioned so far: demotic.

    This is a term originally applied to the form of Greek spoken by the common people. It was still in use when I lived in Athens in the 1970s and was contrasted with the formal language mostly used by the government called katharevousa.

    I’ve seen the term “demotic” used in British publications in a more general sense to refer to any language used on the street. It could, for example, be applied to modern spoken Arabic, which bears little resemblance to classical, Quranic Arabic.

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