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Review of  Trends in Teenage Talk

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Trends in Teenage Talk
Book Author: Gisle Andersen Anna-Brita Stenström Kristine Hasund
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.1736

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Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2003 13:55:00 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Subject: Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and Findings.

Stenstrom, Anna-Brita, Gisle Andersen and Ingrid Kristine Hasund (2002)
Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and Findings. John
Benjamins Publishing Company, xi+229pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-252-7,
$57.00, Studies in Corpus Linguistics 8.

Reviewed by Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India


The book presents brilliant description on the generation, processing, and
analysis of the Corpus of London Teenagers (COLT). The volume consists of
two parts. The first part (Chap. 1-3) deals with the process of COLT
generation and processing while the second part (Chapter 4-8) is devoted
to analysis of linguistic features unique to teenage talk.

Chapter 1 (pp. 1-11) informs about the development of corpus in CD-ROM. It
includes orthographically transcribed texts, and tagged words, a sound
file, and a searching program. Chapter 2 (pp. 13-26) provides detail
demographic information of the speakers selected as informants for data
collection. Chapter 3 (pp. 27-61) contains information about the general
contents of the normal conversations of the teenagers. Chapter 4
(pp.63-106) is engaged in critical analysis of 'slanguage'. It includes
proper and dirty slang along with vogue and 'small words' (ok, like, sort
of, yeah, etc.), which are present in large numbers in teenage speech.
Chapter 5 (pp. 107-129) discusses variation in the use of reported speech
in teenage talk. It employs various linguistic methods to manifest speech
spoken by others. Chapter 6 (pp. 131-163) deals with non-standard grammar
and the trendy use of intensifiers. Chapter 7 (pp. 165-191) is devoted to
the discussion of use of tags (e.g., don't you, innit etc.), which do
occur quite frequently in their talk. Chapter 8 (pp. 193-209) presents a
lively discussion on the teenagers' intersectional behavior in terms of
ritual conflict to show how the young generation uses language to fight
verbally among themselves. Chapter 9 (pp. 211-214) sums up the discussion.


Chapter 1 presents detail information about the conceptualization and
initiation of the project as well as the methodology of tagging and
transfer of data into CD-ROM version. It also carries information how the
fieldworkers are selected, and what instructions are given to them for
collecting data from the target groups. The scheme adopted for
transcription is a simple one that involves a broad orthographic
transcription with little prosodic information. However, the deployment of
this system does not distort the actual image of the text because the
transcription scheme has been able to preserve all typical features (e.g.,
ellipsis, repetition, new starts, anaphora, intonational contours, etc.)
by which a speech corpus can be accepted for a linguistic research. The
words in the corpus are tagged in the same way as has been done for the
British National Corpus (BNC).

Chapter 2 deals with various non-linguistic parameters relevant to the
study of teenagers' conversations. The well-known social parameters (age,
gender, class, ethnicity, occupation, etc), that are often used in field
linguistics and dialectology are aptly used here for good
representativeness of the corpus. Speakers are divided in six different
age groups including both male and female: pre-adolescence (0-9), early
adolescence (10-13), middle adolescence (14-16), late adolescence (17-19),
young adults (20-29), and older adults (30+) coming from three different
social class: high, middle and low. The corpus also contains talks of the
teenagers coming from various ethnic minority groups (Black Caribbean,
Black African, Black other, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, etc.) living in
London. The total 31 recruits are taken from five different school
boroughs in and around London: Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Barnet, and
Herfortshire. The map no. 1 (p. 4) provides a good idea where the boroughs
are located in the city. Though the chapter presents an insightful
overview about the demographic and geographic parameters in selection of
recruits and location for the collection of data, it seems that the data
would have been much more balanced and representative if some more
recruits and places would have been included in the study. It would have
provided some more information of the target age group as well as of their
language. In spite of such limitations on selectional parameters, the
present study is highly creditable because of its insightful observation,
which rightly marks out the special trends practiced in teenage talks.

Chapter 3 presents thoughtful analysis of some representative samples of
teenage talks occurring at various social settings. The conversations are
divided into three broad types: (i) Peer Talk (conversation among the
teenagers and their peers) includes social networking, romance (first
love, girls about boys, boys about girls), sex talk, partying and
drinking, the body, past times and hobbies (pop culture, cinema and TV,
music, computers), 'bad' things, drugs and addiction, and race relations;
(ii) School Talk includes classroom interactions involving students and
teachers, as well as chats among the teenagers themselves; (iii) Family
Talk includes interaction of the teenagers with their parents, siblings
and other relatives. While the peer talk clearly highlights how the world
of the teenagers revolves around their speech, action and life; the school
talk shows how do they maintain a good balance with teachers and
classmates with regard to their content and manner of speaking; and the
family talk exhibits how do they expand their vision of life and enrich
their knowledge with regular inputs from the people of other generations.
Together, they give a broad picture of their language and life showing how
they talk in different situations and with different co-participants. What
surprises us is the absence of talks related with sports particularly when
both cricket and football are so popular among Londoners. However, we are
relieved that the majority of the teenagers live 'normal' happy lives, and
are eager to make the best out of their lives, whatever their situation
and background. With the researchers we also "admire their youthful
optimism and their openness to the future that lies ahead of them, and we
see no reason to worry about leaving 'the English language' into the hands
of the next generation." (p. 61).

Chapter 4 is really interesting with good analysis of the use of
'slanguage' by the teenagers - probably a universal phenomenon among the
young people in all ages and countries. Teenagers are more prone to slang
but why do they incline towards this is a real question to the
sociolinguists. However, it is rightly observed that the young generation
is full of vigor and energy, which motivate use of slang as a means of
violating social taboos subjugating older generation. Slang is also used
for provocation, keeping the older people outside, strengthening bonds
within own group (p. 67), exhibiting one's pseudo adulthood, threatening
others about one's verbal strength, displaying command over the vocabulary
of slang, exchanging secret information among the criminals (Andersson and
Trudgill 1990: 77, Allen 1998: 878) and others. After theoretical analysis
of slanguage the chapter gives informs how slang, swearing, and vague
words are used in the COLT. Slang includes both proper slang and dirty
slang, swearing focus on the nature of oath taking and cursing, while
vague word includes placeholders and set markers. In all cases, analysis
of the use of such words is authenticated with various statistics and
observations derived from the corpus. Some findings are really interesting
to note such as: the male speakers use both slang and dirty slang
relatively more often than the female speakers (p. 73), swearing is more
frequent in the 17-19 female age group than in the male (p. 82) while it
is most common among boys in the 10-13 age group; the male members use
more vague words than their female counterparts (p. 93) etc. The study
shows that contrary to stereotypical assumptions, use of slanguage by a
speaker is mostly controlled by the degree of his/her exposure to various
sociolinguistic environments.

Chapter 5 investigates the range of linguistic items that teenagers have
at their disposal when their talk contains reported speech. It highlights
four major techniques the teenagers usually employ: (a) various
paralinguistic cues (voice modulation, gesture, hand movement etc.), (b)
verbal humor, mimicry and zero-quotations, (c) 'like' as a quotative
marker, and (d) 'GO' and 'SAY' as reporting verb. Paralinguistic cues
"serve a dual function of making a segment as a speech report as well as
providing attitudinal or other information concerning the (fictitious)
character in the story" (p. 109); use of zero-quotatives indicates
speaker's attitude echoed by another speaker (Mathis and Yule 1994: 63);
use of mimicry (primarily by early male adolescents) represents pseudo
speech pattern of another speaker with whom the reporter consciously wants
to maintain a line of distinction. On the other hand, 'like' is mostly
used as an interpretive marker (p. 119) while 'GO' and 'SAY' are used in
past tense. Overall, statistics shows that the girls use more quotative
verbs than the boys as there is a considerable female predominance in the
use of 'GO', but no significant difference in the use of 'SAY', which
suggests that it is the adolescent girls who are in the forefront as
regards the use of the 'new' quotative verb, as with many other innovative
linguistic features (p. 126). The study, however, points out two important
features of teenage talk. First, the reporting speech itself, which is
rare among adults but typical to the teenagers. Second, various factors
govern teenagers' choice of lexical items in contexts.

Chapter 6 presents survey on various non-standard grammatical features
manifested in the conversation of the teenagers such as use of multiple
negation (you cannot use nothing), non-standard pronominal forms (youse,
theirselves), negative concord (we was, he don't), auxiliary deletion
(Linda sit), simple for complex preposition (out the cinema), double
comparatives (they are much more better), participle for imperfect (and
this is the one we done last week) etc. These are compared with the
results of the Reading teenage conversations reported in Cheshire (1982)
to find out that "not much seem to have changed during the ten-year
period, which shows that grammatical features are fairly stable" (p. 133).
The assessment ends with the reference to the non-standard features
representing teenagers with different social and ethnic backgrounds. Next,
follows the discussion of teenagers' unorthodox, excessive and offensive
use of adjective intensifiers with respect to their gender and
socio-economic status. It shows that a few specific lexical items are "far
less commonly used as adverb intensifiers than as adjective intensifiers,
and that a quite a few are not used as adverb intensifies at all" (p.
161). In comparison to the adults, the teenagers use adjective
intensifiers less frequently, which is compensated by their heavy use of
'really' and dirty intensifiers. However, girls are found to use
intensifiers significantly more often that the boys. While girls mostly
incline towards 'really', boys use 'absolutely', 'completely', 'bloody'
and 'fucking'. Finally, it argues that use of 'well' as an adjective
intensifier, and 'enough' as a premodifier have resurged in the teenage
talks of the present generation after their disappearance before the end
of 19th century (p. 163).

Chapter 7 investigates frequent use of tags in teenage talk, which
emphasizes on 'invariant tags' (eh, okay, right, yeah, and innit) ignoring
the highly common 'ordinary' tags found in English. Tags are discourse
markers as they are interactional in nature involving some sort of
hearer-orientation. They serve to involve the hearer in some way or other
although they do not always ask for or even allow for his contribution in
the discourse (Holmes 1984, Andersen 2001). The COLT supplies many more
functions (epistemic, facilitative, softening, peremptory, aggressive,
imagination-appealing, concept-retrieval helping, response-urging,
irony-marking, continuation-checking, proposal evaluating, etc.) (p. 184)
of tags besides those three functions (subjunctive, interactional, and
textual function) generally found in conversations. The purpose of their
use is to "engage the hearer or invite his response in the form of a
confirmation, verification or corroboration of a claim, they may express a
tentative attitude on the part of a speaker, or they may be polite
expressions or signals of the common ground between interlocutors" (p.
167). The study observes no significant difference between girls and boys
with respect to the use of invariant tags (p. 172), and the use of tags
drops off dramatically after late adolescence or young adulthood (table
7.4, p. 185). The study also indicates that with the notable exception of
the age parameter, the use of invariant tags does not always follow clear
sociolinguistic patterns. Each tag item, therefore, needs to be considered
separately with respect to various social parameters.

Chapter 8 deals with an interesting aspect of teenage talk. The COLT shows
how the teenagers are apt in 'ritual conflict', i.e. how do they use their
language as a tool for fighting verbally among themselves. Ritual
conflict, which is normally correlated with gender, social class, and
race, is nothing but "a playful, non-serious verbal disputes that are not
aimed at conflict resolution. The most well-known form of ritual conflict
is ritual insult, a kind of verbal dwelling in which speakers exchange
insults about each other or each other's relative - most importantly, the
opponent's mother - in a series of reciprocal counters" (p. 194). Young
adolescents mostly tend to use ritual conflicts for developing their
self-defense strategies and competitive skill, so that they are able to
defend themselves in social interaction in childhood, and later in
adulthood (Kochman 1983). The COLT corpus is quite rich with many examples
of ritual conflicts where they are found to use 'tough talks' to give
impression of their intelligence, degree of intimacy, and depth of
friendship. In respect to the social parameters the study shows that 'race
may be an important factor for some speakers and in some situations, where
speakers label themselves members of a 'black culture' (p. 209). As
regards to gender, girls' ritual conflict generally differs from that of
boys because girls do not seriously compete for status in the ways boys do
as their the main purpose seems to be 'the communication of normative
information' (Eder 1990: 82). In essence, in conflict talks while the boys
tend to engage in direct, rude and competitive verbal disputes, the girls
prefer a more indirect, polite, and cooperative approach.


Many new findings and their subsequent introspective analysis have
generated interesting insights about the London teenagers in general, and
their linguistic skills in particular. To attain this, the investigators
have deployed an intelligent method for data collection both from formal
and informal speech sequences, and used a method to process and analyzes
the whole corpus to arrive at the final outputs not known before. The work
is a good contribution to the corpus based studies into language (Stubbs
1996), spoken discourse analysis (Selting and Couper-Kuhlen 2001),
conversational analysis (Coates 1996), dialogic interaction analysis
(Weigand and Dascal 2001), and sociolinguistics where intricate interface
of language and people is an important issue for investigation (Coates
1998, Talbot 1998, Litosseliti and Sunderland 2002).


Andersen, G. (2001) Pragmatic markers and sociolinguistic variation: a
relevance-theoretic approach to the language of adolescents. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins.

Cheshire, J. (1982) Variation in an English Dialect. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Coates, J. (1996) Women talk: Conversation between women friends. Oxford:

Coates, J. (ed.) (1998) Language and Gender. Oxford: Blackwell.

Eder, D. (1990) "Serious and playful disputes: variation in conflict talk
among female adolescents", in A. Grimshaw (ed) Conflict talk:
sociolinguistic investigations of arguments in conversations. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. Pp. 67-84.

Holmes, J. (1984) "Hedging your bets and sitting on the fence: some
evidence for hedges as support structures". Te Reo. 27: 47-62.

Litosseliti, L. and J. Sunderland (eds.) (2002) Gender Identity and
Discourse Analysis. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mathis, T. and G. Yule (1994) "Zero quotatives". Discourse Processes. 18:

Selting, M. and E. Couper-Kuhlen (eds.) (2001) Studies in Interactional
Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing

Stubbs, M. (1996). Text and Corpus Analysis -- Computer-Assisted Studies
of Language and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.

Talbot, M. (1998) Language and Gender. London: Polity Press.

Weigand, E. and M. Dascal (eds.) (2001) Negotiation and Power in Dialogic
Interaction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of corpus generation and processing for the Technology Development in Indian Languages at Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes corpus design and development, discourse and pragmatics, lexcology, lexical semantics, lexicography, etc. Presently he is working on speech corpus generation, corpus based lexicography and lexical polysemy.