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Youth, slang, and pragmatic expressions: Examples from Brazilian Portuguese


Address correspondence to:
Jennifer Roth-Gordon
Department of Anthropology
University of Arizona
Box 210030
Arizona 85721-0030


This article draws on an ethnographic study of the stigmatized speech style of poor black male youth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These youth are said to speak gíria (‘slang’), and their speech is often described as incomprehensible to the Brazilian middle class. Speakers and listeners point to a wide range of pragmatic expressions as some of the most salient linguistic features associated with this speech style. This article presents examples from Brazilian Portuguese slang, in which youth draw on sound words, obscenities, address forms, and addressee-oriented tags to create new pragmatic markers and forms of indefinite reference. It is argued that these pragmatic expressions offer multiple opportunities for speakers to convey stance, novelty, and style, social goals long associated with slang. This data suggests that we broaden the purview of slang beyond the lexicon to investigate the ways in which speakers actively innovate within the area of pragmatics.