Slang Usage of French by Young Americans


  • Kathleen Y. Ensz Ph.D.

    1. University of Northern Colorado
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    • 2

      (Stanford University) Associate Professor of French and Foreign Language Education at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado.


ABSTRACT  This study describes reactions of native French speakers to usage of French slang by young American students. The author conducted interviews in several areas of France and French Switzerland where participants rated thirty tape-recorded slang expressions ranging in nonstandard usage from very familiar to rather vulgar. The possible reactions, “très mauvais goût” (very bad taste), “un peu incorrect” (socially inappropriate) or “langage normal” (acceptable speech), were scored one, two, and three, respectively, and mean scores were calculated for each expression. The French listeners were also asked to express their opinions generally about the use of slang, both by native speakers and by foreigners. Reactions to the thirty slang expressions were evaluated relative to the sex, profession, age, and residence of the respondents as well as for the sample as a whole. Results show attitudes definitely critical of the use of slang in general, even though some of the expressions approached acceptability. The findings of the study suggest a need for discrimination in slang language usage in French classrooms and in the curriculum. While an awareness of some slang expressions can increase students' understanding of everyday French, the active use of most French slang by our students may evoke negative reactions on the part of native speakers.