Jargon and Tongues

Soledad Alfaro

When in conversation one tends to select a dialect, a rhythm, even a tone of talking depending on the relationship with whom you are conversing. The words that are selected from the back of the mind and pushed out through the mouth carry an empathetic consciousness based on the prior knowledge and experiences of both people. Therefore, it forms the outcomes of our discussions with one another. For example a conversation between two lawyers who handle criminal justice cases would include terms such as “abate” or “abstention doctrine”, when speaking of conflicts within the courtroom or their law offices. They are comfortable with the language in the scenario because they both are aware of the terms, and come from  similar backgrounds which merge together through their profession. This may be unlike the conversation between an E.R. doctor, and a police officer on patrol. If the doctor chooses to use advanced terms to describe the diagnosis of a patient to our officer, it is more than likely that he will ask for clarification for the unfamiliar terms. This is because these words will sound foreign to him based on the inferences we can make of his prior knowledge. The officer and the E.R. doctor would not have an advanced medical conversation, or one about the systems or vows of a police officer, because they have been educated in different ways and do not understand all of the details inside the languages of these different professions and environments. The name for these terms is called Jargon. Jargon is displayed in every situation that we are in, in terms of conversation. There can be many different variables that affect the type of language we use and all are sub situations of jargon. Such as the slang we use based on the cities that we are from, or the distinguishing of different classes and the concept of code switching. Jargon is the foundation of familiarity in language. It is how we find comfort in our conversations with others, and establish common ground in one’s culture.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, is one not only known for its historical landmarks such as the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin’s burial site, but also its borderline foreign use of slang applied in informal conversations between locals. In different parts of the city one can open their ears and listen to colorful conversations that are  sources of coded language which can only be translated by a Philadelphian. For a New Yorker or someone from Kansas this is an unclear vernacular, that is only understood by those who have familiarized themselves with it. It is a jargon among the people of its city. The word “Jawn” is a prime example of the Philadelphian tongue. “ Jawn can mean anything. Person place or thing. Sometimes if we are telling a story, and we don’t want people to know what we are talking about we’ll plug in jawn for everything. The other day I was at the jawn...not knowing I had that jawn on me.” (MK Asante, Buck pg. 4)  When the writer uses “I was at the jawn” to describe a place, and then follows with “not knowing I had that jawn on me” to describe a thing. The only way one could distinguish the two would be for them to already have a preconceived understanding of the Philadelphia jargon and the word “jawn

When the subject of slang comes up as a form of terminology it is often deemed one of uneducated people. However there is a sense of comfort in broken language that rolls off of slurred tongues and sounds like home to many. We hear it in the music of different cultures. How country delivers these sort of simple abbreviations of “yall” or “fixin” and then in music like rap we hear words of a similar cadence. One could also say that it is a clear observation that the music people listen to, also corresponds with the language of its audience, in order for it to be received as relatable to its listeners. Many times the particular dialect can have a major affect on the different classes that we have in America and how we infer who is of which class. Native Son by Richard Wright, shows us a clear dynamic of racism in relation to classism in the 50’s. It talks about a boy who is trying to accept his class and his current position in life.  “Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain't. They do things and we can't. It's just like livin' in jail.” (Native son by Richard Wright) In this quote you don’t only see the clear frustration of the character but you also notice his dialect. It is one that rules him to be inferior to those above him, which specifically in this era would be white people, but he is also comfortable speaking the way he does in this quote. You can hear the sense of familiarity that comes along with the person of whom he is speaking to. One would guess that it would be a friend or a family member someone who already knew him well enough to understand his anger and the way he talks.

Language is the backbone of communication between humans. It is how we receive all types of messages whether they are met to be formal, informal or personal. When we are addressing these different social situation there is a manipulation that we take on with our tongues. We insert these codes in language in order to get across certain points and drive these ideas into the minds of others solely using words. This is why we have uses in language  such as slang, which simplify words to make them more understandable. Some of the most valued people in our society were manipulators of language. People who were poets and writers, who could take words and give them a whole new meaning through this manipulation was translated into these roots we call “slang”. In African American communities it can be considered a call to home. The slurred words that were caught between confused lips when slaves were first brought to America had to be relaxed somehow in such a hard language. In that there were abbreviations of sounds that weren’t there before in order to hold a sturdy tongue in front of the masters. Saul Williams, is one of those masters of manipulating language. He is a poet who is famous for his depth in the routes of our history and how we communicate through tools such as jargon. “Whereas the Quanti drum has allowed the whirling mathematicians to calculate the the everchanging distance between rock and stardom”. (Saul williams, Coded language) This quote is from a poem performed at Def Poetry Jam. Williams  is talking about how we use language to analyze and to better understand the systems of the world. Hence the comparison of the Quanti drum which is a drum that originates in Africa to the logic of the mathematician. It is a series of questions and answers that are spoken in different tongues but all in the same language.

We hold onto what we know like crutches. Pushing words through the spaces of our teeth trying to find balance between what is familiar and what is foreign. Coming to grips with the fact that we all speak in unfamiliar tones based on the home in our voices. Every sentence has a rhythm every word one thousand meanings to it based on the type of pronunciation. Jargon, is how we remember where we are and where we came from, because it sticks in our minds our jobs and our lives. It is how we communicate and it is how we will always understand one another.

Works Cited:

Wright, Richard. Native Son,. New York: Harper & Bros., 1940. Print.

Asante, Molefi K. Buck: A Memoir. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.