VCE English Language – The Very Definition of Informal Language

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VCE English Language – The Very Definition of Informal Language

I am constantly amazed by how many students complete their very first English Language SAC on informal language (Unit 3 AOS 1), and still can’t articulately define what informal language actually means. Personally, I think this is where many schools fail in expressing this definition to students. The day I realised the true definition of informal language in VCE was the day it began to make sense to me – and the assessments became much easier too!

In this article today, I hope to demystify the true definition of informal language and give you some metalinguistic features to go along with it. Now, please note that some of these features are NOT exclusive to informal language – indeed they may overlap with formal language depending on the social purpose, context and other factors.

  • Informal language encourages intimacy, solidarity and a social connection with the audience/speakers.
  • Informal language is also generally more efficient in terms of saving time,
  • However, at times informal language can be more ambiguous.

Informal Language Encourages Solidarity

Think of slang terms that your friends may use around you – they are being purposely used to foster a social connection with you – to create a sense of the in-group while excluding the ‘out-group’.

Similarly, think of the use of the active voice in comparison to the more formal passive voice:

“I say sorry” – Active

“Sorry is being said by me” – Passive

Which would sound more PERSONAL and more SINCERE? Definitely the more informal active voice.

Informal Language Creates Efficiency

Think of syntactic ellipsis and phonological elision when you think of efficiency. But efficiency in terms of what? Saving time, yes. As humans, we like to take the path of least resistance – so to ensure we achieve this, we’ll try to economise what we can.

Ellipsis – Syntax

We may omit whole words from our sentences/utterances without affecting the intended meaning. For example, we may say ‘You going now’ instead of ‘Are you going now?’. This is very common in informal everyday conversation, and less so in planned, formal documents/speeches.

Elision – Phonology

We may say ‘gonna’ instead of ‘going to’ – or even write it like this!

Informal Language Ambiguity

Due to this economisation of speech, and often new slang terms, sometimes informal language can indeed be unclear (ambiguous). For example, not everyone may know what ‘chat’ means in an informal context (it means disgusting), or even ‘bae’ (this was popularised quite some time ago!).

Informal Language Features List

  • Slang terms
  • Colloquialisms
  • Phrasal verbs (verb + preposition)
  • Contractions
  • Abbreviations/Acronyms/Initialisms
  • Ellipsis
  • Swearing/colourful language
  • Discourse particles (like, you know)
  • Interrogative tags
  • Diminutives
  • Simple and compound sentence structure – lack of complex/compound-complex sentences
  • Inference
  • Interrogative sentence types
  • Non-standard orthography
  • Capitalisation/Bolding/Italics
  • Exclamation marks
  • Features of spoken discourse
  • The use of deictic expressions
  • The use of personal pronouns (e.g. ‘I’, ‘We’)
  • The use of active sentence structure as opposed to passive
  • Beginning a sentence with a conjunction
  • Emoticons
  • Neologisms
  • Idioms
  • Assimilation
  • Elision
  • Reduction
  • Shortenings

Before your first informal language SAC, I would recommend you create a list of these on your computer with definition and examples. Always remember that state WHY this informal feature has been used in a given context! For example, a speaker in a friendship group may use swearing to build social rapport with his/her interlocutors and to create social solidarity.


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VCE English Language – The Very Definition of Informal Language

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