Vulgarism

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In the study of language and literary style, a vulgarism is an expression or usage considered non-standard or characteristic of uneducated speech or writing. In colloquial or lexical English, "vulgarism" or "vulgarity" may be synonymous with profanity or obscenity, but a linguistic or literary vulgarism encompasses a broader category of perceived fault not confined to scatological or sexual offensiveness. ("Vulgarity" is generally not used in this more restricted sense.) These faults may include errors of pronunciation, misspellings, word malformations,[1] and malapropisms.

Vulgarism and classicism[edit]

The English word "vulgarism" derives ultimately from Latin vulgus, "the common people", often as a pejorative meaning "the [unwashed] masses, undifferentiated herd, a mob". In classical studies, Vulgar Latin as the Latin of everyday life is conventionally contrasted to Classical Latin, the literary language exemplified by the "Golden Age" canon (Cicero, Caesar, Vergil, Ovid, among others).[2] This distinction was always an untenable mode of literary criticism, unduly problematizing, for instance, the so-called "Silver Age" novelist Petronius, whose complex and sophisticated prose style in the Satyricon is replete with conversational vulgarisms.[3]

Vulgarism and social class[edit]

Vulgarism has been a particular concern of British English traditionalists.[4] In the 1920s, the English lexicographer Henry Wyld defined "vulgarism" as

a peculiarity which intrudes itself into Standard English, and is of such a nature as to be associated with the speech of vulgar or uneducated speakers. The origin of pure vulgarisms is usually that they are importations, not from a regional but from a class dialect—in this case from a dialect which is not that of a province, but of a low or uneducated social class. … [A vulgarism] is usually a variety of Standard English, but a bad variety.[5]

The moral and aesthetic values explicit in such a definition depends on class hierarchy viewed as authoritative.[6] For instance, the "misuse" of the aspirate ("dropping your aitches") has been considered a mark of the lower classes in England at least since the late 18th century,[7] as dramatized in My Fair Lady. Because linguistic vulgarism betrayed social class, its avoidance became an aspect of etiquette. In 19th-century England, books such as The Vulgarisms and Improprieties of the English Language (1833) by W.H. Savage reflected upper-middle-class anxieties about "correctness and good breeding".[8]

Vulgarisms in a literary work may be used deliberately to further characterization.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Johannes Tromp, The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition with Commentary, 'Studia in Veteris Testamenti pseudepigrapha (Brill, 1993), pp. 27, 39, 40, 243.
  2. ^ J.N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language pp. 300–301, 765, et passim, and Social Variation and the Latin Language (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 3–5.
  3. ^ Andrew Laird, Powers of Expression, Expressions of Power: Speech Presentation and Latin Literature (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 250.
  4. ^ Tony Crowley, Language in History: Theories and Texts (Routledge, 1996), p. 169.
  5. ^ Wyld as quoted by Crowley, Language in History, p. 169.
  6. ^ Crowley, Language in History, p. 169
  7. ^ Crowley, Language in History, p. 168; Manfred Görlach, English in Nineteenth-Century England: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 57; Ossi Ihalainen, "The Dialects of English since 1776," in The Cambridge History of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 1994), vol. 5, pp. 216–217.
  8. ^ Görlach, English in Nineteenth-Century England, p. 26.
  9. ^ Görlach, English in Nineteenth-Century England, p. 26; Adams, Bilingualism, pp. 300–301; Tromp, The Assumption of Moses, p. 39.