Age Groups and Language Choice of Youth

Age is a biological fact whose characteristics have implications for various social organizations and various regulations, such as school age rules, driving licenses, voting rights in general elections, military service, juvenile courts, or special treatment of seniors. Speech is also one of the characteristics that can reveal an assessment of age and differentiate one age group from another.

The language of the younger generation (youth) is perhaps the most studied of all age variations. The essence of the adolescent language research is how the special features of adolescent’s speech can be described. Some researchers say that what is most important in such research is that a register of adolescents can distinguish the language of adolescents from the language of children on the one hand and the language of adults on the other (Widdicombe and Wooffitt, 1995).

Other researchers say that adolescents are speakers who are competent in their language and are not closed in their choice of language. When they absorb language by expanding their vocabulary and stylistic distances, they control it completely. They often choose different words from adults. For example, in speaking English, adolescents use more multiple negatives, such as I don’t know nothing about computers , than adult speakers in the same social class (Holmes, 1992: 184; Coulmas, 2005: 58).

In research at children’s schools in Edinburgh, Romaine (1984) found that the use of substandard forms during adolescence is at its maximum. Rampton (1995) investigates that in a multicultural setting in England there is a phenomenon called lexical crossing. Rampton found that teenagers use different words from older ones, but are not always associated with ethnic groups.

Coulmas (2005) also saw that, based on the results of his research, lately Japanese adolescent language refers to kogyaru kotoba ” high school girl linguage “. In that regard, young women are better than young men at creating and using language with nonlinguistic features, especially for clothes, hairstyles, make-up . There are many expressions of kogyaru kotaba that are not known by teenage members and when they hear them they do not understand, such as acronyms and abbreviations. Slang expressions also develop quickly. The term kogyaru is composed of ko <kōtōgakkō ‘high school’ and gyaru ‘girls’ . Kogyaru speech featureswhat stands out are the boring, unstressed pronunciation, word fragments ( kimoi < kimo chi waru i ‘ disgusting ‘), the English-Japanese mix ( cho SBS <cho ‘ultra’ + s uper b eatiful s exy), and rejection of honorifics, particularly the use of his last name, without the obligation to use the suffix -san for neutral, -kun for boys, – chan for girls, and -sencai for teachers.

In connection with the results of his research, it is not wrong for Coulmas (2005: 58) to conclude that the functions and features that mark teenage language are the use of substandard forms, dialects and accents ( vernacular ), slang, and innovative. The use of adolescent language has three main functions, namely (1) providing language for the purpose of speakers, (2) manifesting group members and building a different identity, and (3) showing a desire to resist the pressure of social norms.

Choice of Language as a Mirror of a Generation

Language in a cross-generational perspective shows that each generation has a language “creation” that is different from the language used by its predecessors. The linguistic differences between the generations are closely related to the different language choices. This causes the younger generation to “seem” to have a different “language” from the previous generation. All this happens because (1) communication needs are gradually changing and forcing each new generation to adjust language to suit their experiences and (2) at certain times the needs and communication skills of the current generation are different from their predecessors.

These two facts make it clear that age and generational differences are factors that cause special variations in language choices. The linguistic system of three successive generations (G n -G n + 2 ) indicate that there are differences in the speech of G n and G n + 1 .

In that respect, there are differences in language use with the older generation (G n ) to the next generation (G n + 1 and G n + 2 ). However, the current generation can only use the choice of language from the previous generation and it can also include that choice only includes certain generations (Coulmas, 2005: 52-53). 

In the context of language as a tradition, language must be passed on from one generation to the next by means of communication. The case of language death from a tradition is evidence of the communication distance between generations. At the event, speakers from generation G n + 1 failed to use a language in the same way as the generation G n . When that happens, there is a reduction in language skills and usage associated with changing generations of speakers of that language. A language will soon die as a spoken language because no one chooses and speaks it. That case is an extreme case as a result of intergenerational communication distance.

It cannot be denied that age makes a difference in ways of speaking. There are different words used. A teenager certainly will not talk like an 80 year old. Each language includes expressions, word pronunciations, and constructs that have been used for a long time. The phrases, choice of words, and constructs are chosen by speakers of different generations with different frequencies. Moreover, there are parts of the language, especially at the lexical and syntactic levels, which the “modern” and “ancient” speakers feel differently. 

Whatever the reasons, the “modern and ancient” dichotomy reminds us of the fact that language is a non-monolithic formation that can simply be distinguished from the present and the future. However, a system that is constantly changing or that is permanent includes elements of language variable resistance. Old-fashioned expressions are not reserved for “modern-minded” speakers or “older generation languages” are reserved for younger speakers. Indeed, there would have been a tendency in that direction if the older speakers knew only the ancient expressions and the modern ones were identical with the younger ones.

In the level of linguistic expression, words and expressions used in the time span refer to the variable time. At that level, it is necessary to understand that a different generation who lived at the same time and used a common language might use language in different ways.

Relationship Options Language with Factor Age

Vocabulary differences between age groups are the most easily observable factor in the relationship between language choice and age. At the sound level of language, for example, the sociolinguist William Labov (1972) found that adults in New York were less likely to pronounce the / r / sound in words such as fourth and floor than younger people. Meanwhile, Chambers and Trudgill (1980) found that in the area of ​​Norwich, England, the pronunciation of / e / in words such as bell and tell differs depending on the age of the speaker.

Another example, for example, Comanche, an Indian language spoken in the southern region of the United States, has versions with special vocabulary (and special pronunciation patterns) that are only used by toddlers. In Indonesian, from daily experience, we know that there are a lot of vocabulary used by teenagers — with their slang — sometimes not understood by their parents. We can also feel the difference between the diction of the boys and the teenagers when they speak. 

However, there are other linguistic differences between age groups that may not appear on the surface. For example, we can observe Javanese speakers talking to older ones. They will choose ngoko-krama-krama madya-krama Inggil according to the undha-usuk or the level of language implied in their diction. When it comes to criticizing or correcting, for example, younger people have a tendency to choose statements such as ” meniko klentu ” (that’s wrong) or ” ora ngono ” (not like that) instead of choosing the phrase ” wow, poetry also meniko lepat ” (wow, apparently that’s wrong) or ” meniko ringing temptu leres“(that’s not necessarily true) or other indirect expressions such as” kula kinten meniko kirang right “(I think that’s not quite right). This suggests that there are variations of politeness in Javanese between generations and all these examples suggest that the structure of language can reflect the way a culture views the world and social relationships that are considered important by that culture (Gunarwan, 2003: 217-219).


Age, as well as factors of gender, profession, social class, and geographic or ethnic origin, have been widely researched and discussed as a factor influencing our position in society. The difference in position will cause a variety of language choices. Age differences often cause differences in language choices in many languages ​​in the world, even the differences are cross-generational. 


by Abdullah Sam
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