The Linguistics Behind Queer Speech!
Gay speech serves a purpose of identification to the speech community. However, the beginning implications of such speech markers were to provide a range of formats in which mutually understandable conversations could occur between speakers in the community. All the while, lessening the risk of inherently disclosing their sexuality to strangers. While the beginnings of a gay lexicon are difficult to pinpoint, due to technology and intolerance, there are some early-recorded examples of gay speech in history. Such as early seventeenth century literature referring to “Molly Houses”, places of known gay activity. All the way to the late 1800’s, there are small blurbs of historical writings that account for a minute portion of a gay based lexicon. These instantiations of gay terminology had a more complete recording by the 1960’s with the evolution of Polari, an auxlang for gay language used mainly in Europe. Later in 2005, Paul Baker would do research into the Polari language and concluded that overall Polari was just as intricate as some English based Creoles but that it served more as an “Anti-language”, which he described are languages that allow the non-normative society to remain hidden. As William Leap would argue it is here that, the “Gay Men’s English” would take root and begin to function to aid gay males in having coded conversations in high-risk situations.
Now I know what you are thinking, a heavy, woke af topic, right? But it's important that linguists stay up-to-date on language changes so that we can ensure that they are recorded appropriately. So I decided to do a bit of linguistic testing of my own by doing some qualitative research into gay male speech. My curiosity as a gay male, linguist and conlanger was to get more insight into if gay speech today follows in its aulang past or is the language less functioning and more in-group jargon now-a-days.
From national referendums to political figureheads supporting the rights of the community. Overall, this has created a more tolerant social standing towards same-sex relationships. This combined with the technological advances and its influence on the modern copra; the more recent gay generations have had exposure to many new experiences that may have affected the gay lexicon. With this change in mind, the question then becomes if the function of gay jargon is to maintain an “in-closet” identity to outsiders, what effects may be occurring to gay members today and their use of the jargon due to the ever-growing acceptance of LGBT? Furthermore, does the use of the jargon constitute a true in-group jargon or does its features place it into an auxlang category?
The purpose of this survey is to be a comparative of gay jargon as an “in-closet” language to its function today. The survey was created and dispersed from Surveymonkey.com, where participants were given an extensive list of words and asked to choose the five words that are most notably apparent in their own lexicon. From there they had to state their own definition of the word and the frequency in which they use the word. As well, they were asked to give sentences on how they under most circumstances use the words in sentences. The survey also inquired if the participants were “out”, a term given to those who are publicly open about their homosexuality and what their age range is. Some factors should be noted for the purposes of the study: 1) in regards to the participant’s sexual identity, the notions proposed in the Kinsey Scale Theory will not be pertinent to the study. The participants were asked in most conditions how they identify: gay, bi, or trans-bi/gay. 2) With the exploration of discourse and critical discourse within the gay speech community, the survey will only look into spoken jargon and its relevancy. All participants noted that they, under most conditions, identify as gay males and all noted they were publically open about their sexuality. All fell between the ages of 18 – 36 years old and lived in the U.K., U.S., and Canada. The highest percentages belonging to the word associations of “Top”, “Twink”, “Daddy”, “Bear”, “Breeder”, “Looking”, “Gurl”, and “DL.”
The word “Breeder”, for instance, was given two definitions that were agreed upon by multiple participants. One definition meaning a derogatory term for a heterosexual and the other with sexual connotations. In fact, out of the eight most known words, half of them have imbedded sexual references. It appears to that these words have a sub-layerd discourse that firstly, enables the speaker to help maintain secreacy of their sexual orientation and secondly, can allow the speaker to express their own preferences in sexual partners. This expression of preference is done so in a manner that can only be described as ciritical discourse that occurs in conversations. The intent of gay jargon as a means of “in-closet” speech has been maintained with some of its functionality diminished. The gay lexicon no longer carries an abundance of word associations the fit many categories as seen with Polari, therefore it can be argued that the gay lexicon isn’t high functioning like an auxlang might be, instead there appears to be discourse within the jargon. However, these individual words are still recognized by the in-group from all geographic regions surveyed. So, the use of this jargon can still be understood even in members are traveling to other regions, similarly to that of an auxlang, ultimately though it requires a base knowledge of English so the notion of the it being an auxlang can be ruled out. However, the origins of Polari are vastly disputed so it is possible that it had the intent of a auxlang as many attribute the origins to Punch and Judy performances.
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Formally trained linguist with a passion for all things nerd and conlanging related!