Can you give some examples of subdomains of English?
August 28, 2022 7:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm not quite sure what to call what I'm asking about, which is part of my question. I'm thinking of specialized subsets of English, that have their own constraints and grammar and vocabulary and quirks. Are these subdomains? They aren't dialects or variants per se; I don't know what linguists would call them. Some examples inside.

An example is Maritime English, which is technically in English but has a very narrow set of properties and protocols. Here are some of my other examples, of varying degrees of strictness:

auction calling
medical notes
programming languages (arguably in English)
crossword clues
driving directions
touts and carnival barkers' patter
restaurant kitchen communication
text messages/DMs
medical notes
resumé English
mission statements
The Dozens
capsule reviews or descriptions, e.g. of movies
square dance calling
toasting (e.g., in reggae)
air traffic communications
coded diplomatic language
sports summaries (e.g., of horse races in the Daily Racing Form)

Each one has its own conventions and rhetoric (as does literature or persuasive writing generally). What am I missing? And what is the correct name for what I'm talking about?

This is for my classroom, by the way.
posted by argybarg to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
African-American Vernacular English
Jargon of any field
Military close-order drill
American, Australian, British, Canadian Englis (and others?)
Regional dialects
Slang in general or of any generation
Sports box scores?
Terms of art for any field
posted by NotLost at 7:49 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]

You could call them speech genres (Bakhtin) or language games (Wittgenstein), or you could break each one down according to the SPEAKING model (Hymes).
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:52 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]

Poetry/verse, and specific forms thereof, eg sonnets.
Press releases
Technical-journal articles

"Legalese" is not a great category, because a contract has a very different style than a judge's decision, but they each have a distinctive style.
posted by adamrice at 8:06 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]

I think this is largely jargon: "special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand."
posted by amtho at 8:06 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]

Yes, jargon. My college English teacher spent like a whole class period covering the concept of "jargon" and it was this.
posted by aniola at 8:29 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]

Cants (an example, not all of these are cants)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:31 PM on August 28

What moves it beyond jargon (words and experessions) is the controlled/different grammar and special verbs etc. "The main trait that distinguishes jargon from the rest of a language is special vocabulary"

Auction patter is not just jargon, there's something else there too because it's got all kinds of features that distinguish it from other forms of English at the structural and syntactic level. Many of your other examples are more complex and derived than what 'jargon' usually entails imo.

I'm not sure what the right word is either but another example on the richer side of things is Forecast discussions.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:33 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]

Honestly, follow any career/vocation/hobby down the path and you'll end up with a cool new users lexicon:

The wide world of Literary Terms
Theatrical/backstage/film/set language.
Musical language, particularly non-classical musical language.
Which extends to the language people use when they WRITE about Music.
There's a lot of shorthand in print media and also in the production of printed media, which might count.
Advertising ( I work here and it 100% can be its own thing)
(which is not to be confused with the language of sewing/tailoring)
If you spend any time with people that work with hair/make-up/personal aesthetics, there is a whole "secret" language here as well

Oh preview what amtho said
posted by thivaia at 8:35 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]

You might incur risks in making the attempt, but I think your students would get something out of hearing about and hearing speaking in tongues, and the highly unusual ways some preachers use English, such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet.

That clip is her at her mildest among the recordings I’ve heard; in her own pulpit in front of her own congregation, she could really fly, at times.

I don’t say this to mock her, either. I think she was a genius in her own way, and discovered unique modes of using language to induce unusual states of consciousness.
posted by jamjam at 8:39 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]

Traders. Floor traders and upstairs traders on a desk have a language and syntax unique to them. The obvious one is the word "offer". If you make an offer trading, it is the price you are willing to sell at. If you make an offer on a house, it is the price you are willing to pay.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:34 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]

I can provide a long list of restaurant jargon, some industry standard, some more local/perhaps dated. Mefemail me if you want that.
posted by vrakatar at 11:04 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]

The shipping forecast.
posted by Balthamos at 11:14 PM on August 28

Most of that is jargon.

Though I did pick up a word I didn't know before... "topolect", basically a dialect that's limited to a geographical region.
posted by kschang at 11:57 PM on August 28

In linguistics this is a Register or diatype.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:20 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

There's also the fascinating Euro English.
posted by snusmumrik at 1:58 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

A specific context within (British) Maritime English is both the terminology and the sequence used in The Shipping Forecast - in that context "moderate visibility" means you can see between 2 and 5 nautical miles and an event arriving "soon" means it will be there in 6 to 12 hours time, for example. Likewise, the Mayday Distress signal. To me, these - and some of your other examples - are instances of tabulated English: the sender and the receiver and both basically communicating a form full of information where each element must have particular values and occur in a particular sequence. Like "knock knock" jokes - but with life or death stakes.
posted by rongorongo at 4:37 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

The show-business trade paper Variety is famous for its style, though of course this isn’t spoken language.
posted by scratch at 4:53 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

One concept you might find useful for some of these is the idea of "level of diction." I used to teach writing to college students and we talked about this. When you're talking to a friend, you might use a very informal level of diction, with a lot of slang, in-group terms, and very informal grammar. Talking to a co-worker, you might try to avoid the slang (and profanity), and use more formal grammar and syntax (Think, "Hey, what's up?" to a friend versus, "How are you today?" to a co-worker, or "What the fuck, dude?" versus "I would prefer you not use that tone with me."). Academic writing might demand a very high level of diction; legal writing certainly does.

We all have different levels of diction we use in different settings. I'm prone to swearing, for instance, but I also tutor high school students and I try not to swear during these sessions.

Jargon (specialized vocabulary), level of diction, and specialized syntax can account for some of the differences you're thinking about, but perhaps no one of these characteristics accounts for them all. A lawyer and a marine biologist will both write at a very formal level but will use very different jargons.
posted by Well I never at 5:37 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

I've found Thieves' Cant interesting because it evolved to conceal details from onlookers. So that makes it slightly different from most other occupational jargons.
posted by ovvl at 6:04 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

Physics has a lot of words peculiar to specific theories: quantum, spherical cow, color, spin, strange, charm, string, dark energy, dark flow, heat death, entropy, et cetera. Many of these terms are used by the lay public without a clear understanding of the word's meaning in the context of the theory, and the terms have become buzz words disconnected from their theoretical origin.
posted by effluvia at 7:01 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Cryptopgraphy has lots of these things...including Alice and Bob.
posted by mmascolino at 8:45 AM on August 29

I commonly think of "register" as being more about pronunciation and tone, but on reading the definition at Wikipedia linked by iamkimiam carefully, I think that's your best bet in terms of being reasonably correct, indicating more than just jargon, but also widely understood, at least by people with some familiarity with linguistics. They can indeed be as rich as any language variety, but are characterized by the fact they are used for certain purposes and contexts.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:07 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

Simplified Technical English (home page, wikipedia) is referred to as a Controlled Language.

From the definition of the standard: "It includes a set of approximately 53 technical writing rules and a basic general vocabulary dictionary of approximately 900 approved words for writing technical documentation."
posted by ralan at 4:27 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]

There are polari and prison slang, which both evolved as a way to converse without letting the police or the prison guards in on the conversation.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:16 AM on November 7

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