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What Is Colloquial Language?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated: May 23, 2024

As defined by the philosophy of language, colloquial language is an ordinary or natural language that uses colloquialisms. Colloquialisms are informal words, phrases, or sayings often specific to one geographical area and typically only used in informal settings. Generally, linguists make distinctions between colloquial language and slang, jargon, and dialect.

Examples of colloquial language include singular words, such as referring to a carbonated beverage as “pop,” as well as phrases used to describe a situation. For example, some people describe a romantic relationship coming to an end as one person getting “dumped by” the other person. Other examples of colloquial phrases can include certain inserts, such as saying someone “up and left” instead of simply “left.”

Oftentimes, certain colloquialisms are more common in a particular geographical area. For example, people in the southern part of the United States generally use “y’all,” a combination of “you” and “all,” more often than people in the northern part of the country. In the case of carbonated beverages, some of the most common colloquialisms for carbonated beverages include “soda,” “pop,” and “soft drink,” but the exact terms vary depending on where in the world the speaker is located.

Since colloquial language is considered informal, generally, it is not used during academic or professional writing or speaking. Still, people might use colloquialisms when writing or speaking to their family members, friends, or neighbors. Usually, these people are familiar with the language and the meaning. Too, colloquialisms often are accepted within certain kinds of creative writing, such as fiction novels and short stories, and other kinds of creative works. This is especially true if a story takes place in a geographical area well known for certain kinds of colloquial language.

The lines separating colloquialisms, slang, and jargon can be unclear given that each type of language is considered informal and typically is specific to a certain area or group. Such lines become clearer when slang is defined as language used by a specific social group and jargon is defined as language used by a specific professional or interest group. For example, each generation of teenagers might create its own kind of slang language. At the same time, professionals like doctors and lawyers tend to use jargon words and phrases specific to their jobs. Dialect, on the other hand, usually refers to the regional speech patterns or grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of a region or social class.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jun 26, 2011

I just love it when people call soda "pop". I think it's really interesting that there are so many terms for one beverage, but I guess it's been around in various forms since before widespread media.

Now that we all get our TV and Facebook posts at the same time, there won't be as many cute variations in language between areas of the States.

There are people in the world who call all soda "coke" as well, which I suspect did come after the media explosion.

By lluviaporos — On Jun 24, 2011

You have to be careful when using colloquialisms in your writing not to go overboard. We've been studying it in one of my classes. It's become kind of trendy for someone to try and write from the point of view of a character, entirely in that character's idiom.

But often the writer doesn't naturally know how to speak the turns of phrase being used, and uses them in the wrong way. No matter how hard you research, if you don't have a "native" speaker to double check against, you will get it wrong.

Plus it often doesn't add what the writer hopes it will add. Funny sounding words does not equal an instant, vivid character.

You are better off writing a decent character that speaks in grammatically perfect English.

It's easier to read, and if you really have that character in your head, her words will come out the way they should and your audience will see her too.

By Mor — On Jun 22, 2011

Y'all is such a useful term, I use it even though I've only spent a little bit of time in the South.

My father lived there for a while and he picked up ya'll right away as well.

If you think about it, it is filling a gap in the English language that most other languages don't have. Being about to say "all of you" with a single word is common in other languages. Like, the french "vous" is usually used for this, as well as a formal term for you (singular).

By saying y'all I can show that I'm talking about everyone in a group, rather than just one person.

In New Zealand, young people often use "youse" like "If youse (all of you) are going, I'll come too".

But I like ya'll.

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