Linguistic creativity in American prison settings

Alicja Dziedzic-Rawska


Prison facilities are special: they are complexes defined by a variety of parameters, whose understanding for an ordinary person is far from perfect. It may be observed that two main cultures clash in prisons: that of jailers and that of inmates. Both groups have different rules of conduct, which results in many misunderstandings and new norms of behaviour created on a daily basis. This, in turn, gives way to a constant creation of unique vocabulary specific to the institution, its inhabitants and employees. It may be said that under such conditions prison language thrives: prison slang is extremely changeable and adapts itself to the current needs of the facility. Thus, the level of linguistic creativity is tremendously high: prisoners base their vocabulary loosely on similarities between animate and inanimate beings, which leads to the development of highly figurative language. The research undertaken here focuses on linguistic creativity in American prison settings, and by doing so, draws attention to the originality and unconventionality of prison slang.


: prison slang, linguistic creativity, metaphor, blend

Full Text:



Barker, George C. 1945. “The Social Functions of Language”. ETC.: A review of general semantics.2, 228-234.

Brandt, Line, and Per Aage Brandt. 2005. "Making sense of a blend: A cognitive-semiotic approach to metaphor." Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 3.1, 216-249.

Chomsky, Noam. 2014 [1965]. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. No. 11. Massachusetts: MIT press.

Di Pietro, Robert J. 1971. "Contrastive Analysis and Linguistic Creativity." Working Papers in Linguistics 3.4, 57-71.

Duffley, Patrick J. 2013. “How Creativity Strains Coventionality in the Use of Idiomatic Expressions”. In Language and the Creative Mind (Borkent M. et al., Eds.). Stanford: CSLI Publications, 49-61.

Grady, Joseph, Todd Oakley, and Seana Coulson. 1999. "Blending and metaphor." AMSTERDAM STUDIES IN THE THEORY AND HISTORY OF LINGUISTIC SCIENCE SERIES 4, 101-124.

Green, Jonathon. 2010. Green’s Dictionary of Slang. London: Chambers Harrap Publishers.

Halliday, Michael Alexander Kirkwood. 1976. "Anti‐Languages." American Anthropologist 78.3, 570-584.

Kaminski, Marek M. 2010. Games prisoners play: The tragicomic worlds of Polish prison. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Langacker, Ronald. 2014. “Culture and Cognition, Lexicon and Grammar.” In Approaches to Language, Culture, and Cognition. (Masak Yamaguchi et at., Eds.), 27-49.

Maruszewski, Tomasz. 1996. Psychologia poznawcza. Znak-Język-Rzeczywistość.

Miszewski, Kamil. 2005. "Socjolog w kryminale: więzienie jako nieprzyjazny teren badań." Studia Socjologiczne 3, 65-92.

Musgrave, Simon and Kate Burridge. 2014. “Bastards and buggers. Historical Snapshots of Australian English Swearing Patterns.” In Wrestling with Words and Meanings (K. Burridge and Réka Benczes, Eds.). Clayton: Monash University Publishing, 3-32.

Sahlins, Marshall. 2004. Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sapir, Edward. 2004 [1921]. Language. An Introduction to the Study of Speech. New York: Dover Publications.

Sapir, Edward. 1929. "The status of linguistics as a science." Language, 207-214.

Underhill, James. 2011. Creating worldviews: Metaphor, ideology and language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Vaughn, Michael S., and Allen D. Sapp. 1989. "Less than utopian: Sex offender treatment in a milieu of power struggles, status positioning, and inmate manipulation in state correctional institutions." The Prison Journal 69.2, 73-89.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1956. Language, thought, and reality (John B. Carroll, Ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Data publikacji: 2016-07-27 14:57:59
Data złożenia artykułu: 2016-03-25 22:21:59


Total abstract view - 1436
Downloads (from 2020-06-17) - PDF - 480



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2016 Alicja Dziedzic-Rawska

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.