Language is constantly changing. New words are added to official dictionaries every year. And many of these words are considered slang. A quick internet search will show that words like “bae” and “yolo” have been added to many online and printed dictionaries. The website Urban Dictionary lists many trending words and phrases (please note that some may find the content on Urban Dictionary offensive and to review with caution). Some slang will be used for a while, while other words or phrases can quickly become “cheugy” or out-of-date. What is considered the current or popular slang often depends on the conversation, the group, and the platform.
Slang is a part of everyday communication. We use these types of words and phrases for many reasons. It is a part of humor. It can establish a level of informality/formality. It can be a way to share information. Slang serves a social purpose. Shared understanding of certain slang can help people to relate and be included (or excluded) from a particular group.
It is important to note that many slang words and phrases come from speakers of non-mainstream American English (including African American Vernacular English) and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. While a lot of the slang we hear has become mainstream and used across many demographic groups, we must understand and respect where it has originated. We must all pay attention to our word choices and ensure that other cultures and communities are being appreciated, not appropriated.
So what does this mean for AAC?
Many AAC systems do not have trendy or up-to-date slang words and phrases preprogrammed into vocabulary sets. Access to current slang is important and empowering. Its use helps us to participate in different social situations and communicate with peers. Without access to these concepts, it is more difficult to say exactly what you want to say or to repeat something.
Adding slang to an AAC system is something that should be considered. Some AAC users program their own devices, while others have support from a communication partner to make these edits. Regardless of how changes are made to the device, it is important to review and update the available vocabulary. As mentioned before, language is always changing. This means that AAC vocabularies need to be always changing too. Sometimes certain words/phrases are no longer used. Maybe they need to be replaced or moved so that the more current slang is easier to access. These changes should reflect the interests and preferences of the individual.
So what can we/you do?
- Identify communities (that you/AAC user belong to) and their slang
- Decide if these slang words/phrases are important (this is a personal choice for AAC users!)
- Add slang to the vocabulary set
- Create a slang specific folder/pageset
- Add slang to topic specific pagesets
- Add slang to “social”, “quickfire”, or “conversation” pagesets
- Frequently review and update the vocabulary
- For example, if a new word is trending on TikTok or being used by peers, maybe it’s important to add it to the device!
Let’s make sure our AAC systems are passing the vibe check!