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I had thought that the translation for the English word "slang" in French was "argot", but it seems that there is a subtle difference in meaning in that slang tends to be used and/or understood by most of the language speakers, whereas argot is only known to a small subset. Is there a more accurate French translation of the English word "slang", or does it need to simply be borrowed into French?

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I thought that argot was more popular than you say. It gained its lettres de noblesse with (among others) Pierre Perret, Frédéric Dard, and Michel Audiard. –  mouviciel Oct 31 '12 at 9:40
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8 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Slang is supposed to refer to English specifically.

I also found the translations dialecte (specific to a region) and jargon (specific to an activity) but I don't think they do justice to slang.

You will also want to visit the wikipedia page registres de langues en français which in addition of the already mentionned language familier, brings us the language populaire which may be the level you're looking for.


Not actually answering, but I feel these are worth mentionning too: sociolecte (spoken by a social group); géolecte, topolecte, régiolecte (all three based on geographic areas); chronolecte (depending on time) and the funniest of all: an idiolecte refers to language spoken by one individual. There are others, but I doubt any of these is used outside of linguistic circles). (I'm just following the links myself.)

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Interesting that it says it pertains specifically to English. However it also says that it's a class of 'argot'... –  Jez Sep 1 '11 at 13:29
    
With "slang" being a loanword in french, it makes sense that it should refer so perfectly to itself. What's the word for that? –  Andrew Vit Sep 2 '11 at 7:46
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@Andrew you mean, a word that applies to itself? That would be worth a question by itself, but for the fact the answer is easily found. Such a word is autologique. A word that does not apply to itself is hétérologique. « Hétérologique » est-il hétérologique ? is a common paradox. –  Joubarc Sep 2 '11 at 8:04
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Slang has a wide meaning in English. AFAIK, it covers:

  • "jargon", which is the language of a group
  • "argot", which is also the language of a group but has the additional note that it is voluntarily cryptic for outsiders (a "jargon" is often cryptic, but that is the result of fashion and a need of nuances); things like "verlan" are part of an "argot" but not of a "jargon"
  • and several levels of language
    • "populaire", used by lower classes
    • "relaché" or "familier", used in non formal context
    • "grossier" or "vulgaire", crude, intended to be shocking

I don't know a word in French which covers it all.

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"jargon" and "argot" also exist in English. So you need to adapt depending on the context. And if you want to convey all the semantic value of "slang", I think you have no choice but to borrow the English word. –  rds Nov 21 '11 at 13:53
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I agree with you on the idea that argot is not a correct translation. Argot is meant to make the language cryptic to other people, which is different from slang.

Depending on what exactly you mean by slang, you can say:

  • langage familier (familièrement), to mean casual language
  • langage grossier (grossièrement, grossièretés), to refer to some offensive level of language
  • langage vulgaire (vulgairement, vulgarités), to refer to a sexually allusive level of language
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Les mots argot et slang ont les mêmes sens en anglais et en français, mais ce n'est pas le même sens qui domine dans les deux langues. Il y a essentiellement trois sens.

  1. Un langage qui marque l'appartenance à une communauté. Ce sens se rapproche du mot jargon, qui désigne plus particulièrement (en français comme en anglais) des mots spécialisés, par exemple le jargon d'une profession technique. L'argot dans ce sens est en général associé à un milieu social ou une profession (c'est un sociolecte), éventuellement en plus d'une association géographique (par exemple, l'argot des mendiants ou l'argot des tisserands lyonnais). Pour un géolecte (vocabulaire spécifique à une région), on parle plutôt de patois ou de dialecte.

  2. En particulier, un langage qui vise à exclure ceux qui n'appartiennent pas à la communauté et qui donc ne le parlent pas. L'exclusion peut résulter de l'emploi de nombreux mots et tournures spécifiques. Elle peut aussi résulter d'une transgression volontaire (utilisation de mots grossiers, fautes de grammaire volontaires, prononciations fantaisistes, …). Par exemple, le verlan consiste à inverser les syllabes d'un mot, le rendant difficile à comprendre aux oreilles non habituées.

  3. Un langage qui ne respecte pas les conventions habituelles. Ce sens est assez courant pour slang (même si les linguistes emploient plutôt colloquialisms) mais rare et souvent considéré comme incorrect en français (même le Trésor de la langue française, pourtant fermement descriptif, ne l'admet pas, mais je l'ai déjà rencontré). Ceci peut couvrir des mots dont le sens est détourné, des emprunts à des argots dans les sens ci-dessus ou à des langues étrangères, des tournures grammaticales non généralement acceptées. On parle souvent de langage familier (beaucoup de dictionnaires annotent de tels mots ou usages par « fam. ») ou de langage non conventionnel (comme dans le Dictionnaire du français non conventionnel).

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Argot is a good translation, better than dialecte or jargon.

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I don't agree that argot is a good translation. Argot is equivalent to the English vernacular. –  F'x Sep 1 '11 at 13:50
    
Pour une définition en français d'argot, le TLFi donne : « Langage ou vocabulaire particulier qui se crée à l'intérieur de groupes sociaux ou socio-professionnels déterminés, et par lequel l'individu affiche son appartenance au groupe et se distingue de la masse des sujets parlants ». –  F'x Sep 1 '11 at 13:51
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@Fx, vernacular seems to mean vernaculaire, at least if you look in Webster and in the TLFi, they are used in the same contexts -- from linguistic to biology -- with similar meanings. Patois and jargon are nearer to the meaning in linguistic than argot. –  Un francophone Sep 1 '11 at 15:29
    
I think argot is a good translation, except that English also has the word argot (borrowed from French). –  rds Nov 21 '11 at 13:50
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I'd use argot or langage familier.

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"Slang" translates to argot, with a clear english parallel:

slang vs. argot

cockney-rhiming slang vs. argot

The latter is a specific type of slang which basically encrypts the language and makes imposible to understand to someone who doesn't know it. The former is .. Well.. just slang. Common idioms that aren't the proper language, but known by the majority.

The word 'argot' is understood, based on context, to mean whichever is appropriate.

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"Argot" is a good translation for "slang".

However people most often just use the adjective "familier":

It's slang. --> C'est familier.

This word is a slang. --> Ce mot est familier.

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