Difference between formal and non-formal languageExpand
Formal language is English language that is formal in nature, ie it is grammatically correct, clearly spoken and polite. It is used when the listener or reader is an important person or if the subject matter is of an important nature. An example of formal english can be found in a courtroom, a news broadcast or on a legal document. Informal language, on the other hand is not necessarily formal or clearly spoken and is used when the listener or reader is a person with whom the speaker or writer is familiar, such as a friend or family member.(1)
According to Dean Noble(2), formal language tends to be used in certain social settings. A scene such as a birthday party or a business conference. The social setting has a bearing on the level of formality used, as will the topic being discussed. Formal usage has a dignified tone and is precise and restrained. It is planned speech, according to Kenneth G. Wilson(3) and as such uses complete sentences and specific word usage. It is used to show respect at work, school and in public offices (4). It can also include “frozen” language such as legal boilerplate, prayers or the constitution. Formal language tends to use the subjunctive verb tense more, which is a special version of the present simple tense. An example is “He demands that you be present”. Another characteristic of formal language is that it tends to be international. It can be understood worldwide and there are very few differences from country to country.(7)
Informal language, on the other hand tends to be used in conversation with friends. It is idiomatic and is often full of slang(5). It can sometimes be used to indicate membership in a certain group. Informal language can also be intimate langauge such as english used between lovers or, interestingly, twins. Note that the instances in which formal and informal language are used can often be dynamic, such as when a businessman meets a client and begins to talk about banal topics such as sports in order to get a feel for the personality of the client, then switches to formal english to discuss important business(6). Informal language can include slang and non-slang terms that vary from country to country and may be regional in nature.(8)
The reason for using formal english is to make an impression or to show respect. As such, it may have cultural roots in British monarchy or government, dating back to a time before the founding of the United States, Canada or Australia and New Zealand(9). Formal english has some words such as “May” (used instead of “might”) which carry a formal tone.
The reason for use of informal english may be to save time or demonstrate membership in a group. With informal english, the speaker assumes that the audience shares background knowledge and therefore information is omitted(10). It uses abbreviations and contractions as shortcuts. Informal language, however, is not without its grammar rules. It differs from the sort of english used by newcomers to a language who may make what are considered mistakes by native speakers(11). Nor should informal english be confused with dialect since dialects are purely regional in nature whereas “informal” english is a more broad concept applying to language in general.
Informal and formal english are tendencies to language(12). They are used as styles of expressions only. It is possible to be serious while using informal language and it is possible to be silly or comical using informal language.
- Teflcorp.com posting by Dean Noble
- Kenneth G. Wilson, Columbia guide to Standard American English.
- Teflcorp.com posting by Dean Noble
- Bartleby.com The american heritage book of english.