Informalization in Language

Explanation and Examples

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In linguistics, informalization is the incorporation of aspects of intimate, personal discourse (such as colloquial language) into public forms of spoken and written communication is called informalization. It's also called demotization.

Conversationalization is a key aspect of the more general process of informalization, though the two terms are sometimes treated as synonyms.

Some linguists (most notably discourse analyst Norman Fairclough) use the expression border crossing to describe what they perceive as the development in post-industrialized societies of "a complex range of new social relationships," with "behavior (including linguistic behaviour) . . . changing as a result" (Sharon Goodman, Redesigning English, 1996). Informalization is a prime example of this transformation.

Fairclough further describes informalization as such:

"The engineering of informality, friendship, and even intimacy entails a crossing of borders between the public and the private, the commercial and the domestic, which is partly constituted by a simulation of the discursive practices of everyday life, conversational discourse." (Norman Fairclough, "Border Crossings: Discourse and Social Change in Contemporary Societies." Change and Language, ed. by H. Coleman and L. Cameron. Multilingual Matters, 1996)

Characteristics of Informalization

"Linguistically, [informalization involves] shortened terms of address, contractions of negatives and auxiliary verbs, the use of active rather than passive sentence constructions, colloquial language and slang. It can also involve the adoption of regional accents (as opposed to say Standard English) or increased amounts of self-disclosure of private feelings in public contexts (e.g. it can be found in talk shows or in the workplace)." (Paul Baker and Sibonile Ellece, Key Terms in Discourse Analysis. Continuum, 2011)

Informalization and Marketization

"Is the English language becoming increasingly informal? The argument put forward by some linguists (such as Fairclough) is that the boundaries between language forms traditionally reserved for intimate relationships and those reserved for more formal situations are becoming blurred. . . . In many contexts, . . . the public and professional sphere is said to becoming infused with 'private' discourse. . . .

"If the processes of informalization and marketization are indeed becoming increasingly widespread, then this implies that there is a requirement for English speakers generally not only to deal with, and respond to, this increasingly marketized and informal English, but also to become involved in the process. For example, people may feel that they need to use English in new ways to 'sell themselves' in order to gain employment. Or they may need to learn new linguistic strategies to keep the jobs they already have--to talk to 'the public,' for instance. In other words, they have to become producers of promotional texts. This can have consequences for the ways in which people see themselves."
(Sharon Goodman, "Market Forces Speak English." Redesigning English: New Texts, New Identities. Routledge, 1996)

The "Engineering of Informality" in Conversationalization and Personalization

"[Norman] Fairclough suggests that the 'engineering of informality' (1996) has two overlapping strands: conversationalization and personalization. Conversationalization--as the term implies--involves the spread into the public domain of linguistic features generally associated with conversation. It is usually associated with 'personalization': the construction of a 'personal relationship' between the producers and receivers of public discourse. Fairclough is ambivalent toward informalization. On the positive side, it might be viewed as part of the process of cultural democratization, an opening up of 'the elite and exclusive traditions of the public domain' to 'discursive practices which we can all attain' (1995: 138). To counterbalance this positive reading of informalization, Fairclough points out that the textual manifestation of 'personality' in a public, mass media text must always be artificial. He claims that this sort of 'synthetic personalization' only simulates solidarity, and is a strategy of containment hiding coercion and manipulation under a veneer of equality." (Michael Pearce, The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007)

Media Language

  • "Informalization and colloquialization have been well documented in the language of the media. In news reportage, for example, the past three decades have seen a definite trend away from the cool distancing of traditional written style and towards a kind of spontaneous directness which (though often contrived) is clearly supposed to inject into journalistic discourse some of the immediacy of oral communication. Such developments have been quantified in textual analysis; for instance, a recent corpus-based study of editorials in the British 'quality' press in the twentieth century (Westin 2002) shows informalization as a trend persisting through the twentieth century, and accelerating towards its end." (Geoffrey Leech, Marianne Hundt, Christian Mair, and Nicholas Smith, Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study. Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  • "In an experimental study, Sanders and Redeker (1993) found that readers appreciated news texts with inserted free indirect thoughts as more lively and suspenseful than text without such elements, but at the same time evaluated them as less suitable for the news text genre (Sanders and Redeker 1993). . . . Pearce (2005) points out that public discourse, such as news texts and political texts, is influenced by a general trend towards informalization. Characteristics include, in Pearce's view, personalization and conversationalization; linguistic markers of these concepts have become more frequent in news texts over the last fifty years (Vis, Sanders & Spooren, 2009)." (José Sanders, "Intertwined Voices: Journalists' Modes of Representing Source Information in Journalistic Subgenres." Textual Choices in Discourse: A View from Cognitive Linguistics, ed. by Barbara Dancygier, José Sanders, Lieven Vandelanotte. John Benjamins, 2012)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Informalization in Language." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Informalization in Language. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Informalization in Language." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).