Vernacular: Definition, Meaning, Examples

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  • 0:02 Vernacular
  • 0:57 By Region
  • 2:01 Designed to Communicate
  • 2:55 Writing vs. Speaking
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Vernacular is a term that refers to the common vocabulary shared by a similar group of people. In this lesson, we will learn the definition of vernacular, how it varies from region to region and how it's used to help us communicate verbally.

Definition of Vernacular

How we speak to our friends is different from how we write essays for our English class. Vernacular refers to our plain everyday spoken language. It's the words we use to have a casual conversation with our siblings or the language we use when we text our best friend. Vernacular even includes obscenities and slang words. So, as we can imagine, a group of Princeton professors of engineering speaking casually to each other at lunch time would sound much different from a group of teenage girls at a sleepover party.

Vernacular is also a specific language designed to help us communicate. Lawyers and doctors have their own language, as do video gamers and cinephiles. If I were to tell my grandmother that, 'The fish rivered his flush to beat my trips after I pushed all-in,' she probably would look at me sideways. If I said that to my weekend poker buddies, they would know exactly what I was talking about.

Vernacular by Region

Down South, they call most sandwiches po'boys. In New York and Jersey, they call them hoagies. In parts of Pennsylvania, they're called grinders. Language differences are found from town to town and state to state. Each region of the U.S. has a distinct vernacular that is special to that area. Even though English is the native language of the United States, there's a good chance that some of the sayings or words used down South have never been heard before by someone who lives in Portland or Detroit.

Here are some regional examples of vernacular:

  • Southern Vernacular: a larkin (to prank), all y'all (everyone), buggy (shopping cart), lagniappe (something extra)
  • New England Vernacular: bubbler (drinking fountain), packie (liquor store), wicked (really, as in wicked cool), ilker (to put something off until the last minute)
  • Chicago Vernacular: char-dog (hot dog), front room (living room), pop (soda), the Cubbies (Chicago Cubs)

Vernacular Designed to Help Us Communicate

Almost everything - from the courses you take in college to the games you played in grammar school - has its own vernacular. When we talk about baseball, for example, we would expect to discuss things like dingers, back door sliders and double headers. Just as if we were in algebra class, we would expect the lectures to be filled with terms like equations, coefficients and exponents.

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