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Video transcript

- [David] Hello grammarians, hello Rosie! - [Rosie] Hi, David. - [David] We're gonna be talking about what we call the spectrum of formality today, in the context of language style. Balancing your style between formal and informal language, when it's appropriate, is just a general life skill, but it's also something that's tested on the SAT. - [Rosie] And you can check out KhanAcademy.org/SAT to find out more about that. - [David] So, when we talk about formal versus informal language, what we're really talking about is this thing called register. What is appropriate for the, whether it's like a social occasion, or a style of writing that you're attempting to do, you know, what register should you speak in? So let me give you an example. Gary Evans, the esteemed chairman of the board, is blank. Right, we have this sentence we want to fill in this blank with something. There are a couple of ways we could do this. We could say, Gary Evans, the esteemed chairman of the board, is a pretty decent dude. Now, there are a couple of things that tell me that a pretty decent dude is not stylistically appropriate for this sentence. And it's both that we're applying the adjective esteemed to Gary, and that we're giving him this high highfalutin title, chairman of the board, and so probably, in this situation, we wouldn't wanna say, we wouldn't wanna use this kind of slangy, informal language, pretty decent dude. - [Rosie] Right, there's a level of respect that we're conveying with this esteemed chairman of the board. - [David] So instead, well, I don't know, Rosie, what's another thing we could put in there? - [Rosie] Let's say, Gary Evans, the esteemed chairman of the board, is a renowned philanthropist. - [David] Oh! A renowned philanthropist. So, in addition to being like a large, four-dollar word, philanthropist is a word that just means, like, someone who literally loves people, and this refers to generosity of this person. And so we can tell by the respect that we are according this person by the use of the word esteemed, that renowned philanthropist probably an appropriate set of words to use to describe this man. But what we just showed you was an example of being insufficiently formal. Here's what it looks like if you're too formal. - [Rosie] Please join us for little Philip's first birthday celebration. This festive occasion will include an abundance of delightful diversions in which you can partake. - [David] This is a little boy's birthday party. (both chuckling) - [Rosie] Let's get a hold of ourselves. - [David] Let's, you know, this is not a steak dinner. Maybe reel it in. You have to tailor the content of what you're trying to write to it's context, right? - [Rosie] Right. - [David] Like how fancy is the first birthday party of a little boy going to be? Rosie, have you been to a child's first birthday party as an adult? - [Rosie] I have, I have. It was not this fancy. - [David] No. - [Rosie] But it wasn't, you know, the prince of a country or something. - [David] Right, like, okay, I'll give you a pass if, like, little Philip is the prince of your nation. - [Rosie] Yes. - [David] Otherwise, like, this first sentence is fine, please join us for little Philip's first birthday celebration. This festive occasion will include an abundance of delightful diversions in which you can partake, maybe a little much. So if we were going to rewrite this, I would probably tone down the language a little bit, and just ratchet it back. I might even go so far as to say, lil Philip. - [Rosie] I like it. - [David] Maybe throw in an exclamation point because we're excited. This just seems, this language seems a little stuffy, even the word describing a party, it seems very emotionally removed from partiness. - [Rosie] Oh, that's much better. - [David] Thank you. So, please join us for lil Philip's first birthday party. It's going to be fun: we'll have cake and games. Let us know if you can make it. We're taking this content, there's an abundance of delightful diversions, which, I suppose at a first birthday party, would probably, again, be cake and games. There's not really that much that a one year old can do at a party. - [Rosie] That's true. - [David] So we're taking this, high register, this formal register language and then just kinda dialing it back a couple of notches. So we've got formal on this side, informal over here. You're here, you wanna be at about here. The main thing, your main indicator for whether or not language is formal or informal is the kind of vocabulary that you choose to deploy. So the more informal you are, the more likely you are to use silly vocabulary or made up words. - [Rosie] And contractions. - [David] Contractions. So the more informal, contractions, slang, profanity. I mean, look, we here at Khan Academy, we're not advising you to curse all over the place, but if you must, do it in an informal setting, right? - Right. - Like, formal settings are not suitable for obscenity, that's why it's called obscenity. And then the more formal your language becomes, the more likely your vocabulary is to become more complex or specialized, like if I were, let's say if I were a doctor, and I were addressing a doctors' convention, I would probably use a lot of doctor language, right, like specialized vocab. The more formal you are, as Rosie was saying, the more less likely you are to use contractions, so full constructions? An example of that would be, on the informal side of the scale, you might say can't, where the formal you would say cannot. - [Rosie] Yeah, I think the other side of the profanity is potentially more respectful, depending on who you're speaking with. So, you might address someone, you know, you might address someone as sir. - [David] Formal language generally means a more respectful form of address, so if I were to say, like, on the informal side, yo buddy! It's extremely informal, as opposed to, excuse me, sir. That's quite formal. So yeah, I guess the big take away here, Rosie, right, is just consider your context. - [Rosie] Exactly. You're taking a look at the situation that you're in, and considering what kind of language is going to be appropriate in that situation. Is it going to be informal, talking to your friend, or is it a formal dinner party where you would use different vocabulary and more formal language. - [David] The way our colleague Grant described it to me, is this: it's useful to have a tuxedo in your closet, but you wouldn't wear it to a beach party. - [Rosie] Exactly! - [David] So reserve your formal and informal language for contexts when it is necessary. Just like you wouldn't wear formal shoes to the beach, neither would you show up, you know, in flip flops before a joint session of Congress. - [Rosie] Exactly. - [David] Whether you're writing or speaking, always consider your context, consider your audience, and from that, consider the way that you deploy language. You can learn anything. David out! - [Rosie] Rosie out!