Mature Adulthood

Individuals tend to become more conservative in their language use as they become older, conforming more to standard situations in the workplace, and trying to be “good role models” while raising their children. Ironically, while you might expect this group to enjoy the greatest freedom with respect to language use, this is the group that is most likely to be negatively judged if they transgress societal mores and expectations. They “should know better,” and they don’t have the excuse of “youthful rebellion.” So this is the life stage where the use of slang, “foul” language, and anything that could be considered non-standard is greatly frowned upon outside of intimate situations or when used strategically to express extreme emotion. Avoiding non-standard and taboo language does not mean, however, that mature adults don’t still regularly perform shifts in level of formality, as discussed in the words and sounds sections, or use regional and ethnic dialects.

If you are a mature adult who gave up on friendly interactions in your youth because you were a “little professor” who just didn’t fit in, the good news is that the rest of your age group may have somewhat caught up to you in speech style. With some effort to decrease your formality level, you may now be able to make personal connections more easily than you think.

Fewer (and more traditional) expressions of evaluation and stance.

As Barbieri (2008: 79) puts it, “[mature] adults are relatively less inclined to overt displays of feelings, attitudes, and emotions.” When they do express these meanings, they tend to use more traditional means than younger speakers: of all the different ways we have of expressing these meanings, the only method that was more popular among older people than younger people in the corpus studied by Barbieri was the use of modal auxiliaries (will, would, can, could, should, going to, have to).

More traditional means of reporting conversations.

While older people can choose to report emotions displayed in conversation, using more specific verbs of quotation (shouted, suggested, etc.), adverbs (angrily, sweetly, etc.), or describing actions  that the speaker performed while speaking , they do not always feel the need to include this information in the conversations they are reporting. They tend to use “say” and “tell” more often, and allow listeners to draw their own inferences about speakers’ attitudes and emotions.