A02: Concepts & Issues



  • Attitudes/Ideas about language change
  • Standardisation
  • AS topics - Gender, Power, Technology 
  • Informalisation 
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Attitudes/ideas about language change

  • Disintegration - The idea that the English language will disintergrate into a collection of related but largely seperate dialects. In 1978, Robert Burchfield predicted that within a few centuries the speakers of British and American English would be unable to understand each other. 
  • Uniformity - The idea that a World Standard English is emerging, with the different varities of English growing close together, as a result of the influence of increased communication and the media. 
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Prescriptivism - Prescribes how language should be in order to be better or pure, uses criteria of good/bad language, where standard forms are seen as good; draws its model of language from dictionaries, grammar books etc. 

Rejects non-standard form (slang, dialect)

Language change is seen as decay of a pure form of language to be resisted and challenged, based on the golden age of the past. 

Descriptivism -

Describes the nature of language variations without judgement, uses criteria of standard/non-standard.

Draws its model from how language is used by a variety of people in a variety of contexts 

Recognises importance of standard form but accepts variations 

Language change is seen as part of the progress of language

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AS Topics

Power - Power foten leads to a more formal register, sophisticated lexis choice, the use of grammatical features such as imperatives and bold fonts

Gender - Changes in attitudes to gender has effected the English language in the sense that texts are beginning to us more gender-neutral concepts and terminology as women have gained more rights. 

Technology - Technology has had a great impact upon the context of the written word, e.g. internet blogs and text messaging. The influence of the printing press was also inmeasurable -- Caxton's printing press leed to a greater standardisation and the establishment of norms. 

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Informalisation has led to the increased use of 'slang', varied graphology and a more personal and colloquial tone. It usually runs parallel with prescriptivism and standardisation, as such processes add a more formal and rigid structure to the English Language. 

However, Jonanthan Green shows evidence that slang isnt a modern thing: 'The first slang dictionary appeared in 1535 - suggesting slang has been around for many years, even though prescriptivists argue it is a recent change. 

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Reasons for Standardisation

  • Allows speakers and writers to communicate effectively so that all can be understood. 
  • Gives prestige and status to a particular dialect, creating a sense of identit, regionally, socially and ethnically ----- However, it can also cause a social barrier between those who speak it and those who do not, as communication is inhibited along with idea of value judegement (prestige that an individual can use language). 
  • For a practical sense, so everyone can use and understand the same language for example Caxton's Printing Press 
  • The Industrial Revolution (18th Century - 1700s) has changed language, new M/C want to become part of upper class world so converge to their language. 

Lynne Truss - Prescriptivist, says we need rules only 1 language is correct. Says incorrect grammar is 'sloppy' - has a 'zero tolerance' approach.


David Crystal - Descriptivist, sees languge as expressive and evoluntionary, doesnt believe in demise of language. Doesn't like that indivudals who dont understand grammar are seen as inferior or second class citizens (doesnt like value judgement).

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Key Publications & Dates

1476: Introduction of the printing press 

1755: Dr Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of Language 

1762: Robert Lowth, Short Introduction to Grammar

1794: Lindley Murray, English Grammar

1884: First 'fascicle' of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)

1926: Henry W. Fowler, Modern English Usage 

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Dr Samuel Johnson

1755:  Not the first ever dictionary, but the dictionary to be noted as reliable (Samuel Johnson's) was prescriptivist! It taught people how words should be defined and spoken. However, Samuel Johnson himself was resigned to the fact the language was inherently changeable, so don't quote him as a prescriptivist!

The finished version was very expensive and could only be afforded by the wealthy.

When people refer to Johnsons dictionary, they tend to refer to obsolete words. 

Proscriptive and Prescriptive emerged in 1788 --> Just after Johnson's dictionary was published. 

Prescriptive = Rules tell you to do things

Proscriptive = Rules tell you not to do things 

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Lowth & Murray & Walker

Lowth's grammar book of 1762 - Had 45 editions updated within 48 years ---> Showing lots has changed and language is always changing. 

Murray's English grammar book was inspired by Lowths, who made an English grammar book in 1795. ---> Sold over 20 millions copies, showing high demand

Walker in 1791 published his English dictionary ---> Had over 100 editions. 

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Other theorists

Humphrey - Criticises lexicographers e.g. Oxford Dictionary for rising to slang and including it in dictionaries. 

Davidson - Davidson says slang can make tests appear more interesting and lively. 

Slang is not only used by teens, but by middle and upper classes too. Professionals also use jargon, while the printing press would often drop the endings of some words e.g. 'e' if they ran out of room. 

Social media has impacted, as their is limited character space meaning people clip and abbreviate words, sometimes creating neologisms. 

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Henry Fowler

Fowler's Modern English Usage published 1926 ---> the most influential set of guidelines on grammar and the use of English language of 20th century, very few people with the 20th century who didnt know of Fowler's work.

Fowler said it was fine to use a split infinitive, or to end sentences with a preposition, or to begin sentences with "but".

Fowler is an example of 'informalisation' in 1900s --> he criticises that informalisation is new and due to technology. 

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Jonathan Green

Green is the world's foremost slang lexicographer --> He collects slang & makes dictionaries of slang.

His dictionary of slang took 17 years to compile -- showing that language is always evolving --> Though it takes years to finish and publish a dictionary it will quickly become out of date, as neologisms are always forming, Green supports this by saying 'dictionaries are never finished'

Green doesnt think there is 'bad language', even though it has a bad reputation, he defends slang and fights againt value judgement. --> He refers to slang as a counterlanguage and believes that it is great and evervolving vocabulary.

Dictionary defintions traditionally carried vulgar or stereotypical negative attutiudes towards slang --> we can now see change in attitude and culture as isn't the case anymore, e.g. 'selfie'.

Recent research shows it's important to be able to code-switch. 

Green shows evidence that slang isnt a modern thing: 'The first slang dictionary appeared in 1535 - suggesting slang has been around for many years, even though prescriptivists argue it is a recent change. 

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David Crystal

Only takes weeks for language to spread --> American to English and vice versa. 

Need to understand culutral background before understanding their language e.g. South African English and 'robot' to mean traffic light.

Every country has a new language, developed from cultural background.

When other countries adopt the English language, they adapt and change it e.g. 10,000 South African English 

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Examples of England adopting Americanisms

The Gaurdian's style guide has recently changed...

The Guardian is adapting Americanisms into its writing e.g. 'centre' and 'center', as they have readers all over the world, particularly in the US which means translating US orthography.

This international readership is due to globalisation.

The use of Americanisms within The Gaurdian shows the author is a descriptivist, and as language tends to be 'caught' from others, the readers of The Gaurdian may also be infuenced by the newspaper and too follow descriptivist ideas.

It is important as other countries may find it offensive if UK uses incorrect standard form when referring to words from their language, such as capitalising certain words important to them or spelling. Thus, UK doesn't appear insulting or inferior. 

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Jean Aitchison

Protrays the view of a prescriptivist

Damp spoon view - Language change is lazy; this is similar to leaving a wet spoon in the sugar. The view assumes that one type of language is inferior to another. 

Aitchinson disagrees with this and believes the only lazy language is alcohol because of the difficulty in articulation.

Crumbling castle view - This metaphor was suggested by John Simpson and believes that language should be preserved like a castle. Simpson believes that language is decaying (crumbling). 

Aitchinson disagrees with this because you can’t find the peak of language- it is subjective.

Infectious disease view - 

You can catch bad/poor language and this view suggests that this is a bad thing; you need to be able to fight it. This may occur as adaptation to fit into social groups.


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Last minute A01

Typography -

Italics: Used for borrowed words e.g. from French and to seperate the question from the answer. ---> Contrastingly, we now used italics to distinguish certain words from others within the text.

Punctuation -

Apostrophes: are used for the silent vowel in the -ed verb endings e.g. consider'd.

Semi-colons, colons, full stops and question marks: A range of punctutation is evident, mainly for syntactical clarity in seperating subordinate clauses with commas and semicolons.

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Internet English

In 1972, the first email was sent. 

Soon internet arrived, brought typing back into fashion. New words e.g. toolbar, download, delete were coined.

Conversations were getting shorter because of abbreviations such as 'btw', 'lol'. --> Prescriptivists blame this on techonology and argue that it is causing harm to language --> However, it is also argued that informalisation existed before technology came about. 

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