English Language- Language Change

  • Created by: fran2
  • Created on: 13-01-19 12:46

First instance of language contact:

The Celts:

-Before 100 BC

-Mixture of tribes (Celts, Irish, Cornish)

-Variety of Celtic languages 

The Romans:

-The Roman Empire invaded Britain in 43 AD

-Brought over Latin (Roman Catholics)

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Old English (400-1100 AD):

The Saxons, Jutes, and Angles:

-500 AD

-Germanic language

-Beowulf is the most famous text from this period 

-At this point, only monks were able to read and write 

The Vikings:

-700 AD

-Scandanavian language 

-Of the 5000 basic words in the English Language, approximately 20% are borrowed from the Old Norse language, e.g. 'sheep' 

-Lexemes went under semantic narrowing, e.g. 'scyrte' became 'skirt' and 'shirt'

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Middle English (1100-1450):

The Normans:

-Invaded in 1066 (Battle of Hastings) and won

-French became a 'romance language' and French and Latinate lexis was used in the legal system and religion, e.g. 'justice'

-85% of Old English lexemes fell out of use

-In the 14th century, a monk complained that the English practice, 'strange wlallyng, chytering, harrying and garryng grisbittyng' - evidence that standardisation was needed 

-Grammar became simpler: inflections disappeared and all plurals ended with '-s', '-es', or '-en'

-Pronunciation of vowel sounds became shorter (Great Vowel Shift)

-By 1425, English was used universally again in speech and writing 

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Early Modern English (1470-1700):

The Inkhorn Controversy:

-Greek and Latinate lexis was judged to be pretentious and unneccesary, so Anglo-Saxon derived alternatives were proposed

The Printing Press:

-Caxton brought it to Britain in 1476 and it meant that many texts could now be mass produced, which led to education and a move towards standardisation 

-He printed texts in an East Midlands' dialect (London, Oxford, Cambridge), which soon became the most prestigous form of English. Different regions therefore began to write in this form - leading to standardisation (shared patterns)

The European Renaissance: 

-Brought about a huge number of Latin, French, and Greek lexemes, e.g. 'psychology'

World exploration:

-New lexemes brought over from Africa, Asia, and New World languages (language contact)

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Early Modern English (1470-1700):

Phonetics (spelling):

-The letters 'i' and 'y' were used interchangeably, e.g. 'gyven' = 'given' and 'vylonce' = 'violence'

-The letters 'u' and 'v' were variations of the same letter, e.g. 'euer' 

-'-cyon' was used instead of '-tion', e.g. 'creacyon'

17th century (1600s):

-Vowels were spelt in a more predictable way

-The double vowel convention was used to signify the length of words, e.g. 'soon'

-The 'silent -e' was used more frequently to signify the length of words, e.g. 'name'

-An increasing number of spelling guides began to emerge, and by the mid 17th century, there was a recognised code for spoken and written language (codification)

-This brought about the rise of the precriptivists by the end of the 17th century 

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Late Modern English (1700-present day):

-Age of standardisation (Standard English was codified)

-Before this, there was no such thing as a spelling mistake or grammatical error

-Rules were developed (e.g. syntax) for 'correct' English as we wanted communication to be clear 

-Swift (1721): urged the formation of an academy to regulate language use

-Bishop Robert Lowth: responsible for why we say 'different from' rather than 'different than' and why we say 'I didn't do anything' rather than 'I didn't do nothing' (double negatives). 'Lowth's Grammar' was released in 1780 and was soon published and enforced in schools

-Murray: published his 'English Grammar' in 1795 and was used in schools for a long time

-Cooke (1729): responsible for why we can say 'most tall' but not 'most tallest' (double superlatives) and decided that all adverb forms should end in '-ly' and all past-tense forms should end in '-ed'

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Late Modern English (1700-present day):

19th century (1800s):

-If you couldn't register shift between Germanic monosyllabic English, polite standard French, and educated Latin, then you were either doing it on purpose (covert prestige) or you were uneducated (and therefore poor and powerless)

-The Industrial Revolution changed the way people worked and lived their lives, so new words were needed, e.g. words for new machinery 

-There was now increased rail travel, colonial expansion, a spread of literacy, and a mass production of printed word 

Modern developments:

-English is now a world language of communication and due to the media, a more colloquial and casual style of language has developed

-French: a 'public' language, e.g. overt prestige, elaborated code, instrumental power

English: a 'private' language, e.g. covert prestige, restricted code, influential power 

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Influences on language change:

Social cultural changes:

-Ideological changes, changes in political attitudes, e.g. religion, education, technology, etc. 

External influences:

-Colonisation (English is a 'magpie language'), influence of American English 


-Begun with the Printing Press in the 1400s 

Arts and media:

-Easy access to world wide web, new slang, jargon, fashion, e.g. 'mini-skirt' 

Human contact:

-Ripple effect 

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Influences on language change:

Dictionaries and the drive for standardisation:

-Created rules, order 

Mass media and cultural productions:

-Began with the first printed Bible

Campaigning activists and legislation:

-E.g. equality issues 


-Prescriptivists, social prestige 

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Influences on language change:

Early 20th century:

-Increasing influence of mass media, e.g. newspapers and radio, and Hollywood cinema

-BBC only broadcasted using Standard English (RP) and only Standard English and RP are taught in schools as a prestigious, educated variety of English 

Later 20th century:

-Increasing use of regional accents on TV and radio, less emphasis on 'prescriptivist grammar'

-Influence of certain dialects and accents increases - especially amongst young people

-Black American Vernacular: /d/ replaces /ð/, e.g. 'dis' instead of 'this', and final /f/ replaces /θ/, e.g. 'baf' instead of 'bath'

21st century:

-American English continues to invade media and some mockery of the traditional RP accent occurs 

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Contemporary language change:


-New compounds, e.g. 'mini-skirt', and an increased use of expletives 


-Reduced levels of formality, increased acceptance of emission 


-Increase of rising intonation due to American and Australian TV shows


-Social/cultural changes, and what is accepted changes, e.g. using gender neutral pronouns such as 'they' 

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Theories for the causes of language change:

Hockett's Random Fluctuation Theory (1958):

-Errors occur at random within language, but then enter the standardisation process and become part of the vernacular, e.g. 'ghost' was a mistake by Caxton when using the Printing Press

Chen's S-Curve Model (1972):

-Language change occurs at a slow pace but then speeds up as it becomes more common and accepted. It then slows down again once fully integrated into the language 

Bailey's Wave Model (1973):

-Believed that geographical distance can have an effect on language change and used the analogy of earthquakes, e.g. epicentre and tremors. However, he provided no empirical evidence. Trudgill (1974) disagrees with this and argues that language is spread from large cities, e.g. 'h-dropping' began in London and spread to Norwich and surrounding Norfolk towns, but the Norfolk countryside retained their h's

Pinker's Euphemism Treadmill (2003):

-Where words introduced to replace an offensive word, over time become offensive themselves due to derogatory semantics, e.g. 'mental retardation'

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Theories for language change:

Penelope Eckert (2011):

-Young people are the 'movers' and the 'shakers' who want to build and maintain individual group identities that are distinct from their parents and other adults 

Halliday's Functional Theory:

-Language always changes and adapts to the needs of its users. However, his theory is too simple as not all changes are deliberate for adaptation, e.g. spelling mistakes such as 'ghost'


-'Language changes and moves in a different direction evolving all the time. Where a lot of people see deterioration, I see expressive development'

-'At any one time language is a kaleidoscope of styles, genres and dialects'

Aitchison (2012):

-Language is progressive 

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Theories against language change:

Aitchison (1996):

-Crumbling castle: English needs to be preserved 

-Damp spoon: English has become sloppy and lazy (e.g. the glottal stop)

-Infectious disease: language 'catches' change (conscious or unconscious)

Norman Tebbitt (1985):

-Argued that because of the slipping standards of language, there is no imperative for young people to stay out of crime due to declining morals

Sharon Goodman (1996):

-We are living in a time of increased informalisation 

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Theories of social prestige:

Labov (1996):

-Focused on the rhotic /r/ use in New York City and went into three department stores in Manhattan: Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, and S.Klein 

-Found that the rhotic /r/ was used more in Saks Fifth Avenue, so he linked it with social prestige in New York 

-Strengths: shows how accents across the world as linked to prestige, and how people converge due to social desirability 

-Criticisms: outdated, possible researcher bias, and may be too generalised as he only researched women and it may be too specific to New York 

Labov - Martha's Vineyard (1963):

-Investigated the /au/ and /ai/ dipthong usage through interviews with 69 people from different ages, ethnic groups, and social groups 

-Found that the fisherman used /au/ more - possibly due to identity and to diverge away from tourists 

-Strength: it was a representative sample as he interviewed people from different social groups

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Theories of social prestige:

Pear (1931):

-Argued that people have different perceptions of a speaker depending on the accent they heard them talk with 

-Criticism: outdated theory. However, this does still occur today

Seligman, Tucker, and Lambert (1972):

-Carried out research in a school setting and found that teachers' perceptions of students were heavily influenced by their accents 

Choy and Dodd (1976):

-Claimed that teachers make judgements about intelligence, ability, and personality based on accent 

MacKinnon (1996):

-Categorised the attitudes people have towards language use: correct or incorrect, pleasant or ugly, socially acceptable or socially unacceptable, morally acceptable or morally unacceptable, appropriate or inappropriate in their context 

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Theories of social prestige:


-Attitudes towards regional accents can be summarised in three ways: incorrectness view, ugliness view, and impreciseness view. However, this is an outdated theory 


People correct their speech due to social aspiration

Giles (1973):

-'Matched-Guise approach: researched the perception of RP and Birmingham accents by asking a variety of people who acted as judges to listen to different accents and regional dialects and evaluate their personal qualities solely based on their voices 

-Found that those who heard RP were most impressed, and those who heard the Birmingham accent were least impressed

-Strength: supporting research (Dixon, Mahoney and *****)

-Criticisms: the judges may have realised there was only one person performing both accents - leading to demand characteristics 

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Theories of social prestige:

Dixon, Mahoney and ***** (2002):

-'Matched-Guise' approach: examined the effect of regional accents on the attribution of guilt 

-119 participants listened to a recorded exchange between a British male criminal suspect and a male policeman 

-They found that the suspect was rated as significantly more guilty when he employed a Birmingham accent rather than a Standard English accent 

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Modern technology:

Crystal (2004):

-Published a glossary of Textspeak and Netspeak and found that around 2000 new words have been developed as a result of the 'digital age'

-Claimed that 'texting illustrates the possibility of language play'

Crystal (2008):

-'Features of text-speech have actually been around for centuries', e.g. 'IOU' has been known since 1618

Eric Partridge:

-Published his Dictionary of Abbreviatiobns in 1942 and it included 'agn' as 'again' and 'gd' as 'good'

Sutherland (2002):

-Argues that the limitation of characters on old handsets were a key factor in the rise of acronyms in text messaging


-'Language itself changes slowly but the internet has speeded up the process'

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Lexis and Semantics:

-We are lexically rich because of invasions, language contact, etc., which has led to synonyms, antonyms, and contranyms 

Origin of English words:

-Our native vocabularly (Germanic language) gave us: grammatical words such as 'in', 'on', and 'that', lexical words such as 'father', 'love', and 'name', and affixes such as 'mis-', '-un', and '-less' 

-Latin gave us lexemes such as 'bishop', 'church', and 'priest', Scandanavian gve us lexemes such as 'egg', 'sky', and 'window', and French gave us lexemes such as 'reward' and 'mansion'

-Borrowings in the 18th-19th century (increased exploration) gave us lexemes such as 'boomerang' and 'kangaroo' (Australia), 'kiwi' (New Zealand), 'bonsai' (Japanese), and 'igloo' (Inuit)

-New words from the Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd edition): 'boo' and 'Hinglish'

Disappearance of words:

-Archaism: words that have fallen out of common usage (old fashioned)

-Obsolete: words which are no longer used/no longer useful

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Lexis and Semantics:

-How new lexemes emerge: potential/need, implemation/contact with others, lexical diffusion (Aitchison), and codification

-Bleaching: when a word becomes less offensive than it originally was, e.g. 'bloody'. However, this varies between England and the USA due to views on religion 

-Leakage: when a word stops being used in its specific/immediate context. Can be seen as an extension of lexical diffusion

-Functional shift/conversion: when a word changes word class, e.g. 'Google' has become 'to google' 

-Broadening/widening, e.g. 'butcher' once just meant to kill a goat. Narrowing, e.g. 'weed' used to mean the whole plant 

-Amelioration: more positive than it originally was, e.g. 'pretty' used to mean cunning. Pejoration: more negative than it originally was, e.g. 'wench' used to mean young girl, but eventually became associated with prostitutes 

-Shortenings: clippings such as 'fridge' and 'telly', initialisms such as BBC and TV, and acronyms such as SCUBA and OFSTED

-Composites: affixation, e.g. '-un'

-Blends: motor + hotel = motel, and breakfast + lunch = brunch 

-Compounding: sun + shine = sunshine, and boy + friend = boyfriend 

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Lexis and Semantics:

-Eponyms: a person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is made, e.g. 'dyson' and 'crapper'

-CMC: text speech such as 'l8er' is no longer accepted - possibly due to modern technology advancements, e.g. no charge by character, predictive text, etc.

-Swearing (profanity/expletives): Thaxter becomes first man to say '****' on radio (1936), Oxford English Dictionary includes the word '****' for the first time (1972), and swear words are used openly for entertainment on night-time TV (1999)

-Register drift: words can gain acceptance as respectable or can become unaccpetable, e.g. 'fag' used to mean to work hard, but is now used in a homophobic way

-Political correctness: 'man-made' has become 'artificial', 'fire-man' has become 'firefighter', 'police man' has become 'police officer'. Recent examples include Kleenex (man-size tissues) and Yorkies (not for girls)

-Polysemy: refers to why lexemes in the English Language are so layered (invasions, etc.)

-Semantic loading: most words have several meanings, e.g. 'father' can mean a father figure, God, a male parent, one of the leading men in a city, etc. 

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Old English (400-1100 AD):

-Regional accents were more obvious due to less travel

-Pronunciation of the 'silent -e'

-Vowel fronting, e.g. 'fleur' instead of 'flower'

Middle English (1100-1450):

-The Great Vowel Shift (1350-1600s)

-Jesperson (1860-1943): the first person to seriously study the Great Vowel Shift. Found that it continued for a period of approximately 200 years and the pronunciation of long vowel sounds changed 

-Many long vowel sounds became shortened, e.g. transition from /a:/ to /æ/ 

-The further you move northwards, the less the effects of the Great Vowel Shift, e.g. 'hüs' for 'house' (Scottish)

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Internal sound change theories:

-The sounds of language changed because of an intrinsic (innate) instability in the phonemic system that had developed over time 

-Therefore, to distinguish between sounds that sounded familiar, vowels moved into other positions (e.g. shortened)

Social/historical change theories:

-Attach the cause to mass immigration to South East England after the Black Death (1346-1353) due to social mobility (e.g. many jobs available)

-The difference in accents led to certain groups modifying their speech to allow for a standard pronunciation of vowel sounds

-There was a rise of standardised middle-class in London (mainly middle-class people survived the plague due to better hygiene, etc.) which may have also led to changes in pronunciation

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Aitchison (1991): identified four stages of phonological stage:

-1) Speech of a particular social group differs from usual pronunciation of where they live, 2) A second group imitates this (possibly unconsciously), 3) The new pronunciation becomes established, 4) A third social group begins to model the second group, and the process begins 

Goffman (1993): high-rise terminals (uptalk or upspeak):

-This speech habit is associated with young people and has been attributed to Australian TV soaps 

Przedlacka (1997-1999):

-Called Estuary English a 'punitive variety of Southern British English'

-Features include: the glottal stop /ʔ/, intrusive /r/, and /h/ dropping 

-Studied differences between male and female speakers from different social classes and found that teenagers use 'f' or 'v' rather than 'th' 

-Concluded that this was to do with teenage social groups (generational)

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-'Rules' began with Lowth in 1762, e.g. the use of a double negative and using the plural pronoun 'they' as a single pronoun (gender neutral) would be seen as non-standard 

Early Middle English (1100-1450 AD):

-Used inverted interrogatives, e.g. 'go ye to London?'

18th century:

-Formal style, complex sentences, multiple subordinate and embedded clauses 

19th century:

-Grammatical formality still evident, but less formal than 18th century

20th/21st century:

-Simpler syntax, minor and simple sentences (more popular in the media/advertising), and non-standard spelling and punctuation (texts/email forums)

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