English language - language change theories

  • Created by: 070998
  • Created on: 15-11-16 17:42

Aitchison - progress or decay?

  • The 'damp spoon syndrome' - English language changes due to the laziness of speakers.
  • The 'crumbling castle' view - there was once a time that the English language was 'perfect' and this needs to be preserved.
  • The 'infectious disease' assumption - proposes that changes in language are 'contagious' and that we 'pick up' language from new people we meet, migrants for example.
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Hockett - random fluctuation

Proposed that there is no real reason for language change, it happens because of unpredicatable and random events.

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Labov - Martha's Vineyard

  • Residents of the area adopted a different vowel sound to identify themselves as being different from the tourists (Martha's Vineyard is a popular tourist attraction)
  • Suggests that we subconsciously change our language to identify ourselves with one group as opposed to another
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Bollinger - language use in advertising

He highlighted the increasing use of euphemisms in adverts as time has passed, for example the phrase 'fun-size' is a euphemism for something being small.

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Halliday - functional theory

  • Language changes to adapt to the needs of its users.
  • Usually occurs lexically.
  • Takes the form of: new inventions (leads to neologisms), techonological words and slang
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Labov - New York department store study

  • When repeatedly asked a question that required the answer 'fourth floor', the shop assistants adapted their language so that the 'r' sound was more voiced.
  • They were constantly moving towards a rhotic /r/ sound, as this occured more in careful speech.
  • Although it is short-term language change, it shows how we are consciously aware of prestige attached to aspects of language.
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Lexical gaps

  • This theory suggests that there is a logical reason for new words to be created, and this is to 'fill the gaps' in our language.
  • This could lead to us knowing ways in which language change will happen in the future,
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The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • Reflectionism and determinism
  • Reflectionism - someone's language reflects their way of thinking - which could explain why some people use derogatory language fairly often.
  • Determinism - people can be persuaded not to use these terms, and replace them with ones that are more acceptable in society. This forms the basis for the adoption of politically correct language and euphemisms. 
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Chen: S-Curve Model

  • Describes the pace in which language change takes place.
  • Starts off at a slow pace with only a minority of users unconsciously changing their language.
  • After some time language change picks up pace, more people have had their language changed and it becomes more accepted.
  • When it is fully integrated into the language it then slows back down again.
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Mackinnon - categorisation of attitudes

Categorises the attitudes that people may have to language use:

  • As incorrect or correct (links to the idea of overt and covert prestige)
  • As pleasant or ugly (links to social class?)
  • As socially acceptable or socially unacceptable (political correctness)
  • Morally acceptable or morally unacceptable 
  • Appropriate in context or inappropriate in context
  • Useful or useless
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Substratum theory

  • Focuses on the influences that different languages have on English vocabulary.
  • This could have had an effect via immigration
  • Could also have been brought about via conquerers
  • Hypercorrection- is a phonological change within language, through the adoption of an incorrect emphasis or pattern of pronunciation due to the speaker believing they are using the 'high-presitge' form of the word.
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Bailey - Wave Model

  • Bailey (1973) suggested a model that geographical distance can have an effect on language change.
  • Just as someone close to the epicentre of an earthquake will feel the tremors, a person or group close to the epicentre of a language change will pick it up, whereas a person or group further away from the centre of the change is less likely to adopt it.  i.e. a word adapted or adopted by multicultural youths in London is unlikely to affect white middle class speakers in Edinburgh, as they are removed from the epicentre both culturally and socially.
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