English - Language Change Features

The features that you would associate with the process of language change

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Borrowings/Loan Words

Loan words are word we have ‘borrowed’ from another language. French, Greek and Latin words may form a large portion of the loan words that are part of the English Language. The media can bring in words, especially from America as a lot of TV shows and music are imported to England from there. Another ways loan words come in though is when a product or invention from another country comes to England. A ‘karaoke’ machine brought us this Japanese word, Russia brought us words such as ‘vodka’. A lot of loan words may be technological or related to food: ‘Korma’, ‘Fromage Frais’, ‘Feta’, ‘Sushi’.

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New words or terms can be created through euphemism as people do not want to convey the real meaning. A lot of modern examples fall into the semantic field of warfare. for example ’surgical strike’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’. ‘Friendly fire’ is an example where you can clearly see how the euphemism works as the word ‘friendly’ makes it sound like a good thing. In reality though it means shooting someone on your side (usually by accident). ‘Friendly fire’ sounds much better than the reality doesn’t it? ‘Cashflow problem’ and ‘downsizing’ are also common euphemisms in the business world.

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Extreme clipping, or initialism, is when the first letters of words are taken in order to make a new words. However, when this happens each letter is pronounced on it’s own (BBC, RSPCA). Each letter represents one word e.g. PDSA stands for the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. MP (member of parliament) and CD (compact disc) are other examples.

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An idiom is formed with existing words and is a new common phrase which does not actually represent what is seems to. For example, ‘over the moon’ does not mean you are literally in outer-space, it means you are very happy. ‘Under the weather’ is another example.

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Words can change in meaning because of metaphors. A good example is the fact that people in America can be known as ‘Hawks’ and ‘Doves’ depending on which political party they follow. This is of course not literal, but is another way the word can take on a different meaning. Words such as ‘graze’, to mean having lots of small snacks, are also metaphors as a person is not really ‘grazing’ as an animal would do.

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Coinage is the creation of new words

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Narrowing, or specialisation, is not used as often nowadays. It is the opposite of broadening and describes when a word becomes more specific and has a narrower meaning, wheras it used to be more general. For example, in the middle ages ‘girls’ used to mean all young people, but now applies to only young females.

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Neo-classical compounds are words which partly derive from a Latin or Greek background. This includes anything starting with the term ’astro’ or ‘cosmo’, as an example. ‘Astro’ is the Greek for ’star’, and ‘cosmo’ means ‘world or universe’. When you consider ‘nautes’ means ’sailor’, then you will realise ‘astronauts’ are star sailors and ‘cosmonauts’ universe sailors. Other examples are words which begin with ‘inter’.

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Words which now have more negative connotations than they used to have gone through perjoration- and this is the opposite to amelioration. ‘Cowboy’ now has a negative meaning as people use ‘cowboy builder’ for a builder who is seen as incompetent or not hard working. ‘Spin’ used to be a harmless word which described an action but now is more negative because of ’spin doctors’ and the ’spin’ politicans use, which is basically making something sound good when it is not really. ‘Gay’ is also used as a negative adjective now, to mean bad or stupid, this has changed a lot: originally meaning happy, then homosexual, and now this.

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New meanings can be given to existing words as they have been weakened. ‘Soon’ used to mean straight away, but has now weakened in strength to mean sometime in the near future. ‘Quite’ used to be more similar to ‘very’ in meaning, but again has been weakened over the years.

The Creation of new meanings for words

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