English Language- Language Change

Just a recap of some of the main things needed if a language change question comes up.

  • Created by: Rebekah
  • Created on: 02-06-14 13:38

Early Modern English

Roughly 1500s-1750ish

Triangle of major cities- Oxford, Cambridge, London

Introduction of printing- William Caxton

Shakespeare and other literary giants were around in this time.

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Contemporary English


Talk about:



-Web of worries

-Processes of language change

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Semantic Shifts

When a word changes meaning due to society.

Amelioration- When a word goes through a positive semantic shift.

Pejuration- When a word goes through a negative semantic shift.

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Ways Of Forming Neologisms

Affixation- Prefixation or Suffixation, adding either a prefix or suffix onto an existing word. (E.g. e-money, foodie)

Ex-Nihilo Neologisms- Creating a word from scratch with no links to existing words. (E.g. Prozac)

Compound- Creating a new word by joining two existing morphemes. (E.g. Propeller-head)

Blend- Creating a new word by combining clippings of two other words. (E.g.Grebo- Greaser+Dumbo)

Conversion- Taking a word class and converting it to another. (E.g. To bottle it, verb from noun bottle)

Clipping- Creating a new word by shortening and existing one. (E.g. Decaffeinated=> decaf)

Back formation- Removing an affix from a word to create a new one. (E.g. Paramedical=> paramedic)

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Types of Borrowing

April McMahon:

Cultural borrowing- No word currently exists in  the speakers language and so they pick up ready-made words rather than create a new one. (E.g. Tamagotchi)

Social borrowing- A word is borrowed from another language despite there already being a word in the first language, normally borrowed due to social connotations. (E.g. Boutique)

Adoption: The word is borrowed and maintains the features from it's original language (E.g. Pizza)

Adaption: The word is borrowed and then nativised and made to fit the language patterns of the speaker.

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The softening of an indelicate topic


Redundancies- cutbacks, re-evaluating the business plan.

Death- kicked the bucket, gone to a better place

Sex- bump 'n' grind, frick frack

Medical- 'down there'

Bodily functions- spend a penny, drop the kids off at the pool

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Political Correctness

Using language to avoid offending anyone.

(See political correctness revisio cards for details)

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Sexist Language

Language that is discriminatory towards someone due to their sex.

Terms of adress- Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms- Only one for men, doesn't matter if they're married or not like with women.

'-ess' suffix

Default assumptions

'He-man' language

terms/metaphors for men/women

(again, details on my political correctness cards)

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Racist Language

Language that is discriminatory towards people of a particular race. E.g. connotations of the word black (dark, bad), versus the connotations of the word white(pure, clean). 

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A group of theorists who believe that language should and will change and evolve. 

E.g. David Crystal 

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A group of theorists who believe that language should be preserved and no changes and alterations should be made.

E.g. the theories in the web of wories

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Deborah Cameron

Cameron talks about trivialising suffixes and lexical gaps.

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Dominant and Muted Groups

Where there are two groups, one of which is dominant, for example men, and the other is muted, for example women. The dominant group has more power and the muted group is left powerless.

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Jean Aitchison

Aitchison wrote a book entitled 'A Web of Worries' which looks at three theories surrounding language change, all of which are prescriptivist.

"Damp spoon"- the distaste felt when a damp spoon is placed back into the sugar bowl and is slowly ruining the remaining sugar matches the feeling when listening to the new words entering the vocabulary.

"Crumbling Castle"- the image of a beautiful castle which was once magnificent but is now under attack and beging to fall apart piece by piece, where the complete castle was the pinacle of the English language and it is nowbeing savaged.

"Infectious Disease"- The idea that you are able to 'catch' language changes the same way as you would catch a disease from those around you. 

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