Language Change

Theories and Influences on Language Change

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Functional Theory

'Langauge changes according to the needs of it's users'                                             'Words become obsolete so drop out of usage'

Consider:

Neologisms

  • Conversion
  • Blend
  • Semantic change in meaning (amelioration/pejoration, broadening/narrowing)
  • Brand names/Inventions              
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Substratum Theory

'Influence of other forms of language that come into contact with the English language'

Consider:

Neologisms

  • Foreign borrowings
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Random Fluctuation Theory

'Language change occurs due to the changing context of it's users society'                      -Charles Hocket, 1958

Consider:

  • Natural disasters e.g. 'tsunami'
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Linguistic Determinism and Reflectionism

'Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis'                                                                                            Weak version:' Langauge influences thought but does not have complete control over it' (determinist)

However the reflectionist argument is 'Language is shaped by our thoughts, the language we use is thus the reflection of the way we think'

Consider:

  • Political correctness- e.g. racism .. if reflectionism is true, removing racist langauge does not remove racism. It will eventually re-emerge in a different form as the racist thought is still there
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Lexical Gaps

'Idea of identifying likely paths thta language change will take, depending on existing linguistic patterns'

Consider:

Neologisms

  • Affix e.g. the addition of the suffix 'age'
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Middle English 1150-1500

GREAT VOWEL SHIFT

-Coined by Otto Jesperson                                                                                             -Vowel sounds began to get longer

CHAUCER, 1343-1400

 -Wrote his works in English

PRINTING PRESS, 1476

 -William Caxton                                                                                                             -First english printer

Consider:

  • contribution to the spread of the language
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Early Modern English, 1500-1700

SHAKESPEARE, 1590-1613

-Expression of new ideas by the inventing, borrowing and adopting of phrases from other languages. Early example of neologisms

TABLE ALPHABETICALL, 1604

-Robert Cawdry                                                                                                            -First single language dictionary with 3,000 words. Long S present.

KING JAMES BIBLE, 1611

-First bible to be written in english

Consder:

  • intoduction of new words, and the beginning of standardisation of spellings
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Modern English, 1700-1900

SAMUEL JOHNSONS DICTIONARY, 1755

-Nearly 9 years to complete                                                                                          -Most important dictionary until Oxford Dictionary 173 years later, thus very influential

INTRODUCTION TO ENGLISH GRAMMAR, 1762

-Robert Lowth                                                                                                                    -Used widely in schools until the early 20th Century

ELEMENTARY EDUCATION ACT, 1870

-Compulsory schooling for 5-12 year olds

Consider:

  • significant influence on language and grammar standardisation
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Late Modern English

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, 1970'S

-Originated in America at the same time as feminist movement, reached UK by 1990                                                                                                                          -Tool for making language 'neutral'

FIRST EMAIL, 1971

FIRST TEXT MESSAGE, 1992

Consider:

  • The effect on lanaguage change. Introduction of neologisms due to gender neutral lexis and 'text message language' 
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Prescriptivism

AGAINST LANGUAGE CHANGE

-Belief of a 'right' and 'wrong' language. Variation should be resticted and stanardised rules imposed.NS forms are inferior.                                                           -Idea of a 'Golden Age' of english

Consider:

  • John Humphries
  • Jean Aitchison describing Prescriptivist approach as 'damp spoon', 'crumbling castle' and 'infectious disease'
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Descriptivism

ACCEPT LANGUAGE CHANGE

-Accepting of the inevitability of language change so observe and analyse it

Consider:

  • David Crystal
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