• Created by: Arti
  • Created on: 21-01-13 16:22

Semantic change

  • When meaning changes
  • slang and colloquialisms give new meanings to established words- for example safe and cool mean approval

A word can develop a positive or negative meaning

Amelioration- when a word develops a negative meaning e.g nice meant foolish, terrible and now it means GOOD

Prejoration- develops a negative meaning. E.g. Hussy: had the same meaning as a housewife but now refers to an impatient woman. NOTORIOUS use to mean widely known... now being associated with being well known

-Some words change their meaning all together e.g. tomboy use to be boisterous boys and rude and now only used to refer to girls who act in what is seen as a boyish way

-sometimes a word may make less impact that it use to- this is called WEAKENING e.g terrible use to mean causing terror but now its used to say very bad. Glad use to mean bright and joyous but now it means pleased.

-meanings of words can also broaden or narrow=

* A word which has a specific meaning can develop a broader meaning overtime: known as broadening. Bird use to mean young bird but now it means birds in general.

*A word which has a general meaning can develop a narrower meaning e.g Liquor use to mean liquid but now refers to an alcoholic drink

Words can go through multiple semantic changes

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Policitcal correctness can cause semantic change

LAST 30 YEARS: political correctness had a major impact on how language is used. It's purpose has now been to remove words and phrases that have NEGATIVE connotations from language. e.g. old people are referred to as senior citizens and disable people with disabilities. Half caste is now longer used for people who are mixed race

* Trivalising suffixes e.g. 'ess' + 'ette' no longer used e.g. actor now refers to male or female performers and the word actress is now become 'redundant'

*Many people see semantic change as positive.

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-Describes things as if they were actually something else e.g. plain sailiing


-when we use a word associated with an object instead of objects actual name e.g. cash to to mean money box but over time it now meant money itself


-are sayings which don't make sense if you literally interpret the meanings of the words

-e.g. its raining cats and dogs means its raining heavily


-the use of alternative words or phrases to avoid offending someone or make something appear less unpleasant

-e.g. lots of euphemisms for death such as 'kiciking the bucket' + 'popping the daisies'


-overused phrases which fail to excite imagination

-business world has many cliches e.g. pushing the envelope and blue sky thinking

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-The way words are formed is always changing... biggest grammatical changes which happened to late modern english:


-past tense of some irregular verbs used to be formed differently over time, the stress vowels have changed e.g. verb SPAKE has now become spoke in present day english

-Auxilliary verb 'do' started to be used more in late modern english (1700 ONWARDS) and this had an effect on word order


-Comparative and superlative inflections (greatER and greatEST) exist in present day english in 19th century superlatives like properEST were also grammatically acceptable. 2 ways of forming comparatives and superlatives could be combined, you could use DOUBLE COMPARATIVES like more CLEVERER . In present day english it's enough to use more clever or cleverer


-way nouns are used in sentences has changed less than other word classes although they were CAPITALISED more until the 18th century

-one change is the definite article- now used less often with nouns e.g. The russian to mean russians in general

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-SINCE 1700: been a trend towards sentences being short and syntax has become less complicated

-sentences used to contain a lot of subordinate clauses e.g however

-PRESENT DAY ENGLISH - tends to use simpler punctuation, fever commas and semi colons (less FORMAL)

Word order has also changed:

use of auxilliary verbs (do, have, be) has increased


Didn't always include auxilliary verbs. In early modern english 1500-1700 sentences were formed with the verb at the start so order was VERB SUBJECT OBJECT

V (Spake) S (you) with O (him)

In PRESENT DAY ENGLISH: Interrogatives often formed using auxilliary verbs, subject and main verb. Auxilliary verbs like 'do' are now used at the start of the question

A (did) S (you) V (speak) with O (him)

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Contractions have gone IN AND OUT OF FASHION

-18TH CENTURY: contractions became common in written and spoken english, because they were often used in POETRY to make sure that words fit with the metre of the verse, and because printers contracted words to make them fit on the line. The use of contractions was inconsistent.

-Contractions are still used in PRESENT DAY ENGLISH and were common in EARLY 18TH CENTURY e.g. can't would've and she'll

-They were also used like this 'Twas' (it was) , o'er (over) and e'en (even)

* PROCLITIC CONTRACTIONS: used less in PRESENT DAY ENGLISH: when the contracted part of the word is at the start e.g. 'TIS'

*ENCLITIC CONTRACTIONS: where the contracted part of the word comes at the end e.g 'IT'S'

*PAST PARTICIPLES: used to be contracted to show the final syllable wasn't pronounced e.g. DISTRUB'D + DEFER'D

-18TH CENTURY: writers such as SWIFT complained contractions were 'corrupting' english. They were inelegant and making english difficult for future generations to understand

-19TH CENTURY: they were much less common

-Contractions started to be used more FREQUENTLY in the SECOND HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY, its normal to see them in PRINTED TEXTS

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-e.g. I don't want ..are now considered as non standard

authors of 18th century prescriptive grammar books tried to standardise and improve english and decided that double negatives were incorrect and should't be used.

LOWTH: argued that double negatives weren't acceptable. Two negatives in english destroy one another

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-people use more new technology like mobile phones and internet the fuction of some words associated with it has changed... nouns such as text, email and facebook have been verbs

-some adjectives are now used instead of adverbs e.g. I'm good instead of I'm well this american english has become more common in british english

-In standard english the adverb 'well' is used with PAST participle e.g. the meal was well cooked.

-Innit used to be a shorted reason of the tag question isn't it? in ubran **** it has become interchangeable with a variety of other tag questions too e.g. we can do that tommorow innit? where innit means can't we

-IN 1990S: the intensifying adverb 'so' started to be used with no e.g. I'm SO NOT ready for this

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-shift in pronounciation occured between 1400-1600

during the period of long vowels of middle english changed a lot: called THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT

-1700-1900... the LONG vowel sound in words such as path came to be used in southern parts of britain. Before this it would have been pronounced in its shorter form, as its in northern and midlands accents

-Consonants have changed e.g. before the 19TH CENTURY 'ING' was pronounced in many regional accents even by middle class and upper classes

-TODAY some speakers replaced the 'th' sounds with 'f' saying fink instead of think. This is a feature of estuary english called TH-FRONTING

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-change in intonation since early 1990s is UPTALK and UPSPEAK

-usually intonation rises when people ask a question, with uptalk, intonation rises when you're making a statement

-UP TALK was a feature of 'TEENAGE SPEECH' but now its found in a wider range of age groups

-Use uptalk because....some linguists say speakers dont want to sound so agressive or too sure of themselves when telling someone NEW INFO

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Sociol factors: people change the way they talk depending who they're talking to

Trudgill: showed that women were more likely to speak closer to recieved pronounciation when they know their language was being OBSERVED

-American english has also affected BRITISH ENGLISH PRONOUNCIATION for example e.g tradtional british empire stresses FIRST syllables and PRESENT DAY ENGLISH stresses SECOND syllables

-Media can influence pronounciation: bbc pronounciation unit= guides broadcasters on how to pronounce words and make sure presenters are consistent. 

-Aitchison: says phonological change is a process. The accent of one group differs from that of another. The second group is influenced by the pronounciation of the first group... a new accent is created and the process continues.

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-RECEIEVED PRONOUNCIATION was seen as standard english accent and sometimes called the QUEENS ENGLISH. Its a prestige accent and its associated with good standing in society and being well educated

-RECIEVED PRONOUNCIATION came in the 20 CENTURY and regional accents were then seen as inferior.

-RP was seen as the official accent

-everyone thought it was easier to understand which added to the prestige value and became the accent of authority

-1960S: W/C teenagers going uni large no.s of celebrities who spoke with regional accents, RP lost some of its desirability and emerging popstars had regional accents and young speakers wanted to imitate them

-RP has now been toned down

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Estuary english: linguists claim RP is being replaced by 'acceptable' english...estuary english. Drops H's at the start of words

-used by a lot of people in the entertainment industry and seen as a commercially acceptable accent

-Influence of media: Estuary englihs is becoming common outside london, become a WIDESPREAD ACCENT maybe because people copy speech off the radio and from TV presenters

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-Had a strong influence on standardising spelling

-laid down rules of spelling and meanings of words

- his aim was the register english

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PRECRIPTIVISM'- is an attitude towards language that assumes there are a set of correct lingustic rules that english should follow

one rule is that WHOM should be used when WHO is the object

'WHOM did you see today' instead of 'WHO did you see today?'

Another rule is that sentences shouldn't end with a propostion e.g where did you come FROM? should be .... FROM where did you come from?

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The expansion of the british empire...led to words being BORROWED from the countries that came under the BRITISH RULE. E.g these loan words came from india... bangle + thug

During the LATE MODERN PERIOD, advances in SCIENCE and MEDICINE led to the invention of new words like biology, antibiotic, chemotheraphy etc

NEW INVENTIONS: bought more new words and phrases into the dictionary such as typewriter, motorcar, video game

SOCIAL,CULTURAL,POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS have contributed to lexis crunch and airhead


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Improved communcation and increased mobility meant people were exposed to a wide range of accents and dialects for the first time


Radio,films and tv have affected regional pronounciation

Estuary english is relatively a new accent that is spreading as its used by a lot of people on TV and radio

Inventions like the TELEPHONE have meant that people from different regions can communicate much more easily


Invention of railway+cars meant people began to travel more around britain, this means regional dialects arent as self contained so have become 'diluted'

Very strong accents have tended to get softer, so people from different regions can understand eachother better than they could

International travel: has affected english. NON NATIVE speakers from different countries used standard english or american english to communicate with eachother and with native english speakers

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Changes in texts are mainly due to some of letters which are written have changed.

From 1700S: letter S was often written like an f + this was based on the handwriting style of that period and it appeared like this in printed texts

UNTIL THE 18TH CENTURY: more word began with capital letters than they do in present day, english words are captialised if they were at the start of a sentence or if they were proper nouns, or any other words that writers wanted to emphasise.

TYPEFACES have also changed: In the 20TH CENTURY...Serif typefaces were usually used, they have a fine 'STROKE' attached to the tops and bottoms of letters, typefaces with serifs seemed traditional whereas sans serifs look more modern (ones without serifs)

MODERN PRINTED MATERIAL: has a wider range of typefaces than in the past. Print advertising, newspapers, leaflets, posters and books will use different fonts for different purposes in order to attract attention and make the pages visually stimulating

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Comparing newspapers

1909 newspaper,,,

line spacing is very dense

text is small

no photos or illustrations

its all black and white


2009 newspaper...

-quite wide, range of colour and colour photos and theres non standard typography and info about whats inside the newspaper

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Graphology in books

-Earliest books had two columns to a page, justified text and large margins for making notes

-Modern books (Like novels and textbooks) tend to have ONE column of print

-modern books show a variety in terms of layout, typeface and colour

- non fiction books show alot of creativity with colour and graphics

-childrens books might see blocks of print in unusual angles and different shapes, variety of fonts and background colours

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Electronic media: Allows writers and publishers to be more creative with graphology

-web developers can use different layouts , typefaces and colours without thinking about printing costs

-Web pages tends to contain small chunks of text broken up with headings, subtitles and links as it makes it easier to read on screen

word processing software has given ordinary people access to loads of different typefaces and styles (choose a typeface depending on the purpose of writing)

mobile phones: contains features of abbreviations, numbers and emoticons

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Language change can be INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL

external lang change: result of outside influences on a group of speakers e.g has been influenced by things like invasions, immigration and the media

internal lang change: because of the need of simplification and ease of articulation , e.g. 'eth' may have diead out because the meaning is still clear when they arent used so gradually become unnecessary

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Omission: when sounds are gradually lost from the language as speakers stop pronouncing then

for example in the last 50 years RP speakers have dropped the Y sound like tune now said like CHOON


where one sound in a word is affected by an adjacent sound to produce a new pronounciation etc... sandwich - samwich

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Caxton printing press:

helped to establish to medieval east midlands dialect as the 'standard' , as well as making more texts readily available to people

There is STILL a lot of variation with spelling for the next few centuries

JOHNSONS DICTIONARY laid a firm foundation for the spelling system we have today

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-People have tried to standardise grammer in the 18TH CENTURY

LOWTH published a book on how english should be constructed... has influenced what people consider as 'good' english and means there is less variety in standard english

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Lang change has been brought about by the influence of foreign languages, especially because of LOAN words

16-17th century: words brought into english from latin and greek writers...affixes, auto, pan, benefit, temperature

18-19th century: words borrowed from colonised countries during the expansion of the British Empire e.g. (hindi) shampoo

20th century: immigration to the UK

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-20TH CENTURY: AMERICA developed into a superpower, it's political, economic and cultural influence has maintained the importance of english as a world language

- American english: can be accessed all over the world, especially because of the influences of the music, films, brand names

STANDARD AMERICAN ENGLISH:  has a few specific lexical, grammatical and orthographical (SPELLING) difference from standard english

frequent use of subjunctive e.g. I wish I WERE taller

HALF hour instead of half an hour

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