Language Change

The first card shows some key terms relating to semantic change; the second lexical change.

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Semantic Change


Making a more general term out of a word that was more specific e.g. ‘Dog’. The opposite of Specialisation.


The process by which the connotations of a word have changed to something better, e.g. ‘Wicked’, used to mean evil or bad, whereas now, it means, ‘good’, or ‘brilliant’. The opposite of Pejoratives.


Making a more specific term out of a word that was more general e.g. ‘Girl’, used to mean any young person, whereas now it refers specifically to the females. The opposite of Generalisation.


When the connotations change to something worse, e.g. ‘Gay’ which used to mean happy, is now a negative term applied to everyday problems. The opposite of Amelioration.


The process by which words that used to be related to religion, e.g. ‘God’ or, ‘Damn’, have become used in everyday language today.




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Lexical Change


The process of adding prefixes or suffixes to existing words, e.g. ‘Acronym’ -> ‘Acronymisation’.


Taking the initial letters of words and making a new, pronounceable word from them, e.g. ‘NASA’, ‘SCUBA’ and ‘GASPSED’.


When two parts of two different words are taken to make a new word, e.g. ‘Smog’ from ‘Smoke’ and ‘Fog’.


Borrowing is when words are simply taken from other languages, for example, ‘Augmenté’, is a French word, which the English borrowed and clipped to make, ‘Augment’, an English word.


This is when you follow a rule for the formation of one word, and assume that all words follow the same rule, e.g. ‘revise’ + ‘ion’ make, ‘revision’ so ‘televise’ + ‘ion’ make, ‘television’. The word ‘Televise’ has been back-formed.


This is when a word changes from a noun into a verb. For example, ‘Google’. The noun, ‘Google’ can now be used as a verb e.g. ‘I need to Google it.’


This is the process by which a word is created by extracting the longer portion of an arbitrary word from a longer word of identical meaning, e.g. ‘phone’ from ‘telephone’ or ‘veg’, from ‘vegetable’.


Making up a completely new word.

Proper names-

When the brand name of a product becomes synonymous with the actual thing e.g. Hoover.

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