Language Change

Key terms and points for A2 Language Change 

HideShow resource information

New words and why they're formed

Neologism - a new word

Why new words are formed:

  • Internet and technology
  • Slang/colloquialisms because of modernistic expression
  • Compounds/blends
  • Inventors of new words (e.g. Shakespeare)
  • Imperialisation/invasion and the borrowing of words from other cultures
  • Derivations from ancient languages
  • Adoption of words with associated prestige
  • Acronyms

Loan Word - a word that has been adopted from another language (e.g. cafe from the french)

1 of 10

Lexical Change I

Affixation - the addition of bound morphemes (prefixes and suffixes) to an exitsting word (e.g. sudden + ly = suddenly)

Acronym - a word formed from inital parts (letters, syllables) (e.g. NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

Initalism - a group of initals used to form a word, with the letters pronouced seperately (e.g. BBC British Broadcasting Company)

Clipping - forming words by dropping one or more syllables from a polysyllabic word (e.g. influenza flu)

Eponyms - name of something after whom something is named (e.g. a sandwhich is named after Lord Sandwhich)

2 of 10

Lexical Change II

Proprietry Names - something named after a brand (e.g. vacuum cleaner made by hoover, now called hoover)

Compound - two words put together to form a new word in its entirety (e.g. girl + friend = girlfriend)

Blending - two words mixed together to make a new word (e.g. smoke + fog = smog)

Archaisms - words that are obsolete and no longer used by general population

3 of 10

Semantic Change I

Broadening - a word's meaning becomes more general but retains some of its original meaning (e.g. rubbish = rubble but also now means anything worthless)

Narrowing - a word's meaning becomes more specific (e.g. starve 16th century - to die of hunger, modern - to be really hunrgy)

Amelioration - a word acquires more favourable connonations or positive meaning (e.g. success used to mean simply a result but now means a good result)

Pejoration - a word acquires less favourable connotations or negative meaning (e.g. gaudy used to mean brilliant and cheerful but now means tasteless)

Weakening - words lose some of their original force or strength over time (e.g. swear words)

4 of 10

Semantic Change II

Metaphor - words often acquire new meaning because they begin to be used metaphorically - the representation of words change

Idiom - a group of words whose meaning cannot be interpreted from the meaning of the constituent words (e.g. 'cat out of the bag')

Eupehmism - a polite expression for for things too inappropriate to talk about directly (e.g. collateral damage - killing hundreds of people)

Political Correctness - some change has risen from this, when words and phrases with negative meaning have been changed (e.g. mentally handicapped changed to learning difficulties)

5 of 10

Orthographical Change

Spelling complexities:

  • Homonyms - same spelling, same sound, different meaning (e.g. stalk (verb)/stalk (noun))
  • Homophone - same sound, different spelling, different meaning (e.g. weight and wait)
  • Vowel sounds spelt differently (e.g. 'a' and 'eigh' and 'ay')

The long 'S' - used at the end of a word/ before an apostrophe/ before or after the letter 'f' if not hyphenated

6 of 10

Phonological Change

Omission - sounds disappear from words (e.g. 'football - fooball)

Assimilation - Pronounciation of one phoneme affected by an adjacent phoneme (e.g. don't you - donchu)

Val Speak - from California in 80s/90s, rising intonation and emphasisers such as 'like', 'totally' etc.- lack of confidence, filler when struggling in conversation

Martha's Vineyard - an island where it was found by William Labov that local fishermen deliberately diverged from tourists to distinguish themselves.

Estuary English - a form of speaking derived from the estuary of the Thames, used commonly modern to downplay privilege, standard english with a certain accent and features common to the South of England when spoken

7 of 10

Graphological Change

Features that may have changed:

  • Overall layout - focus on appealing areas, sacn for content we seek
  • Font/typeface - printed press changes handwritten, expands with technology
  • Bold/italics/underlining - emphasis, more common with technology
  • Upper and Lower case letters
  • Visual symbols - e.g. ;) or emoticons
  • Individual letter may now be used as symbols - X , a kiss, adult, wrong answer
  • Illustration - line drawing previous, now coloured images due to improved technology
  • Colours in text - symbolism of feeling, emphasis etc.
8 of 10

Grammatical Change

  • Adverbs have changed position (e.g. the ripest fruit first falls)
  • We now use contractions (e.g. Will not it be a good plan? - Won't)
  • Change in word order (syntax), particularly pronouns (e.g. Dreadful stories they were - the were dreadful stories)
  • Now use auxillary verb 'do' (e.g. she wanted not to go - she didn't want to go)


  • Started to replace adverbs with adjectives (e.g. you've done great)
  • Irregular verbs still changing (e.g. I've wrote it)
  • Pronouns - 'whom' being replaced with 'who'
9 of 10

Attitudes to Language Change

Prescriptivism - an attitude which makes judgements on what's right or wrong and holds language to an ideal, maintained standard (e.g. The Apostrophe Society)

Descripticism - an attitude which seeks to describe the change of language without judging

Jane Aitchinson's Three Metaphors:

  • The Damp Spoon Syndrome - language changes because people are lazy and want the easiest, most concise language possible
  • The Crumbling Castle View - Language is beautiful and should be preserved
  • The Infectious Disease Assumption - 'bad' language is caught from others who use the same language
10 of 10




fab stuff, thanks :)



Thank you so much

Henry Barnes


Great notes. Thanks!

You're fab! :3



Excellent notes!

Callum Gray


Really helpful notes, thanks!

Similar English Language resources:

See all English Language resources »