Language Change Key Information

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Timeline showing development of English Language

Old English 5th-11th centuries

The development of English from the linguistic influence of Germanic and Viking invadors

Middle English 11th-14th centuries

The mixing of French with English after the Norman Conquest

Early Modern English 15th-17th centuries

The continual process of change, as English discarded older forms of word order and word endings and added Latin words for new concepts and ideas

Late Modern English 18th century-present

The age of standardised english

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Abbreviating words


A lexicalised word made up from the initial letters of a phrase (sounded as a word) - 'RADAR'


A word made from initial letters, each being pronounced - CD


A new word produced by shortening an existing one - Edit (from Editor)

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Re-using words

Affixation - usually in the form of:

The addition of bound morphemes to an existing word - affixes are sometimes linked to contemporary tastes


The addition of a bound morpheme to the beginning of a root work - e.g. 'mega/uber'


The addition of a bound morpheme to the end of a root word - radical(ising) '-ing' being the suffix


A word that changes its word class without adding a suffix - Text (noun and verb)


The combining of two seperate words to create a new word, sometimes using a hyphen to link them - 'size zero, man flu, carbon footprint' are all examples of compounds

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The process of semantic change


A word takes on a different, more positive meaning, gaining status - pretty changing from sly to attractive is an example of this


A word takes on a different, more negative meaning, losing status - idiot changed from meaning private citizen to someone being stupid


A word loses its strength or original meaning - soon and presently: immediately, in a short while


A word becomes more specific in its meaning - meat used to mean any food: now means flesh of an animal


Word keeps original meaning but acquires others - place: broad sheet, an area

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Metaphorical changes


A word acquires new meanings because it is used metaphorically - Bug: An insect or crawling creature, or to annoy someone or a fault in a system


A way of describing something unpleasant in a more pleasant manner - Down-sizing: Making workers redundent, passed away: Died


A speech form, or an expression, that can't be understood literally from the meanings of the individual parts - Pull your socks up: Try harder

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Influences on word creation



  • Sandwich - science and medicine
  • vaccination - classical languages (latin and greek)
  • Torpedomob - Attitudes to class and social roles


  • Biology - Industrialisation of new inventions
  • Chloroform - Latin and Greek
  • Claustraphobia - Science, medicine, travel, British empire


  • Genocide - Technology (especially IT)
  • Laser - Globalisation
  • Chavs - Social attitudes, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, youth, sociolects, non-standard forms
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Orthographical changes in late modern English



  •  The long 's' was left over from Old English and continued in use into Late Modern English. It was used initially, and medially, but but the short 's' was always was always used at the end of words.
  • Spelling forms become more regular, although often still idioosyncratic.
  • The long 's' was used until 1800, when it was replaced with the short 's'. As it didn't have a phonological function the phoneme didn't need a different grapheme, because of printing practices (and letters) had to be individually set, it was deemed unnecessary. Dictionaries also influenced this.


  • More consistent standardised spelling evolving. Increasing standardisation, the availability and number of dictionaries and the drive for a more literate society, with schooling beginning to be offered all children.


  • Standardised spelling rules. More recently, non-standard forms have become more extensively used. Educational practices and government interventions. Emergence and development of information and computer technology, specifically text and instant messaging.
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Late Modern English: grammatical changes


Formal style wigh complex sentences, multiple subordinate and embedded clauses. Influenced by - standardisation, higherarchical and formal society wih emphasis on conventions and rules, writing valued as seperate from speech.


Grammatical formality still evident, although sentences less complex than 18th century. Influences - continuing standardisation, changes in class attitudes, beginnings of universal education, dialectal voices represented in literature (for example, Dickens)


Simpler syntax and coordination, including minor and simple sentences, more popular in media and advertising. Non-standard spelling and punctuation used in text/email forms. Influences - worldwide and American English Technology, social levelling and equality, oral language/forms affecting writing styles, growing informality, growth of entertainment and leisure industries

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Fairclough's Theory

Norman Fairclough is a contemporary linguist, who coined the term 'synthetic personalisation' to describe how advertisers use direct address to create a sense of a personal and individual relationship with an intended audience. T

This persuasive device often results in a more controversial text and so seems more appealing to the intended audience as it pretends a close family, friendly relationship with them.

He believes that there have been 'shifting boundaries' between written and spoken discourse practices, and a rising prestige and status for spoken language. Many linguists see this informalisation and personalisation of language in todays language use and credit spoken language with driving changes in the written mode. 

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Giles Accommodation Theory

Convergence is part of Howard Giles' accomodation theory, which centres on pragmatics and how speakers adjust their speech behaviours to accomodate others, showing their need for approval.

However, divergence is the opposite. When people diverge from others, it may be to make their accent stringer or to adopt exaggerated speech behaviours in order to distance themselves from other speakers, or to reinforce their different identity.

Convergence and divergence can be upwards (towards RP) or downwards (to a regional or sociolectual variation).

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Freeborn's 'Varieties of English' theory

The incorectness view

All accents are incorrect compared to Standard English and the accent of RP. Freeborn refutes this, citing evidence that accent's popularity orginiates in fashion and convention; RP became the standard because it had social prestige, rather than being more correct than any other variety

The ugliness view

Some accents don't sound nice. This seems to be linked to stereotypes and negative social connotations, especially as the least-liked accents seem to be found in poorer, urban-areas

The impreciseness view

Some accents are described as 'lazy' and 'sloppy' such as Estuary English, where sounds are omitted or changed. Freeborn offers the glottal stop as an argument that some sound changes are logical and governed by linguistic views

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Aitchisons theory

Jean Aitchison posted the question 'Is our language in decay?' She used a series of metaphors to suggest peoples worries and fears about language change:

Damp-spoon syndrome

Language changes because people are lazy, like leaving a damp spoon in the sugar bowl, which is vulgar and in bad taste. This view presupposes that one type of language is inferior to another.

Crumbling castle view

'Language is like a beautiful castle that must be preserved'. However, language has been at a pinnacle and a rigid system is not always better than a changing one

Infectious disease assumption

'Bad/poor language is caught like a disease' from those around us, and we should fight it; but people pick up language changes because they want to, perhaps in order to fit in with certain social groups.

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David Crystal 'Rediscover Grammar'

Crystal, in 'Rediscover Grammar', sees what he calls a tridialectical future for us, an extension of bidialectism, where people use their national standard and a regional dialect. He says that we move comfortably between three dialects:

  • At home we use the dialect of the region from which we come
  • Travelling around Britain and in the work place we use standard English
  • Travelling around the world we will use World Standard English
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