Language use and language evolution is one of the very few (if not the only) remaining domains of social interaction where norms are not seen as arbitrary but as natural and inevitable. We tend to perceive our language as normative and essential. That is we view language as a vehicle of meaning and the carrier of the essential norms - as if it reflects the way things are and the way things should be. In other words, while we use the language to doubt, interrogate, explore the world around us, we rarely use it to question the normativity of the language itself.
The notion that language is somehow natural and inevitable is so deeply embedded in our psyche that we often forget the simple fact that language changes constantly. More often than note, when changes to the language are proposed, consciously or note, they are considered as a threat to the 'purity of language', to our identity, to our 'national heritage'.
We take a deep dive into the nature o these oppositions in other articles, this article however, offers insights into the nature of language itself. How does language evolve, what are the dynamics that changes it, why are these changes constant. Grasping better these notion could help us to consider how accurate are the adjectives 'purity' and 'tradition' with regards to a language.
Our language changes and so is every other human language! Language is always changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users. This isn't a bad thing; if it hadn't changed since, say, 1950, people during the 1980 wouldn't have words to refer to modems, fax machines, or cable TV. If it hadn't changed since the 1980, we would have to use fax machine to refer to our cell phone, a paper printed photo for a selfie and the a book instead of a blog. Language changes is a fact. This means that language is just becoming different.
Incorporating new technological terminologies is only one example of language change. Generation by generation, pronunciations evolve, new words are borrowed or invented, the meaning of old words drifts, and morphology is transferred. The rate of change varies, but these changes accumulate until the "mother tongue" becomes distant and different. After ten thousand years, their original relationship would be completely indistinguishable.
There are many different routes to language change. Changes can take originate in language learning, or through language contact, social differentiation, and natural processes in usage. Language change is variation over time in all their aspects, in their pronunciation, word forms, syntax, and word meanings (semantic change).
In fact, each of these explanations can be further divided. This article would only cover the main causes to illustrate how language is constantly evolves.
Mostly these changes are very gradual in their operation, becoming noticeable only cumulatively over the course of several generations. This is usually the case with social changes. Changes can take originate through speaking our own language, or through contact with other language or culture, through a social prestige, migrations and natural processes in usage.
Language learning: Language is transformed from one generation to the next. Each individual must re-create a grammar and lexicon based on input received from parents and their surroundings. Since each individual is different the process of linguistic replication is imperfect. This results in random variations and causes a systematic drift. This is a natural and inevitable consequence of the anthropic principle. Every system, ex, family, drifted apart as time goes by.
Repetition, Specialization - Like in any other process, repetition allow us to improve and learn. Speaking, we dissimulate and assimilate linguistic objects. Using a language allows us to identify how to speak more efficiently and with as little effort as possible. Such changes, though slight at the time, are progressively cumulative.
Emotional intensity - Over time, common words lose their emotional intensity and new words are applied to revive that intensity.
Globalisation - As culture evolves new notions, objects, situations arrive and thus enter the language. Languages borrowed expressions from each other. English borrows French words, Greek borrows Turkish constructions and vice versa. Massive migration influence the languages of both mitigates and locals, sometimes even end up with entirely new languages, such as pidgins and creoles.
Communal identity - people occasionally wish to socially differentiate themselves. This can ends up in a language change, like climbing up the social scale, by adapting 'higher' language and move away from 'vulgar' language. For example Welsh and Lutheran Bible translations, lead to the liturgical languages Welsh and High German thriving today, unlike other Celtic or German variants.
Languages are constantly in flux. Changes in lexical meaning alter with each generation, even within the same culture or social group, and languages evolve as new words are developed in line with technology or are borrowed from other languages. Meanings shift, sound structures change and words are lost or gained. Within some generations from now, any ‘original’ and any ‘new’ languages would be so vastly altered that they would no longer be ‘mutually intelligible’.
These changes are mostly very gradual in their operation, becoming noticeable only cumulatively over the course of several generations. But, in some areas of vocabulary, rapid cultural or technological change triggers equally rapid and therefore noticeable changes within a generation or even within a decade.
If you look around you can note that human changes are more noticeable. The last 20 years witness an outstanding evolution of scientific and technological change. This is also valid to slangs and jargons - constantly evolves as their raison d’être depends on their being always fresh and distinctive to a given group. Old slangs date, as any novel or film more than 10 years old is apt to show.
New words are usually introduced when it is found that a specific notion is lacking a term, or when the existing vocabulary lacks detail, or when a speaker is unaware of the existing vocabulary. Another trigger that motivates the coining of a neologism is to disambiguate a term which may be unclear due to having many meanings.
New words pop up unpredictability. Times it comes from books, as Catch 22, the author - as Orwellian, the main character, as Sisyphean. It can a blending of current words, for example, "brunch" is a blend of the words "breakfast" and "lunch". It can also be more systematic like Verlan (verlan is the reverse of the expression "l'envers") a type of popular French slang. Verlan is featuring inversion of syllables in a word.
Most of us probably contributed to a language change by using slang - a somewhat secret language that only its speakers can understand. Slang tends to emphasize social and contextual understanding and to exclude non-members from the conversation. Yet, when these members get older slang becomes accepted into common vocabulary. Words such as "spurious" and "strenuous" were once perceived as slang, though they are now considered general, even high-register words.
Finally there is the verbal hygiene - which is the way human advocate for a specific usage of the language. It may be to defend the cause of minorities, gender-biased, racially pejorative expressions, to oppose these kind of changes or to define a preferred usage of the language. Some normative practices often suggest that some usages are incorrect, inconsistent, illogical, lack communicative effect, or are of low aesthetic value, even in cases where such usage is more common than the prescribed usage. They may also include judgements on socially proper and politically correct language use. Since we dedicated several articles to the latter, we won't refer to them in the below sections.
Language change is functionally disadvantageous, in that it hinders communication, and it is also negatively evaluated by socially dominant groups. Nevertheless is is a universal fact of human history.
While languages constantly change, people reaction to this change isn't. As people observe language change, they usually react negatively, feeling that the language has "gone down hill". When was the last time you heard older people commenting that the language of their children or grandchildren's generation has improved compared to the language of their own youth?
It is hard not to wonder if those who oppose the change are actually bothered by it or rather expressing their emotion about the cruelty of time. After all, one or two generations ago, they had the same critics when practising 'their' slang that encountered the same reactions from their parents and grand-parents.
Nations and language academies can mount a more deliberate opposition the 'new' language. These attempts aim at preserving the purity of a language, at least by their perception, or at arresting the processes of change. To name just two examples - The Hebrew Academy denounces rise of English words in public life and the Greek government efforts to free Modern Greek from much of its Turkish vocabulary.
reality witness that, regardless the opposing agency, the efforts to purity the language are doomed to ails. People reaction clearly indicate that people think they are entitle to communicate even if their linguistic authority doesn't approve their way of speaking.
By 'pure language', people usually mean Standard Language. Which means the form of the language used in government, education, and other formal contexts. Modern linguistics rejects this concept, since from a scientific point of view language cannot be judged in terms of pure, good or bad
Moreover, there's no such thing as a 'sloppy' or 'lazy' dialect. Every dialect of every language has rules - not 'schoolroom' rules, like 'don't split your infinitives', but still rule of inverting the syllables in the French argot verlan, example, deban instead of bande (group). beur refers to first-generation immigrants from northern Africa in France. Where the more recent word rebeu is used to refer rather to second-generation Arab immigrants in France.
Is it a lazy way of talking? Not at all; the younger generation has made a useful distinction and more accurate reference to the general term immigrations. As culture evolves and new situations arise, language will never stop changing; it will continue to respond to the needs of the people who use it. New generations challenge our perceptions, opposing this just because we consider it lazy only witness that we became lazy and lost our curiosity. So the next time you hear a new phrase that grates on your ears, remember that like everything else in nature, our language is a work in progress.
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