Language Change Myths

mythical

Spreading the Word – by Jean Aitcheson – Language Change Progress or Decay (1981)

 

The central topic of this essay is about conscious and unconscious change in language and how changes actually spread and become adopted into language.

 

  • The essay uses the simile “as obscure to the majority of linguists as the sources of disease still are to primitive communities” which can help to highlight the point that language change is an obscure thing and although it can be viewed over a long period of time it is also difficult to find.

 

  • Along with language change comes the idea that although we know it changes “we are unlikely to know who started them or where they began”. This suggests that change is often unconscious and a natural thing as language is dynamic and not a static thing.

 

  • The essay states that it is “not always possible to categorize changes neatly”. The idea of categorizing things “neatly” is a rather strange one which may actually suggest something about society too wanting to categorize everything. It also reinforces the idea that language is changeable and so is changing even now.

 

  • The idea of language changing is a quite natural thing, however the essay brings up the idea of differences between things “affect the way a change spreads”. This shows how as language is so broad and diverse multiple things can affect it and the changes which occur.

 

  • The essay brings to light the fact that “we are now in a position to observe changes” in language. This implies how just as language has changed so has the world and society and that actually the changes all affect each other, and furthermore that over time these changes in our language have become more and more visible.

 

  • Finally, the essay describes the change in the sound of language as to have “seemingly mysterious origins”. This furthermore implies the idea of change happens unconsciously and is adopted into language quite seamlessly and easily.

 

Conflicting Loyalties – Opposing social pressures – Jean Aitchison

What is the central contention of the essay?

  1. Elements that already exist within a language are used in a context where they are not considered the norm. These occurrences are then borrowed and exaggerated. Language change occurs when this process happens in two opposing directions as the differing social pressures on men and women tug against one another, thus drawing language apart.
  2. The author argues that language change is a social phenomenon and does not occur without presence of prestige. He argues that change occurs as men are pulling away from the overt prestige and women are pulling towards it.

 

Quotations:

 

  1. Language change is a social phenomenon which reflects the changing social situation

Author highlights that language change occurs as the context changes, its changes can’t be described in isolation of society.

  1. Men are pulling away from the overt prestige and the women are pulling towards it

Author argues that gender plays a key role in affecting language change

  1. The progress or regression of a change represents the state of the struggle

Language change can be used to analyse the state of a current social situation – the pressures on men and women.

  1. Social factors provided the answer

Sums up the authors view that language change is influenced by the social context.

Idea that language cannot sufficiently be analysed as a sole entity, contextual factors in particular social factors have to be considered.

  1. (Changes) originate from elements already in the language which get borrowed and exaggerated

Language changes diffuse into society and become more frequently used which enables them to be picked up by others as relationships are enacted.

  1. A change occurs when one group consciously or subconsciously takes another as a model, and copies features from its speech

Idea that the spread of change occurs through enacting relationships with different individuals in different settings.

  1. Changes do not occur unless that have some type of prestige

Author argues that language change and identity are interwoven – how an individual wishes to be perceived.

  1. People either do not notice a minor deviation from the norm, or they over-react to it

Language change is influenced by the personal perceptions of different individuals.

 

Conflicting Loyalties, Jean Aitcheson, 1981

* “The men are pulling away from the covert prestige form, and the women are pulling towards it.”

* “[Changes] usually originate from elements already in the language which get borrowed and exaggerated”

* “People tend to conform to the speech habits of those around them.”

* “Conscious changes are usually in the direction of speech with overt prestige”

* “desirable masculine attributes”

* “social pressure are tugging against one another”

* “surprisingly, perhaps, the varying vowel sounds turned out not to reflect a straight clash between protestant and catholic, but a subtler tagging, primarily between men and women.”

* “status-conscious”

 

The Media are Ruining English by Jean Aitchison

 

In my piece Jean Aitchison is attempting to persuade the reader that it isn’t in fact the media that are ruining English, they’re just portraying changes that are occurring. Aitchison argues against the idea that newspapers are the ones “rotting” the language, and argues that the language isn’t getting worse it’s just changing.

 

  • “But the media didn’t initiate these changes; they were reflecting current usage.”
  • “The media are therefore linguistic mirrors: they reflect current language usage and explain it.”
  • “If he (Samuel Johnson) looked at a newspaper today he would learn both about the modern language and how to use it clearly.”
  • “They (media) do not invent these forms, nor are they corrupting the language.”
  • “Competition rather than metamorphosis is at the root of language alterations.”
  • “perhaps worriers are working with an outdated view of language,”

 

The central contention of this essay is the idea that the media doesn’t corrupt language, it reflects words being used in a subsection of society and is able to send it out to a wider spread audience. The media doesn’t create this language that leads to corruption, they reflect the language being used to a wider range of impressionable people, quickly and easily.

  1. “The older words get used less and less often and gradually dwindle away. But the media did not initiate these changes; they were reflecting current usage.”
    • This expresses the view that words become old when they are no longer used, this can mean in the media and real life. When the media stop using certain words, they are reflecting the words relevance in society and incorporating them into an article, for example. They aren’t not using certain words to ruin English, but to reflect on its current use.

 

  1. “The media are therefore linguistic mirrors they reflect current language usage and extent it.”
    • Again, the central contention that the media is a metaphoric mirror of our society’s language, reporters in no way create new language.

 

  1. “Journalists are observant reporters who pick up early on new forms and spread them to a wider audience. They do not invent these form, nor are they corrupting the language.”
    • Within this, a positive view of language in the media is taken. This is as it’s conveyed how the media is a quick and useful tool to spread new forms of language as a majority of people have some sort of media source.

 

  1. “Disliked usage (of grammar, punctuation and vocabulary) are frequently assumed by grumblers to be new, a sign of modern decadence.”
    • This conveys that people dislike new language as it’s different to what they usually use and understand. An example of this is older generations commonly not understanding and disliking slang so, they become “grumblers.”

 

  1. “In the twentieth century, complaints about the media language have escalated about all because of the advent of radio and television. This has added concern about spoken speech to that about written ‘we are plagued with idiots on radio and television and who speak English like the dregs of humanity’ ”
    • People have the view that the media corrupts our language as there are “idiot” on television and radio. However, this isn’t entirely true and against the central contention of the article as the media doesn’t invent these “wrong” forms of language, simply makes them known.

 

  1. “According to the ‘dirty fingernail’ fallacy, journalists do not pay sufficient attention to language details: they never bother to scrub their linguistic fingernails clean, as is were. On closer inspection, this is untrue.”
    • This again, expresses people’s negative views on journalists language use/ them inventing language but, they don’t do this within the media.

 

The Meanings of Words Should Not Be Allowed to Vary or Change – Peter Trudgill

 

The central contention of this essay is that certain people, mainly prescriptivists, think that the meaning of some words are ‘too far gone’ and that they have changed from their original meaning to something very different. An example of this would be the word “nice”. Many of these people would argue that the word should mean “not cutting” due to its Indo-European roots, but in reality, the majority of people will use “nice” to mean “agreeable”.

 

  • “[change] is a universal characteristic of human languages” – The idea that change is needed for languages to grow and develop into a greater from is much more useful than the idea of keeping words to be similar to their original meaning.

 

  • “the real meaning of a word” – Again, it argues that there is no right or wrong answer as to how to interpret certain words due there being a possible number of interpretations, it just all depends on the context.

 

 

  • “emotive words tend to change more rapidly” – An example of this being the word “awful”. The word originally meant “inspiring awe” but in the 21st Century, it is now known as “very bad”. Also, in the example of “awfully good”, the adverb is simply there to mean “very”. This goes to show that the word has lost all connection with its original definition and that emotive words may have a habit of changing more rapidly.

 

  • “the context will normally make it obvious which meaning is intended” – This is referring to words with two different meanings, and the example given was the word “interest”. Simply, if I were to say, “I’m very interested in Hollywood films”, someone would understand that I mean I enjoy watching films and not that I am an academy award winning actress, because there would be context to the statement.

 

 

  • “languages are self-regulating systems” – words constantly change their meanings especially once the younger generations get their hands on them, “sick” used to mean “ill” yet now means “good”, however due to the context in which a word is said, it’s not difficult to understand what someone is trying to convey.

 

  • “When is misuse not misuse?” “When everybody does it.” – The take away message of this whole essay. As soon as the majority of people use the word “nice” to mean “agreeable”, you can hardly argue that it should mean “not cutting” because I can almost guarantee that no one would listen and said prescriptivist would most likely be called pedantic.

 

Spreading the Word – by Jean Aitcheson – Language Change Progress or Decay (1981)

 

The central topic of this essay is about conscious and unconscious change in language and how changes actually spread and become adopted into language.

 

  • The essay uses the simile “as obscure to the majority of linguists as the sources of disease still are to primitive communities” which can help to highlight the point that language change is an obscure thing and although it can be viewed over a long period of time it is also difficult to find.

 

  • Along with language change comes the idea that although we know it changes “we are unlikely to know who started them or where they began”. This suggests that change is often unconscious and a natural thing as language is dynamic and not a static thing.

 

  • The essay states that it is “not always possible to categorize changes neatly”. The idea of categorizing things “neatly” is a rather strange one which may actually suggest something about society too wanting to categorize everything. It also reinforces the idea that language is changeable and so is changing even now.

 

  • The idea of language changing is a quite natural thing, however the essay brings up the idea of differences between things “affect the way a change spreads”. This shows how as language is so broad and diverse multiple things can affect it and the changes which occur.

 

  • The essay brings to light the fact that “we are now in a position to observe changes” in language. This implies how just as language has changed so has the world and society and that actually the changes all affect each other, and furthermore that over time these changes in our language have become more and more visible.

 

  • Finally, the essay describes the change in the sound of language as to have “seemingly mysterious origins”. This furthermore implies the idea of change happens unconsciously and is adopted into language quite seamlessly and easily.

 

Language Change: Progress or Decay by Jean Aitchison
1. “As obscure to the majority of linguistics as the sources of disease still are to primitive communities”
* Can be difficult to spot/ find change as it occurs over a long period of time
2. “Did not come out of the blue”
* Language has been influenced by something
* Changes within society may be why language has had to have been adapted
3. “Standard dialect in the area”
* Immigration will have led to more people integrating and adopting their language
4. “Affect the way a change spreads”
* Multiple influences on language due to a variety of factors
5. “Not always possible to categorise changes neatly”
* “Neatly” may suggest that within society we have to have things a certain way
* Enforced the idea that language can change
6. “Consciously adopting the speech”
* People may desire to speak a certain way so want to try and talk like others
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