4.0 – Language Change Essays – Key Quotations

monkey-with-funny-hairstyleThe Media are Ruining English, Jean Aitchison, 1999

  • “English is sick”
  • Aitchison is being ironic to highlight how ridiculous descriptivist criticisms are
  • Can a language be sick?
  • Can a language die?
  • Irony shows how ridiculous these statements are
  • If English was ‘sick’ for this many centuries, it wouldn’t still exist
  • “Linguistic criminals”
  • Metaphorical
  • Ironic
  • Dramatic language conveys how ridiculous it is
  • Humorous
  • Almost as if people have nothing else to say – all complaints are the same
  • The media are “linguistic mirrors”
  • They don’t invent new words/language, they just record
  • They pick up early on new forms
  • g. snowflake
  • g. post-truth
  • Media do not affect language
  • “The complaints are puzzling”
  • There is no sense to these ideas
  • No/little evidence to support it
  • The complaints have existed for centuries so it is simply a habit
  • Linguistic prejudice reflects social prejudice
  • No matter what we do there will always be complaints
  • “The objections range over all aspects of language”
  • Critics and complainers just target the language as a whole, implying there isn’t actually any specific evidence that English Language is getting worse
  • Linguistic prejudice reflects social prejudice as people are just using Language as something to target because it is seemed to be acceptable
  • g. unlike racism, sexism etc.
  • As if we will never be able to get rid of these views because they are too vast-every aspect of language
  • Therefore suggesting how ridiculous they are
  • “language worriers are often old ones”
  • Suggests it is a social prejudice
  • Habit for the older generation to criticise the younger generation
  • It has happened for centuries, so if it was true we would have no English Language
  • It isn’t about the language but just seen as acceptable to target that instead of race etc.
  • We will always have these complaints

Conflicting Loyalties-Jean Aitcheson

Jean Aitcheson explains that changes in language originate from existing elements in language which then get exaggerated. This language change is sometimes spread as people pick up the change subconsciously when communicating with others. She argues that people only pay attention to language change when it’s dramatically different from the norm. Moreover she talks about the accommodation theory and how people accommodate their speech to be similar to the listener.

  1. “Tug of war”
  • In terms of pronunciation, there is a tug of war occurring between men and women.
  • Trudgill found that the non standard form “walkin” was used more by the men in Norwich compared to women.
  • Aitcheson concluded that women are more susceptible to overt prestige and men favour the covert prestige.
  • Women tend to believe they are speaking in the standard prestige form when actually they were using the non standard form. However men still used the non standard form more than women.
  • She stated that this tug of war between covert and overt prestige highlighted how men want to sound tough whereas women want to sound sophisticated.
  1. “Masculinity and toughness”.
  • Men use the non standard forms more regular as it’s associated with masculine attributes.
  • Aitcheson highlighted how Trudgill suggests that both men and women have effects on language change.
  • She said that men effect the subconscious changes by using the typical working class language to make them more desirable.
  • She highlighted how other men tend to admire those who use the non standard forms and subconsciously imitate them.
  1. “Women in our society are more status conscious than men.”
  • Women are more socially aware of their language and know the importance of the different speech forms.
  • Aitcheson highlights that women are consciously aiming to speak better whereas men tend to admire the “roughness and toughness” of their speech.
  • Women also encourage others including their children to speak in the standard way as it is considered socially acceptable.
  • Women are more cautious with their language as they don’t want to sound tough and therefore they are “striving to speak better”.
  1. “Subtle tugging”.
  • In the section “Wat grawss and bawd nacks in Belfast” Aitcheson highlights how variation and language change is determined by many factors.
  • The study found men dragged out the “a” in words such as bad and grass whereas women drag out the “e” in words such as bed.
  • Aitcheson highlights that temporary shifts in speech become incorporated in to normal everyday speech.
  • She states that there’s not one overriding factor that determines language change.
  • This section also indicates that differences in language can jump from different social networks, for example the Catholics and Protestants in Belfast.
  • Language changes start as temporary shifts when people are having conversations as they’re trying to accommodate each other’s speech.
  1. “Delaying change”.
  • Jenny Cheshire studied the use of non standard verb forms in the speech of adolescents in “trouble spots”. In the study, it identified that in formal situations the girls used less non standard forms compared to the boys.
  • They study also indicated that the girls were more aware to change their speech in different situations.
  • The study mainly focused on the standard form “I know” and the non standard form “I knows”, the non standard form comes from an earlier time in the southern western dialects of English. Aitcheson uses this to highlight that the boys may be keeping tradition in their speech.
  • The boys favoured the non standard speech as it made them look “tough” and it distinguished their authority in the group. Whereas the few girls and boys that turned up to school and didn’t steal were classed as “goody goody”.
  • Aitcheson made the highlighted the pull of “I knows” in Reading and connected it with the “tug of war” of language between men and women in Norwich and Belfast.
  1. “a social Phenomenon”
  • Aitcheson states that language variation is down to many factors including social attitudes, backgrounds and social situations.
  • She suggest that when a subconscious language change is noticed on a large scale, the tug of war between non standard and standard forms begins and could go on for decades.
  • The subconscious language changes are usually away from the overt prestige and are usually influenced by working class men.
  • Language differences are associated with groups and people alter their speech to be in a particular group, for example when working class women converge their language when speaking to upper class women to sound more like them.
  • In her conclusion she highlights how people’s desire to be socially accepted is a reason for language change yet most the time people subconsciously change their language in conversations.

The Forces of Creation – Guy Deutscher

The author is trying to get across his theory of ‘Creation through destruction’, where the speaker made his point that language change doesn’t have to be as negatively portrayed as it is and that even though some languages are becoming more fragmented, it’s not necessarily that they’re being destroyed as without change, language would never have evolved into the complexity of what it is today. The speaker that Deutscher has used in his essay (Dr de Troy) is arguing against those who believe that the ‘destruction of language’ is purely negative and he goes on to suggest that good things come out of what is perceived to be bad. Dr de Troy argues his point by taking examples from grammatical elements and suggested that elements such as prepositions, case endings and tense markers are developed from the basics of language; nouns, verbs and so on. De Troy uses the ‘Bakunian Theory’ and bases his presentation around an example of the transformation of the verb ‘go’ and the phrase ‘going to’, expanding on how ‘going to’ means different things in different contexts.

“Without what you write off as so much decay”

  • The author is suggesting that whilst some refer to language change as the ‘decaying’ of language, it’s actually a step forward and shows how language is evolving and therefore he is trying to persuade the reader that whilst some changes in language seem to be negative, in the long run, they’re going to be positive.
  • “Writing off language decay” is a metaphor and metaphors are incidentally at the source of language change.
  • Language destruction is stereotypically perceived to be negative, however, De Troy is explaining that grammatical structures that form complex languages would not have been formed without the destruction of language.
  • All advances in language are formed from changes and breakdowns of original grammatical elements.

“’Going to’ can be used as a future marker without any residue of the original meaning of movement.”

  • The author is trying to get across that ‘going to’ can be used in the place of words to do with movement such as ‘walking’, ‘running’ etc. This specific meaning was the original meaning of ‘going to’ however, as the author said, over time this meaning has changed and separated so that now it can also be used as an auxiliary verb in cases such as ‘going to do’ etc.
  • De Troy stated that one of the earliest uses of this came in 1482 from a book called ‘Revelations of St Nicholas to a Monk of Evesham’ in the context of “going to be brought”.
  • De Troy is arguing that although this has changed, it’s changed positively and extended the many ways that ‘going to’ can be used in a sentence.
  • The author is suggesting that ‘going to’ and its supposed condensed/slang form ‘gonna’ can both have two separate meanings. You could say that ‘going to’ could be used with or without a verb as a post-modifier, however, ‘gonna’ can only be used in the sense of ‘going to do something’ and not used as a meaning of movement as explained in the next point.
  • The example of ‘going to’ that De Troy has used highlights the grammatical change from a lexical verb to an auxiliary verb, which demonstrates the flexibility of verbs in that they can change their structure to mean different things.

“In real life, the actual meaning of what you say is often more than the literal sense of the words.”

  • Here, the author is suggesting that what you say might not be heard or interpreted how you wanted it to be by the hearer.
  • Like previously said, everyone interprets language differently and that’s why language isn’t simply in black and white – everything seems to have an alternative meaning.
  • De Troy is suggesting that whilst change in language seems bad to some people, to others it seems good, hence why there are so many discussions about it.
  • The original literal sense of words tend to change over time which alters the meaning and it depends on the hearer as to whether they interpret something in the literal sense or abstract sense.

“When you don’t know where the borders are meant to be, it is often impossible to hear them”

  • The author is trying to make a point that there are so many combinations of words and structures that learning any language is difficult.
  • When you’re confronted with a change to language, new structures and rules have to be learnt and it’s this that makes language so complex.
  • Language fusion plays a part in this as many words were historically separated, but over time, they’ve fused together and this can only be detected in written work as in fluent speech, it’s hard to detect where one word ends and the other begins.
  • “The borders” could also be interpreted as “the borders” of language, suggesting that there are many rules to language learning and the borders of these rules can’t be crossed.

“The postpositions fused with the nouns to become case endings.”

  • The author is trying to prove his theory of language erosion; language erosion (although sounding negative) happens when words fuse/merge together as described and form new structures such as new verb endings and new language rules come about from these fusions.
  • Many cases of language erosion happen when words are reduced to make them smaller, therefore they often fuse with other words and it’s not a complete eradication of the word, neither does it take away its meaning as De Troy is trying to say.
  • Language fusion creates a whole new case system and expands the English language as a whole.
  • The concept of language fusion involves the fusing together of singular words as well as the fusing of meanings; certain words gain new meanings through time and can end up meaning more than one thing at any one time.
  • A fusional language is one in which a morpheme can take several meanings at once and it’s hard to identify what is truly meant by the word that the morphemes form.

“Erosion is not only a negative influence on language, which tears away and rips apart existing structures (…) erosion is also a regenerative force.”

  • This final quote is De Troy again drawing on language erosion and trying to exaggerate his main point for his audience: language change is not something that should be perceived as negative only.
  • Without language change, the world would not have progressed the same way it has done and we would not be speaking or writing to others in the complex manner we do now.
  • Regenerative refers to the “rebirth” or “renewal” of language, and De Troy is finishing off his presentation arguing against those who have a negative outlook on change by encouraging them to look at it in a new light.


The Unfolding of Language: The Forces of Destruction – Guy Deutscher

The essay’s main point is that all languages have been in a constant state of decay and change since they began, and that there was never a ‘Golden Age’ of language without corrupted forms or ‘lazy’ pronunciations. The author is therefore arguing against those who argue that the English language is in a recent state of decay and that previous iterations of the language are somehow comparatively ‘better’ or ‘more correct’.


  • ‘Cicero, for one, did not exactly feel that he was living in the heyday of Latin.’ This is the last stage in a chain of authors referenced as complaining about language decay, starting with Orwell before moving through Schleicher, Sheridan, Swift, Cousin, Paris, and finally Cicero. Paris cited Latin as being a superior language to modern French, mentioning Cicero as an example of its golden age – but Cicero also found his contemporaries’ language to be inferior to past Latin. The author is trying to make the point that whenever someone cites a ‘Golden Age’ of language, you can almost always find a contemporary source that argues that even then language was in decay.
  • ‘Taking it from the authorities, then, it seems a miracle that language did not degenerate into the grunts of apes long ago.’ This quote is asserting that not only are claims of decay in language exaggerated, there must also be constant renewal and creation in language that prevent it from descending into less and less meaningful sounds and words.
  • ‘Decay is indeed a pervasive type of type of change in language, and what is more, it is the aspect of change that is by far the most easily observable to the naked eye.’ By this, the author means that English (and other languages) are only perceived as being in a state of decay as it is very difficult to spot new forms and words coming into common usage – on the contrary, it’s quite easy to notice corrupted grammar or pronunciations.
  • ‘There are rather more Idlefords around than you might imagine, and not just in legend.’ This quote references a fairy tale in which villagers decided that certain sounds took too much effort, and so simplified them until they eventually dropped them altogether. The author argues that this is part of a long historical process, and that many modern pronunciations that are considered perfectly correct are still corrupted versions of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic words.
  • ‘Today, a similar change seems to be in the making with the phrase ‘at all’.’ This is an example of the creation involved in language, and is an actual observable change. The author cross-references it with the emergence of ‘pas’ in French, which was never there originally and was only used for emphasis but now is considered a part of standard French.
  • ‘He argued that although verbs showed perplexing variety of vowels in the attested languages, all verbs in the ancestor language had just one core vowel: e.’ This was hypothesized by Saussure and later proven correct by the discovery of Hittite texts. This essentially shows that not only are even lauded, ‘perfect’ languages like Latin still variations on earlier languages, but also proves the creation and renewal involved in language change. Proto-Indo-European, in this case, was arguably less complex than modern languages in terms of the vowels it used.
  • ‘On closer inspection the Golden Age of perfection turned out to be an optical illusion caused by one small but critical oversight.’ This quote attests that there was never a form of uncorrupted language, and the text soon goes on to cite the real example of the English ‘chose’ as an example of this. Over time, the conjugation of ‘choose’ in English actually became more
  • ‘But we only know about this juvenile delinquency because we happen to have records from the right period. If the written history of ‘English’ happened to start at 1200, say, rather than around 800, there would never be any reason to suspect that ‘choose’ had such a chequered history.’ This references Schleicher’s hypothesis that the Golden Age of language was before documentation, and essentially argues that that hypothesis makes no sense. We might assume that the earliest documented form of a word is the way that that word had always been until then, but this is clearly not the case.

A Reef of Dead Metaphors – Guy Deutscher

Writer’s Central Contention: The writer’s central contention is that most of the language we use is metaphoric and has originated from language that used to mean something different. So when people think that metaphors are special and only used in poetic verse and creative writing, in reality they need only look to their everyday language to see a whole host of metaphors that have just died out due to the endless reaches of time and language change. Deutscher is arguing that language change is inevitable and has already happened so much that we don’t even recognise what used to be metaphors as what they are anymore; this points to his prescriptivist attitude to language change.


1.      “metaphor may at first seem entirely irrelevant to the history of ordinary day-to-day language.” This points to the central idea of metaphors changing so much that we no longer identify them as such. He identifies that people think that in comparison to other day-to-day language, metaphors are a relatively modern idea, when in fact he goes on to explain that metaphors are the building blocks of what we call language today.

2.      “metaphor is an indispensable element in the thought processes of every one of us.”- this is Deutscher dismissing the myth that metaphors require special thought, as shown in the story of Pablo Neruda in the first few paragraphs. This due to the fact that we all use metaphor, or what used to be metaphor, in most things we say.

3.      “ground-breaking”- this demonstrates that concrete terms have been transferred from their original habitat to more abstract domains. Deutscher shows us that what we consider to be abstract thinking today was, in the past, a normal and concrete term that required no deeper level of thinking.

4.      “It’s a thrill.” Thrill comes from the Latin word “thryllian” which means to pierce. Guy Deutscher points out here that even the most normal of words was once as metaphor as “thrilled to bits” probably meant “killed” or “sliced to pieces” at one point in time.

5.      “A soufflé of promises”- this shows that metaphors which have become commonplace have lost their evocative power and are dismissed as dead metaphors. This is Deutscher referring to the cycle of metaphors in which they are first founded but then as they become more and more popular, they become overused and turn into clichés which in turn become dead metaphors that people no longer recognise as they aren’t used in everyday language anymore.

6.      “They have been shown to pervade not only everyday language, but our whole perception of the world.” Deutscher here describes how metaphors extend across all of our everyday language so much that they have shaped how we see the world. This is demonstrated in his use of diagram where he establishes the “up is more” rule. The diagram logically could be going downwards and the numbers going up as the graph plummets: but we have developed this idea in our heads that up is more due to for example the fact that water level rises if there is more water. However, there is no logical reason why the graphs could not be the opposite way but this metaphor has subtly changed how we see the world and so it seems weird to us.

7.      “The truth of the matter is that we simply have no choice but to use concrete-to-abstract metaphors”. He explains here that all metaphors, even the most abstract of metaphors, have been passed down through the change of languages, and have come from originally normal ideas. This could also refer to how inexorable language change in itself is and how we as humans cannot affect this change or slow it down, so if it’s inescapable, why should it be a bad thing?

8.      “metaphor also provides the raw materials for the structure of language itself.” In this segment, Deutscher goes as far as to say that metaphor has created language structure itself. He argues that common intuition and everyday use of metaphor has shaped how we view the world and how we find out information such as that of Einstein’s theory of relativity.


The meaning of words should not be allowed to vary or change-Trudgill


“All languages change all the time,”
– Language is in a state of flux
– Maybe not Latin
-Change via:
-Pronunciation and  word meanings.
“A number of people seem to think that the fact that languages change the meanings of their words is unfortunate”
-Mainly, words shouldn’t mean what they once didn’t
–  Leads people to argue that it makes sense to determine what a word means by looking at its origin

The Eng lang “full of words which have changed their meanings slightly or even dramatically over the centuries” some words gradual change some rapid..

-Word “Nice,” has changed gradually
-Emotive words tend 2 change more rapidly by losing some of their force
-“Aweful” originally meant “inspiring awe,”
-Now means “very bad,”
“As usually happens with words with more than one meaning, the context in which the word is used nearly always makes it clear which meaning Is intended.”
-Disinterest/Uninterested malarkey
-Confusion w/ using both words
-Seemingly interchangeable
-Slight different meaning though
-Prefix “dis” often converts positives into negatives.

“Language change cannot be halted. Nor should the worriers feel obliged to try to halt it.”
-It is what it is
-if there is any danger of misunderstanding, speakers and writers should be tentative etc Avoid synonyms and give context
-Language is self regulating- can be left to take care of itself