5.8 – Language Change Myths & Theories

Language Myth: children can’t speak or Write properly anymorE – James Milroy, 1999  

“Certain sections of society are normally held responsible for [linguistic] decline, and one form that the complaint tradition can take is to associate linguistic decline with the use of language by the younger generation.”



  • Milroy’s point is that the claim that children cannot speak or write properly any more is not true, and never has been, since there has never been a standard of written English that has gone uncontested. 
  • Milroy outlines that the problem of the argument that ‘children can’t speak or write properly anymore’ is that it has been politicised, and descriptivists are often negatively portrayed as liberal and left-wing, and the prescriptivists that hold this view masquerade their prejudices and classism as helpful and for the benefit of English Language speakers.


  • Milroy is arguing against the idea that there was a kind of literary ‘Golden Age’ that we should aspire to achieve again, known as the ‘Crumbling Castle’ analogy (Aitchison, 1996). Milroy goes as far as to claim, ‘there was no Golden Age’, like Aitchison’s view that ’no year can be found when language achieved some peak of perfection’.
  • He argues for the fact that children’s language, in both the written and spoken mode, has wholly improved, not deteriorated – his evidence for this is: in 1850 in England and Wales, 31% of grooms and 46% of brides were unable to write their names in the marriage register, and these figures had declined to just 3% by the start of the 20th century. This was most likely due to the 1870 Education Act.


  • Milroy condemns prescriptivist attitudes and raises questions of their validity and reliability, as Milroy exemplifies a hypercorrected sentence, that prescriptivists in The Independent claimed to be non-standard, though it is, in fact, Standard English.
  • Milroy senses the only possible time for a ‘Golden Age’ to be 1940 and 1965. This seems unlikely, however, since universities were not commonly frequented, and education was not seen as imperative, this breaks the credibility of the archaic prescriptivist ideology of such ’Golden Age’.


“This myth of moral and linguistic decline.”

“What is at issue is not the child’s competence in speaking English, but his/her competence in speaking a variety known as Standard English.”

“There was no Golden Age.”

“The acceptability or otherwise of these varieties is purely a social matter and has nothing to do with grammar.”

”It is typically claimed that the schools are failing in their duty to teach children how to use English properly, both in speaking and writing. They believe that this is due to the modern teaching methods, which are said to be too permissive.”

“In an age when discrimination in terms of race, colour, religion or gender is not publicly acceptable, the last bastion of overt social discrimination will continue to be a person’s use of language.”

“For centuries now there have been recurrent complaints about language change.”

”There is no reason to believe that ‘good old methods’ were effective at all, except to punish and demoralise dyslexics and slow learners.”


One of Milroy’s arguments details the unreliability of prescriptivists. The following were listed as grammatical errors in an article in The Independent:

“She come to my house.”

“We was going to the shops.”

“I threw it out the window.”

“The government think they can do what they like.”

The last example shows, according to Milroy, “the general incompetence of language prescriptivists”. Standard English dictates that collective nouns can be used with either singular or plural verbs.


  • In my opinion, there never has been a ’Golden Age’ of language, and there never will be, as functional and semantic shifts are products of the perpetually changing language, and its speakers.
  • Language change is constant, and if prescriptivists keep oppressing identity and standardising otherwise unconstrained, and non-standard, dialects and varieties, our ideas of what language is will be wholly different.


  • ‘Language makes infinite use of finite means.’ – Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1836
  • ‘Language is the spiritual exhalation of the nation.’ – Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1836
  • ‘Language changes to reflect its society.’ – David Crystal, 2007
  • ’The only languages which do not change are the dead ones.’ – David Crystal, 2007
  • ‘No changes for the better; nor for the worse; just changes’ – David Crystal, 2007
  • ‘Rather than continually carping about the decline of the English language… understand and develop the amazing resource.’ – Vivian Cook, 2004
  • ‘There is an emergent complexity e.g. ‘lol’ is now used as a pragmatic particle signifying complexity’ – John McWhorter, 2013

George T.

Language Myth: The Media Are ruining English – Jean Aitcheson (1999)

What is the central contention of the essay?

The author’s central point in this essay is that the media did not initiate language change, but were rather imitating its current usage, and as such a delusion has emerged in the belief that the media is damaging or ruining the English language.

Aitcheson argues that the media simply picks up any language change early in its development and acts to spread this change, which is in no way “damaging” to the English language.

What language change issues/questions are raised?

Aitcheson mainly tackles the issue of prescriptivists towards language change, and how they view it as inherently negative, as well as how they view the process of language change as something forced and random – using the media as a scapegoat for what they deem to be negative language change.

Quotations from the essay

In every decade, language ‘defenders’ pop up like sentries before old castles.” – Aitcheson uses this to detract from the idea that the media is ruining language by highlighting a direct contradiction in the argument. Prescriptivists would argue that the language being “changed” by the media detracts from the beauty and value of English, however the language they use themselves would have been criticised by similar people in a different time period, so what makes the current “correct” version of English any better or more refined than what was seen as correct in the 1700s?.

“Disliked usages are frequently assumed by grumblers to be new, a sign of modern decadence. Yet, as Crystal commented, many have been around for a long time” – Here Aitcheson points out the false belief that these mispronunciations or grammatical errors are something new damaging language, citing another theorist in Crystal who disproved this idea. This point is important to note because one of the most common arguments for why language is decaying or being tarnished is how we are starting to stray from old traditions and a “standard” form of English, while often these changes have taken place over years, decades, or centuries.

“In the twentieth century, complaints about media language have escalated, above all because of the advent of television and radio.” – This could be an argument for the fact that the media is contributing to language change, with the media being so wide-reaching and popular, they may bring to light new words, grammatical changes, or other language change that people may not have heard before. However, this has also meant that prescriptivists are more exposed to a style of language which they are not comfortable with, or perhaps haven’t been taught to accept, as such with the positive spread and acceptance of language change comes an equal, negative reaction from linguists and prescriptivist speakers of English who wish to halt or slow down this change.

“And in the last ten years, Oxford-educated Lady Thatcher proclaimed: ‘It’s not for you and I to condemn the Malawi economy.” – Mentioning Thatcher’s Oxford background presents the idea that we cannot attribute these language changes to a lack of education or understanding of language, another popular argument of prescriptivists who seem to link language change with a lower standard of education or a worse socio-economic background in individuals, as they are not properly taught the language and do not appreciate its intrinsic value. Using Thatcher as an example seemingly disproves this point as even people with a privileged background and the best education are culpable in the supposed decay of language.

“Radio and television reproduce the various ways of speaking we hear; they do not invent them.” – This is perhaps the most important point as it states very clearly that the media are not the ones ruining the English language. Even if the media uses newer, non-standard varieties of English in both speech in writing, they are simply replicating the most common and popular uses of language that they are exposed to or hear. If a certain word is popular among a group in their target audience, they may make a conscious decision to include that language, sometimes if a change grows to be popular enough, they may even subconsciously start to use that change in their own language, showing 2 different ways that language change presents itself through media outlets, but never actually originating from these media sources.

“The media are therefore linguistic mirrors” – Same central point as the quotation before, the media merely acts as a reflection of popular language choices and is molded by the language use around it, rather than the other way around. I particularly like this metaphor of “linguistic mirrors” so I wanted to use it as a separate quote as I thought this would be a good term to use in an essay or critique.

“Old and new forms therefore coexist and compete; the old is not magically transformed into the new.” – This defence for language change essentially argues that there is no issue with language change because (most of the time) it doesn’t actually detract from the value of the original form of language, nor does it replace it. A change in language simply adds something to that language, sometimes a word, sometimes a shift in grammar, but it is not something which is forcefully adopted, and therefore cannot be viewed as negative, but simply neutral. If you take issue with a change, you don’t have to use it, its popularity does not make it the standard, nor does it make it correct, just as its modernity does not make it incorrect.

“The objections range over all aspects of language” – The word objection is key here as it highlights exactly the opinion of these “grumblers” An objection is an expression or feeling of disapproval or opposition, but it is not a concrete fact, nor does it hold any real power in deciding “rules” over language use. You can object to language change as much as you please, but this does not stop it, slow it down, or change its course, language change is, as far as we can tell, inevitable, and there is nothing to gain from trying to force everyone into a certain standard of speaking or writing, much like there is no use to attacking the media for supposedly being a core part of this destruction of the English language, as nothing is being destroyed or lost, but simply changed.


The ‘dirty fingernails fallacy’ – Aitcheson criticises the dirty fingernails argument as being fallacious. ‘Dirty fingernails’ stems from the idea journalists do not pay enough attention to the intricacies and details of language, and therefore do not scrub their fingernails clean. Aitcheson claims that this is untrue, and that those who believe it is have an ignorance of the way language really changes, that it is something which happens competitively with a sudden upsurge, rather than something which is nurtured and cultivated over a long period of time. For example, the word gay for homosexual had been used in San Francisco for a while before spreading quickly through the states, similarly the term “wimp” for a feeble male existed for years in California before gaining more widespread popularity.

The ‘garbage heap’ fallacy – This is the idea that journalism is junk writing, when in truth it is a demanding skill which requires papers to be written in a specific way that attracts attention, and then sustains, which takes training and practice to properly learn, and newcomers may struggle to follow these patterns. As such the criticism and objections towards the writing of journalists is unfounded and seems to serve no purpose other than making people feel better about themselves and their language use.

You and I vs You and Me – One of the most complained about uses (or misuses) of the English language. Top of David Crystal’s ‘Top Twenty’ complaints about broadcast language was the supposed misuse of you and I versus you and me, even though ‘you and I’ is used almost universally in conversational English. To add to this, Shakespeare’s own writing includes the line “All debts are cleared between you and I” – supposedly breaking this sacred rule that so many people chose to complain about and making it a much more acceptable phrase. Again this is an example of an unecessary focus on something which is ultimately inconsequential, telling the majority of English speakers that their use of language is incorrect, and that the few who use ‘you and me’ are the only ones speaking correctly.

kIlometre vs kilOmetre pronunciation – A speaker on the radio emphasised the “wrong” part of the word kilometre, as a viewer wrote in to claim it was nonsensical. However, Aitcheson writes that both pronunciations were common, with 48% of people pronouncing the word in this newer way and 52% the older.

“Mini” prefix – in the early 1900s the prefix of mini began to be placed in front of certain nouns to mean a smaller version of that object, e.g., mini-camera. This took off in the 1960s with the arrival of mini-cabs, mini-bars, and a mini-boom in the economy. It was in 1965 when the media eventually used/showed this language change, with vogues introduction of the mini-skirt in their 1965 magazines. This proves that the media is not to blame for language change, however they can sometimes be seen as inflating the spread of these changes to the English language, especially with new terms like the mini- prefix.

Conflicting loyalties – Opposing social pressures, Jean Aitchison

What is the central contention of the essay?  What language change issues / questions are raised?

Aitchison suggests throughout this essay that the sexes have a constant tug of war between standard and non-standard variations for many different reasons. This causes either a change in language, or is beginning to highlight bits of language which are going to inevitably change once one wins over the other.  She says language change is due to social situations, prestige, gender differences and is both a subconscious and conscious effort.

Changes come from contact with people, which could now be done over media. Women are more likely to have more awareness of the overt prestige and so try to use the standard more often than not. “Tug of war” happens when a change which has been happening for a long time reaches a level of social awareness, or when an old established feature might been seen to clash with a newer standard form. This type of “tug of war” could go on for centuries.

List important quotations from the essay & explain why they are important.

“Tug of war”

  • Men and women constantly show a tug of war between pronunciations of things like the suffixes ‘ing’ or ‘in’ in words like ‘walking’ or ‘walkin’.
  • Aitchison suggests that a tug of war happens when a subconscious change is noticed more regularly and so becomes a problem. Mainly between non-standard and standard forms.
  • Women tend to believe they’re speaking in the standard form when they’re not actually, whereas men believe they’re talking in the non-standard form when they’re not. 
  • Shows the intentions of both genders have different loyalties and want to seem like total opposites in social situations.

 “Women in our society are more status conscious than men.”

  • Trudgill’s Norwich study found that women converged upwardly towards the standard ‘ing’ suffix rather than ‘in’ more often than men did.
  • Women seem to be striving to seem less ‘tough’ and more well-spoken as it is seen to be more feminine
  • They’re more aware of ‘the social significance of different speech forms’ and might be more aware of any ‘social insecurity’.  This means that it’s possible that they teach children a more standard version of speech which helps veer change towards the standard. 
  • Conscious changes to language coming from the female population more so than males. Males tend to cause change more subconsciously to fit their subconscious ‘tough’ stereotyping.

“Subtle tugging”

  • Aitchison talks about the Milroy’s study and the Belfast pronunciation of ‘e’ in ‘bed’ and ‘a’ in ‘bad’. The differences between the two were due to gender differences.
  • It is highlighted that temporary shifts in speech become incorporated in to normal everyday speech. Language changes start as temporary shifts when people are having conversations as they’re trying to accommodate each other’s speech.
  • She states that there’s not one overriding factor that determines language change.
  • Language can come from and influence other social groups and networks like the Catholic and Protestant divide in Belfast.

“Girls adjusted their speech more sharply”

  • Connotations of being more strict with their choices of language, less approving of the non-standard versions of utterances and wanting to keep to the ‘acceptable’ English, more so than boys. Is this to do with social instability/power?
  • Cheshire’s study was mentioned to support this theory
  • Howvever she found that gender wasn’t the only factor as we cannot ignore an individual’s concern for how they speak.
  • “The use of non-standard verb forms as closely correlated with toughness.”

“A social phenomenon”

  • Many factors of language variation seem to be introduced throughout the essay like ones of background and social circumstance.
  • Subconscious changes happen more frequently from the male population, but mostly working class males.
  • Accommodation (Giles) and convergence/divergence (Trudgill) seem to happen in situations where people feel less familiar. E.g. working class women converging upwards towards the standard to fit with the upper class women they may be interacting with.
  • Social acceptance might be a key factor of why language changes, both consciously and subconsciously.

“Men pulling one way, and women the other”

  • The boys studied in Reading kept using the non-standard ‘I knows’ and ‘you knows’ which might have been an old form from south-westernly dialects of English. This suggests that males were trying to keep an old tradition running, therefore “delaying change”.
  • Again, just like the tug of war between males and females in Norwich and Belfast, the females conformed to the overt prestige and males conformed to covert prestige more often than not.
  • However, at the end of this section, Aitchison does explain that it is not always the case for the sexes to conform to what was said above. Another study found that girls were the ones who were more likely to be different and try more ‘flamboyant stylizing’ and the boys were more conservative (either due to male gender norm or shyness to avoid this style).

The Unfolding of Language: A Reef of Dead Metaphors- Guy Deutscher (2005)

Central Contention

Deutscher claims that all language is metaphorical and made from a “reef of dead metaphors”, however, this is not a bad thing as he explains how metaphors allow us to describe abstract concepts by drawing on concrete terms.

He argues against the idea that there is a decay in our language- just a process of going down ‘alleyways of destruction’. If language change didn’t occur, it would be hard for the user to express what they wanted to.

Although in certain contexts, metaphors can gradually become clichés through over use; in everyday speech these dead metaphors often result in grammatical structures appearing.

Language change involves processes of erosion- where metaphors become dead metaphors- but this should not be perceived as a bad thing as it happens all the time in all languages and results in expansion of our language and the ability to describe abstract concepts; there is a constant process of death and expansion.

Overall, Deutscher suggests the idea that the ‘erosion’ of metaphors into dead metaphors is a useful process in language change.

Deutscher argues for the for idea that the inclusion of metaphors in our language allows us to express abstract concepts and against the idea that metaphors are something only to be used poetically and that language change is negative.

Language change issues raised

Deutscher argues against the idea that metaphors have a purely poetic purpose and instead allow language to expand through the inclusion of dead metaphors in everyday speech.

He seems to argue against the idea that language is decaying- instead suggesting that the perceived deterioration of language is actually a process of making language more useful to us. He acknowledges that language change is an inevitable process that happens and therefore cannot be seen as decay as it changes to suit its speaker’s needs.

Deutscher believes that language decay occurs alongside language expansion- meaning language cannot be seen as decaying as there are multiple processes occurring at once. The idea that language is not decaying would therefore oppose the ‘crumbling castle’ view held by many prescriptivists.

He argues that language change arises due to a need for expressiveness- resulting in the introduction of metaphors. There then seems to be a constant cycle of metaphors becoming dead metaphors, before a new metaphor is introduced to replace the old one. Once the metaphors have become dead metaphors, they are no longer seen as figurative and so are seen occurring naturally in everyday speech as opposed to being viewed as a cliché. For example, people decided “good” wasn’t a suitable word anymore and so used “fantastic/amazing/awesome” in order to express what they wanted to express.

The main issue raised is that language change is not a negative process as it ultimately occurs to suit its user’s needs. Although poetically metaphors become clichés over time with overuse, in everyday speech the creation of dead metaphors expands the language as they become used every day without people realising it. He also argues that language cannot be seen as deteriorating as ‘decay’ occurs alongside creation.

Important quotations

“not because of any literary leanings or artistic ambitions/can describe and even grasp abstraction.”

This explores the idea that language change occurs through a desire to express ourselves and metaphors are an important part of this as they allow people to describe abstract ideas. Although poetically, metaphors may be used figuratively for creative/artistic reasons, the basic idea behind a metaphor is that we can convey abstract thoughts.

This would again relate to the functional theory that language change occurs to suit the speaker’s needs- in this case to express a specific thought.

 “Its flat journalese feels only marginally less boring than a shopping list or a telephone directory. And yet this paragraph is jam-packed with metaphors”.

This again relates to the idea that dead metaphors are used in everyday language and are used without the speaker realising it. It also reflects the idea that people have a view that metaphors are used creatively to make a piece of writing more interesting- but the fact that they go unnoticed means in speech they lack the impact seen in writing and instead are overlooked as they have become so common in everyday speech.

“They have firmly established themselves as the stock in trade in ordinary language”

Even without realising it, metaphors make up a large proportion of our language that we use every day as they are not just something to use figuratively in creative writing, they are used every day to express a variety of thoughts. This has also been the case for a long time as they are “firmly established”- meaning language change cannot be viewed as decay when the same process of the creation of dead metaphors has been occurring for a long time and is not a recent phenomenon. Metaphors are generally viewed as something to be used in creative writing but they are used every day without being noticed.

 “we all speak and think in metaphors/hardly even pay them a moment’s thought”

Deutscher makes the point that in our everyday lives we use metaphors without being aware of them. The point of a metaphor is to express ourselves and allow abstract concepts to be portrayed- therefore, our priority is to express this thought and we do not pay attention to the medium by which we do this (we don’t think of using a dead metaphor to express our idea we just use it as they have become part of our language).

Robert Lowth’s idea that the purpose of grammar in a language is to express ourselves correctly would agree with this idea. This could also relate to Halliday’s functional theory- suggesting that change occurs according to need- and this need to express ourselves leads to metaphors being used and dead metaphors being created.

“This expressive urge/bleached of their original vitality and eventually fade and die.”

This again relates to the idea that we use dead metaphors in our language without even realising it. In certain instances, the over use of metaphors results in clichés and whenever someone uses them they are acknowledged as a cliché. However, dead metaphors are used in everyday speech without people realising that are using them and without them realising that they are using a metaphor. Although the idea of bleaching implies deterioration, Deutscher explains that this change cannot be seen as deterioration as the change has occurred to meet the needs of the user. Although the metaphors have been eroded, it has actually led to an expansion of language through the creation of dead metaphors.

“Pointing metaphorically”

Metaphors also are used for convenience- if you were to say “where’s my blue shirt?” and someone responded with “I threw that away”, the word ‘that’ refers to the previous mention of the shirt. This means the act of pointing has moved from the physical action of pointing to something to the abstract “space of conversation” to refer to something previously mentioned. This is easier to use in conversation as it makes it more concise and coherent. 

 “The flow of metaphors towards abstraction is beginning to reveal how life and death in language are entwined”.

Poetically, the over use of metaphors over time creates clichés and so decrease in use while in everyday language the dead metaphors cause grammatical structures to emerge. This also relate back to Deutscher’s views on language deterioration- and the fact that also some structures die, at the same time some also emerge which, in Deutscher’s view, means language cannot be seen as deteriorating. 

“Like a reef/new structures in language can rise from the layers of dead metaphors deposited by the flow towards abstraction.”

As metaphors are used to portray abstract concepts, they become dead metaphors which accumulate in everyday language. This relates to the idea that the current language is built on remnants of the past and that structures used in language in the past integrate themselves into the language of today, forming a slightly different structure that creates change. Deutscher suggests that all language that we have today has, in some way, come from language of the past. As the language erodes, the needs of the speaker are met. After they have been eroded, they are generally not seen as a ‘metaphor’ and people use them without thinking about it. This leads to an accumulation of dead metaphors over time- which ultimately expands the language. Although they don’t have the impact they may have once had, they become a common occurrence in language. However, this bleaching and erosion formed the basis of language today.

Other theorists

Deutscher doesn’t mention any other theorists in the essay however a lot of what he talks about could be related to other linguists.

Deutscher and Aitchison seem to have similar views on language change- both viewing it as an inevitable process that occurs to suit the user’s needs. Much of what Deutscher says would oppose Aitchison’s 3 parodies of prescriptivist views. The idea that language change is not a negative process due to the growth and death of many forms opposes the crumbling castle view that there was once a peak of superiority in language. 

The idea that the language is changing to suit its users would relate to Halliday’s functional theory.

In terms of metaphor use, Deutscher’s views could oppose Paul Postal’s view that changes occur randomly as Deutscher argues that people’s desire for expressiveness catalyses change.

Deutscher’s idea that language is not deteriorating would also oppose prescriptivist views like that of Lynne Truss.


ground breaking/put forward/tough/curb the power”- at the cabinet meeting, ground-breaking plans were put forward by the minister for tough new legislation to curb the power of the unions. ‘Ground-breaking’ is something done by a shovel. ‘Put forward’ the physical act of pushing something is used to refer to someone suggesting an idea. ‘Tough’ is a property of materials where its original meaning has been translated from that of describing materials to describe an abstract idea. ‘Curb the power’ has gone from referring to controlling a horse with a piece of metal in their mouths to meaning control of the abstract concept of power. When first used, these were probably popular phrases that people consciously used- now they have become common and familiar and people aren’t shocked if they are used.

“clear/go along/erupted/leaked”it was clear that the unions would never go along with these suggestions, and the conflict erupted as soon as news of the plan was leaked to the press.

“soufflé”- critics derided the new election manifesto as nothing more than a soufflé of promises. Even though this is a less common metaphor, it may not come across as poetic or extraordinary as it has a familiar context (food). Many metaphors reference food terms- “brewing/simmering/seething/chew/digest” and so there is a link in our minds between the two, meaning we put all smaller metaphors into the broader idea of ‘ideas are food’. This allows less common metaphors to seem less poetic as they fall into the broader category that is already well-established.

“turn up/economic growth/productivity had sunk/rising salaries/down to their last supplies”- shows the association we have between up and down and more and less. No matter how complex or abstract the idea, it is often simplified to spatial direction. Although phrases like ‘turn up’ often involve the physical action of turning something up (ie: a handle), if a graph were to be drawn, there isn’t a reason why more should be up and less should be down, logically. There would also be nothing wrong if turning up the heating required pushing a handle down.

“thrill” is from the Old English ‘thrylian’ (to pierce). This means that when originally used to mean the current meaning of overjoyed, it would have seemed odd. As it was used more, the meaning eroded and the metaphor died and the meaning of the word no longer meant to pierce. Similarly, “discover” meant to remove the cover from, “decide” was from the Latin ‘de-caedere’ meaning to cut off, and “rival” was from the Latin ‘rivalis’ meaning someone who shared the same river, then meant to share the same mistress (rival in love) and now to the current meaning of opposition. When these were first used, they would have been interesting but now people don’t give them a second thought.

Most of the metaphors used in speech go unnoticed as they have ‘died’, meaning the only time people notice a metaphor is present would be in poetic/creative writing. Although you could argue that people use metaphors knowingly in their language, the only likely time someone would notice a metaphor in speech would be if someone used a cliché like “plenty more fish in the sea/all your eggs in one basket/read between the lines” and if these were used the user would knowingly include them and the recipient would notice them. The metaphors Deutscher is describing go unnoticed as they have become a common occurrence in our language that people no longer see them as metaphors.

Halliday’s functional theory would support this as people change the language for their own needs- such as the word ‘virus’ and ‘cloud’ having more than one meaning now. Similarly, blending of words like ‘brexit’ also allow people’s communication needs to be met. The arguments that could be made against Deutscher are ones based around language change due to ease of articulation as opposed to meeting the user’s needs like Deutscher says. For example, using a glottal stop to replace ‘t’ in words like ‘bottle’.

The main pattern of change seems to be that our language is built from an accumulation of language from the past. The changes could ultimately lead to a change in meaning (such as thrill) as people change the language to express themselves and describe abstract forms that, if language change didn’t occur, they may not be able to describe sufficiently. It is often the case that the literal meaning of the metaphors is forgotten as they become common.

The meanings of words in any language should not be able to vary or change

What is the central contention of the essay?

The idea that the meanings of words in any language should not be able to vary or change.

Explain the author’s central point.

 Language change is inevitable. The meanings of words will change as they see fit and those attempting to retard change are ignorant of the fact that many of our words today have drastically different uses to the ancient languages they originally came from.

What is the author arguing for / against?

Trudgill is arguing against prescriptivism, as the context words are used in helps avoid confusion.

What language change issues / questions are raised?

Does changing the meaning of a word really limit its usage?

What does it take for a word’s meaning to be changed?

Is it right to always stick to the original meanings of words?

Questions to do with attitudes to language change?

Should changes in language always be opposed?

Does using a certain word in a different way mean you are uneducated?

Questions to do with the process of change?

Can creating new meanings for words cause confusion?

Is it necessary to fuse or separate groups of similar words from their meanings?

List eight important quotations from the essay & explain why they are important.

  1. ‘All languages change all the time’ – conveys the inevitability of language change and its necessity so that the language does not stagnate.
  2. ‘No one in their right mind, though, would argue that the ‘real’ meaning of nice is, or ought to be, ‘not cutting’ – after recounting the history of the word nice, Trudgill highlights the bigotry surrounding language purists: in some cases, they forget the ‘proper’ meaning of words.
  3. ‘Confusion never seems to occur, largely because the context will normally make it very obvious which meaning is intended’ – change has caused many words to gain multiple meanings, but they are all used in very different situations.
  4. ‘After all, we never seem to get confused about the two different meanings of interested, so why should we be confused if disinterested has two meanings also?’ – other words already have multiple meanings, so giving them to others should not be a problem.
  5. ‘Even if the situational context does not make it clear what is meant, the grammatical context will: if I imply something to you, you will, if you are clever and sensitive enough, infer that same something from what I have said’ – you can easily gain the information needed from someone based off the words they use when addressing you.
  6. ‘The fact is that none of us can unilaterally decide what a word means’ – there is always conflict over the meanings of words, even though we subconsciously agree to meanings when we speak language.
  7. ‘The German verb leihen, for example, means both ‘to lend’ and ‘to borrow’, something which causes German speakers no distress whatsoever’ – other languages contain words with many meanings, so should English be any different?
  8. ‘Words do not mean what we as individuals might wish them to mean, but what speakers of the language in general want them to mean’ – language is governed by the majority, so if the general public accept a change in the English language, you have no right to try and combat that change.

What is the author’s point?

The meanings of words are constantly evolving. Using words with their original meanings can cause unnecessary confusion, when people have clearly moved on from that meaning.

Put the quotation into context: of what is the author trying to convince the reader?

You cannot stop change and new meanings in language should not be rejected.

How does this fit in with the larger debate on this issue?

It shows that language change can be the result of popular beliefs, and any confusion cause by language change can be negated due to context.

What other theorists does the author refer to?


Does the author agree with what these theorists contend?


Do you find the point convincing or not? Why?

Yes. It creates a compelling argument on how individuals have little power over language and how change signifies a wide belief throughout society.

What other issues / theories would you compare this to?

The repurposing of former slurs by groups they were once directed at, like the n-word.


What examples does the author use to support his/her argument?

The word ‘nice’ has changed meanings often over the last 6000 years, and no one uses its original meaning anymore.

The word ‘interested’ has had two different meanings for a while, but they are both used in very different contexts, avoiding any kind of confusion.

There is a defined difference between the words ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, but people use them to mean the same thing.

What other examples could be used to support / counter this argument?

Words like ‘block’, ‘troll’ and ‘follow’ now have completely different meanings due to the internet, and are only used in that context.

The Unfolding of Language: The Forces of Destruction- Guy Deutscher (2005)

Central contention of the essay:

  • He is arguing against the idea that our language is decaying, and argues that we cannot accurately define or identify ‘decay’ because we cannot label a time when language was perfect, or find a “golden age of perfection”.
  • He claims that some people think language is negatively changing because language ‘decay’ is becoming more easy to spot “by the naked eye”, but discusses that language renewal and language creation is much harder to spot and so is discusses less often.
  • Because of this, ‘decay’ is picked up on more often, and has dominated discussions about language decay.
  • Legible accounts of writing were first created when language was already developed, so we can’t accurately look too far into the past.

Language change issues/questions:

  • “Not only does language always change, but if one is to believe the authorities, it always changes for the worse”
  • “A mistake is not a mistake it is a sign of free expression”
  • “The Academic Francaise wielded its authority to protect the language from the vagrancies of change”
  • “Scholars these days seem to be losing their clout”
  • “Blame it all on irrational nostalgia”
  • “Decay is a pervasive type of change in language and what is more, it is the aspect of change that is far the most easily observable to the naked eye”

Language change:

  • The irregularity of flowers:

He discusses that every language experience irregularity, that it is normal to see these irregularities and that they shouldn’t be described as ‘evidence of decay’ as they are commonly seen across the globe.

The noun flos ‘flower’ belongs to the third declension, so according to the rules of Latin it should have the following forms in different cases:






But in practice the actual forms are: flos, florem, floris, flori, flore. So the ‘s’ has been replaced with an ‘r’.

At one point in history, ‘flowers’ was regular, however a completely regular change resulted in an irregularity forming, the middle syllable ‘s’ was changed in all Latin words to an ‘r’ resulting in many irregular words.

  • The Elders of Idleford (Grimm’s law):

It is a Fairy-tale used to describe the evolution of spoken language and how it changes over time, caused by changes in pronunciation. In the story, the villagers living in Idleford began to change their pronunciation of ‘k’ to a ‘ch’ sound. E.g. Back becomes Bach. And they eventually dropped the sound  all together, where the k became a glottal stop.

The story reflects some linguistic changes which occur in real life.

The description of this series of linguistic changes in the made-up village came to be known as Grimm’s law. It was one of the most important milestones in the development of linguistics and set off a new era of scientific discoveries.

For example, in English “I do not know” has changed over time and is now commonly said as “I dunno”. Deustcher used lots of similar examples in many different languages, to show the fact that it isn’t uncommon to see changes like this in different countries.

8 Important quotations

“The English of today is not what it used to be, but then again, it never was. What is more, English is not in any way unusual in attracting all this disapprobation, for other languages have been put in the dock just as often”

English has changed, but so has every other language. Here Deutscher is debating whether there ever was a “golden age”, saying that language has never been what it used to be, as it is always changing, There is no evidence to show that this change is negative.

“Chilling prediction of impending doom”

People are overly concerned about the fact that Language is changing, worrying that it will get worse and worse. Deustcher discusses the fact that they are actually hanging on to “irrational nostalgia” where people argue that “the apples tasted better in the past”.

“Why does change always appear to muddle and destroy, rather than build and create? And if the changes only mess things up, then how did languages ever reach their Golden Age in the first place?”

People always view change and ‘decay’ as negative things, without considering the positive. There has to have been some good change in order to get to the “Golden Age” in the first place.

“When it comes to language we are all bone-idle, and especially in rapid speech, we tend to expend only the minimal amount of energy on communication, just enough to make sure that the listener gets the intended meaning”

This is one of the reasons why language is changing over time, and supports Grimm’s law. One of the reasons why language changes is to make shortcuts, not due to laziness but to increase the ease of communication.

“Like any other living organisms, languages have an early period of growth, followed by a period of decay”

There is growth before that decay in language, we just don’t recognise growth as much as we recognise decay. Here he has compared language to a living organism.

“Past irregularities are like footprints on a sand dune. Once a breeze has blown them over, there is often no way of telling that they have ever been there”

There is no documented history of what language was like before it got to a stage where people could write legible accounts of it at the time. Meaning that we can’t accurately look too far in history.

“Languages… are natural organisms which emerged independently of mans will, grew and developed according to certain rules, and in turn become old and die: they also possess that series of symptoms which one is accustomed to and understand as ‘life’”

Language is constantly changing and evolving, whilst also showing evidence of ‘decay’. It can be described as a cycle, often where it decays to a point where it can’t anymore and so has to be built back up (e.g. “aujord’hui”).

“The image of a flawless language spoken sometime in prehistory turns out to have been mainly a mirage. In reality, there never was a golden age of perfection”

There is no such thing as a time when language was ‘perfect’, and to accurately show ‘decay’ a “Golden Age” needs to be identified. Prescriptivists often look to nostalgia and the idea that their past was when language was best, but here Deutscher discusses how there was never a golden age of perfection.

What, like makes Language Change?

Central Contention Point:

Use of “like” instead of “said”, started with American Valley Girls and became more widespread overtime using it as a filler/to recount what people have said

Argues that language change inevitable, no change would make the language dead

Myth in American society that language change is following a single path of change

Most language change starts subtly and unconsciously in the Middle Class and spreads into other classes through women leading the way

Changes because of the role of the language in society, social sanctions and social dominant groups

Why language changes – needs of its speakers, new technologies and new experiences

Issues Raised:

Is the media homogenising language? – everybody watching same selection of TV networks, mainly standardised dialects, BBC English/RP SE

Language change can begin with teens and young adults, in which some can tend to have a short lifespan – arguably unsuccessful language change as it comes and goes, adding nothing important to language

Language change compared to borrowings – people can think language has changed when it is actually just borrowed from another language

English more elegant in Shakespeare’s day? More elegant, logical and correct but it is actually not the case, just becoming different not any better or worse

Why can’t everybody use ‘correct’ English? Correct(sloppy/lazy), refers to SE but SE is just one dialect, there are many different dialects with different rules so they are not any sloppier or lazier than SE

Some Quotations:

“Language sows its own seeds of change, and social context offers fertile ground for its growth and spread.”

Can show metaphorical meaning through the comparison to plant fertilisation, signify that language itself changes through a random process like that of the random dispersion of seeds. Suggests perhaps language wouldn’t change if social context didn’t also influence it, without this, the fertilisation wouldn’t happen as the seeds, just like the language, wouldn’t have anywhere to sow. Can link it to the metaphors by Aitchison to similarly compare or suggest differences as this seems a more positive opinion of language change rather than some of Aitchison’s criticisms, e.g. damp spoon or crumbling castle

“cascade or hierarchical model of language change”

This discusses the fact that Language Change starts in more Metropolitan Cultural focal point areas which are more diverse in language varieties/regional accents/people from different countries, which all play large factor in changing language first which then spreads secondly to smaller cities and finally to rural areas last


Quotative ‘like’ – Southern California Valley Girls, “She was like, “don’t leave the house!””. Rapid expansion of use in under 40 year olds now, globalisation and spread of language – social media

“mouses”/”mice” – social context of change, chastise any speaker who uses “mouses” to describe the plural rodent

Dialect differences, “I didn’t eat any dinner” SE, “I didn’t eat no dinner” non standard regional variations. “Dinner” marked negatively with “any” and “no”

“Oxen” not become “oxes” yet due to social sanctions put on use of the latter by people in socially dominant groups

Old English “brid” changed to “bird”, at time of change, sloppy mistake and slurring to change the word. Looked down on at time but is the norm now

The Forces of Creation


  • The author is a descriptivist and his central point is that language is not ‘decaying’, but rather is part of a vicious cycle in which language erosion acts as a regenerative force that helps create compact, efficient and expressive new words.
  • Much of the transcript is that of a hypothetical speaker responding to his audience who seem more prescriptivist in nature and are questioning  his theories.  Deutscher is arguing that the so called ‘forces of destruction’ that cause modern language change are necessary, as without them language would have never developed in the first place.


  • Interesting links to the Random Fluctuation Theory. While Deutscher would disagree that language change is ‘unpredictable’, he sometimes seems to support Postal’s idea that it is a non functional stylistic change (doesn’t make language better or worse).
  • Main idea comes from the no leaps principle – change is always gradual.
  • Idea of Internal Psycholinguistic factors – that some words have a linguistic susceptibility to change (mainly seen in non content words due to their lack of stand alone meaning making them susceptible to semantic change).
  •  Deutscher also raises the issue that it is difficult to pin point early language change as pronunciation may have been around before literary debut.


  1. “without these maligned forces of destruction, language would have never developed in the first place. Without what you write off as much to decay, we wouldn’t have developed much beyond grunts and groans.”

-the common point made against prescriptivists – the fact that not only has language change always been occurring, but it has also been a necessary change at times.  

•convince his audience that their labelling of language change as ‘destruction’ or ‘decay’ suffers misplaced negative connotations as even the language prescriptivists abide to (SE) was created as a result of ‘destruction’ and ‘decay’.

  • “The forces that create grammatical structures in language are nothing other than the byproducts of destruction”
  •  ‎Deutscher suggesting that you can’t have it both ways as ‘destruction’ is always the reason for language change, therefore you cannot worship one result of destruction (crumbling castle, SE) and then suggest another product is incorrect or lesser. Even our complex grammatical structures are due to language decay (e.g. the future tense in French developed from the verb ‘have’ due to decay – j’ai joue).
  • This fits in with the wider debate as prescriptivists oppose modern language change, despite the language they use also being a product of such change. An architectural peak to language cannot be pinpointed. In many ways, modern language change is more efficient etc.
  • “All you’ll find is a peaceful story of a very gradual erosion in meaning, followed by erosion in sounds”
  • This quotation is in reference to  ‎Deutscher’s explanation of ‘going to’ becoming ‘gonna’ (more on this later). It highlights his belief in the no leaps principle – a series of minute steps, each involving only a slight alteration.
  • Language change is not due to decay but due to erosion, most often with the purpose of becoming more efficient/fast. This is seen in examples of assimilation and omission, in which the ‘decay’ of language is due to ease of articulation. While omission and assimilation may display sound differences in the spoken mode, they are however unlikely to be translated and maintained in the written mode as the user may not even realise what they are doing (Aitchison).
  • “Creation through destruction”
  • Simple oxymoronic phrase that sums up the essay entirely, words are created through the ‘destruction’ of others, whether that be semantically through metaphor or vocally through assimilation and omission.
  • “You can spit it out with passion and intone it with gravity, but there’s a limit to the amount of emphasis you can invest in this way. So, what do you do if you want to add more weight? You add more words.
  • First introduction of the vicious cycle theory occurring between the conflicting needs for expressiveness and erosion (making things shorter and more efficient).
  • Language change can come in phrases too – over time people may feel the need to use multiple words to express a singular idea in order to emphasise and express how they feel. More words = more emphasis. (e.g. idiom or similes/metaphors are a basic everyday example of this)

6) “Erosion is a regenerative force that constantly creates new and learner structures from overweight multiword phrases. Erosion is a highly useful compacting system which allows us to convert ideas faster and more efficiently. Erosion checks the excess of expressiveness just as expressiveness repairs the excess of erosion”

– Erosion acts as a ‘compacting system’ that brings about language change due to the inefficiency of multiword phrases conveying the same concept as singular words.

–  ‎Deutscher briefly mentions that in order to be expressive, we incorporate more words into phrases, despite the before and after having the same propositional meaning.

– For example, the French for ‘today’ originally eroded down from ‘hodie’ to ‘hui’, but as this was not expressive enough, they began saying au jour d’hui. Simple erosion broke this down into the commonly used ‘aujourd’hui’. Still, for some this is not deemed a sufficient presence, therefore ‘au jour aujourd’hui’ has been formed. This is a perfect example to show the vicious cycle of language change, from eroding a word down until it is deemed not expressive enough and then building it back up again into a multiword phrase. Perhaps we could predict in the future that this modern version (literally meaning on the day of on the day of this day) will be eroded down again soon.

– This then links into the final point of this quote, that erosion repairs expressiveness (too long) and expressiveness repairs erosion (not sufficient/too short).

7) “It never suddenly changed from black and white. It went through subtle shades of grey dependent on background, foreground, intention, implication”

 – This is a prime example of the No Leaps Principle. As shown in the last slide, ‘hodie’ did not simply change into ‘au jour d’aujourd’hui’, there were at least 4 steps between the two. These steps were perhaps as a result on intention in this case, as the aim was to make the word ‘today’ emphasised and ‘sufficient’ for the meaning it holds.

– This quote is interesting as it labels the external and internal psycholinguistic factors involved in language change.



The verb ‘to go’ is the main example used in  ‎Deutscher’s explanation of language change.

He mentions how these days, it has lost its status as a verb of movement as in many contexts it functions more as a grammatical element, a future marker like the auxiliary ‘will’. ‘Going to’ has managed to morph itself into a part of the structure of language

Eg : I am going to the concert = verb showing movement 

I’m gonna stay home = no status as a verb of movement and could be easily replaced by auxillaries ‘will’ or ‘shall’


1) ‘Going to’ àoriginally meant walking or traveling to somewhere

2) ‘Going to (do something)’à first seen in the 15th century (1439 appeal sent to Parliament ‘goynge to bringe hym there’)

3) ‘Going to be …’ à First see going used as a future marker in the 17th century.

4) In 1646, Joshua Poole says :

‘‘going to’ is the signe of the Participle of the future, ‘I am going to read’’

Clear evidence that ‘going to’ can be used as a future marker without any residue of the original meaning of movement.


 ‎Deutscher puts this down to ‘erosion of meaning’.

Content words are characterised by having an independent meaning, grammatical words do not.

 ‎Deutscher therefore suggests that all that was needed for ‘going to’ to turn from content to grammatical was for the erosion of its original meaning as an independent action, and the previous slide shows how that erosion occurred.


Another example Deutscher used is when he states ‘barbarism’ as the reason for our first glimpse of the reduced form of ‘to have’ in Romance languages.

‘Daras’ means ‘you will give’ (vernacular Latin)

‘Daras’ is the first written example of the future tenses in RL, it being the contraction of the phrase ‘dare habes’ (to give you have)

This contraction occurred due to fluent speech not clearly marking the borders between words as the sounds just flow into one another.

When two words (such as ‘going to’ and ‘dare habas’) appear together frequently, the border between them can lost relevance so the phrase is worn down to fuse into one (‘gonna’ and ‘daras’).

So ‘habes’ merged with the preceding word and turned into an ending.

(  ‎Deutscher actually then mentions that this is the basic reason for the emergence of the French tense endings)


I see this example as significant in two ways

1) Clearly, it provides evidence and reasoning behind the contraction of two words, explaining language change. It also can be applied to many languages, especially French as their tense endings ( – ais, -a, -ons etc) are due to this.

2) It shows the importance of the vernacular form. The ‘correct’ Latin (as the chairman puts it) for ‘you will give’ is ‘dabis’, however it was the vernacular version that is significant in this case. The writer Fredegar details how the town Daras was established due to the Byzantine Emperor demanding ‘daras’.

Some languages are just not good enough – Ray Harlow (1999)

  • The central point of the author in this essay is to examine why some people find certain languages to not be ‘good enough.’
  • The author examines how different languages have different ranges of uses. For instance Latin as a language is very restricted in its modern use (primarily being used only by people who want to read old Latin literature) where as English is the language of international air traffic, business communication, scientific publication, etc…
  • The author’s main example of a language that is seen as ‘not good enough’ is Maori, the indigenous Polynesian language of New Zealand. Linguists estimate that English is the first language of 95% of the New Zealand population and that only about 300,000 people fluently speak Maori, but over the past few years has had initiatives dedicated to reversing that so that is used in the areas of politics, education and broadcasting. As a reaction to this, some people claimed that Maori is simply not capable of being used as an official language due to the limitations of the language.
  • Ultimately Harlow’s essay argues that no language is ‘not good enough.’
  • The key question Harlow asks in this essay is why do people believe some languages are not good enough?
  • One argument for the superiority of some languages is that because they differ structurally, they also differ in the way they can express logical connections between words and ideas, which is one of the reasons it was assumed vernacular languages couldn’t replace Latin. This argument falls flat when Harlow points to the fact that often times ‘useful’ languages have similar features and that for centuries most of these ‘useless’ languages would have been used in all aspects of life.
  • Another argument is that ‘X [language] is not good enough because you can’t discuss nuclear physics in it.’ Therefore languages where you can discuss nuclear physics (or other niche/technical/modern concepts) are superior. However, this view confuses a language’s history with a language’s inherent properties. Some languages have never been used by people who needed to discuss these topics so the language never evolved to facilitate discussion of it, but if they needed to they could, just as computers were not discussed in Old English but can be discussed now in Modern English because the language evolved over time.
  • Harlow concludes that the real reason for the notion some languages aren’t ‘good enough’ is that people transfer their opinions of the people who use the language or dialect onto the language or dialect itself.
  • The question of if borrowings are good or bad is also raised? This is because ‘useless’ languages often have to borrow words from ‘useful’ languages, such as Maori using some English words. This of course ignores the many borrowings in English.
  • The essay also tackles the usefulness of language change in some ways, by showing how as new concepts like nuclear power and computers come into our society, the language needs to change so that these new ideas can be expressed.
  • ‘Unfortunately, the differences in the range of roles that languages play frequently lead people to believe that languages which do not fulfil a wide range of functions are just not good enough.’
  • The point of this quote is to show why people’s expectations of languages leads to the idea some ‘aren’t good enough,’ but that this is an unfortunate reality.
  • The author is trying to convince the reader that these languages are under-used but still ‘good enough’ and that they have the same intrinsic value as the ‘useful’ languages.
  • This fits into the wider debate of the issue by clearly showing the main point Harlow is going to be arguing across the essay.
  • ‘I recall a comment in a New Zealand newspaper some years ago, which tried to make the point Maori was no good as a language because it had to borrow words from English in order to express new ideas. English on the other hand could be seen as very flexible and vital language because it had throughout its history been able to draw resources from all over the place to express new ideas!’
  • The author’s point here obviously draws on the irony of the belief, and displays how the real issue clearly isn’t borrowings. It also ties into the language change idea that change is acceptable if it happened in the past, but not if it happens in the present.
  • The author is trying to convince people here that borrowings are not a linguistic weakness.
  • Within the larger debate it shows how the real issue may not be rooted in a language’s weaknesses but rather the public perception of the language.
  • ‘Some of [Cicero, a philosopher who composed his work in Latin]’s contemporaries were sceptical about the idea of Latin being able to express the ideas and trains of thought of the Greeks! Latin was just not good enough. However this language went on to be the language of scholarship, science, international diplomacy and literature for well over a millennium!’
  • Harlow’s point here is to show an historical example of similar ideas as his essay discusses. Latin was deemed ‘not good enough’ but evidentially went on to be widely used, which does show how these ideas have always existed but that they aren’t very accurate.
  • The author is trying to convince the reader that modern languages that ‘aren’t good enough’ are simply being unfairly judged the same way Greek was favoured over Latin, and that these beliefs are unfounded.
  • In terms of the wider debate, this emphasises how distaste for language change and types of language that aren’t the acrolect in the situation has existed throughout history but that with time people no longer care about it (moving on to new linguistic grievances).
  • ‘Some speakers of Romansh have reacted to [compounds being easily created in German but not in Romansh] by believing that Romansh is not good enough to be used in really technical areas because German is able to construct clearly defined single words for technical ideas and Romansh is not. This language ignores the fact that other languages such as French and Italian are in exactly the same boat yet obviously have no problem being precise in technical areas’
  • The author’s point here is once again the hypocrisy in deciding a language isn’t ‘good enough’ because of structural features shared by other, very widely used languages.
  • Harlow is trying to convince the reader that this is a poor justification for labelling Romansh as less useful and to show the logical fallacies such beliefs hold.
  • This also ties in with the concept that there is no such thing as an inherently bad language feature.
  • ‘Even Dante, who was a champion of the cause of the use of vernaculars … ruled out the Roman dialect because of all Italian vernaculars, their wretched savage noise is the most foul and no wonder since it matches the depravity and coarseness of their ways.’ AND ‘It turns out that people will often transfer to a language their opinions of the people whose language or dialect it is. Thus, Dante saw the Roman dialect as savage and wretched because this was his opinion of Roman people of the time.’
  • Harlow’s point is that the belief that some languages ‘aren’t good enough’ is rooted in the perceptions of the speakers of that language. Thus the issues people have with these languages aren’t truly linguistic, and Harlow is trying to convince the reader of that.
  • Within the larger debate, this is further evidence that linguistically there is nothing wrong with language change or with different varieties of language/dialects. Rather concerns over them are a social issue.
  • ‘This opinion concludes that because there has been no occasion or need to discuss, for argument’s sake, nuclear physics in Maori, it could never be done because of some inherent fault in Maori … Computers were not discussed in Old English: Modern English is the same language as Old English, only later: it should follow that Modern English cannot be used to discuss computers.’
  • The author is showing here that a language not being able to discuss a concept is purely down to there being no need to discuss the concept, and is trying to convince the reader of this with the example given.
  • The evolution of language used to talk about computers that is discussed in this quote also further supports how language change is necessary.
  • ‘If one looks at the words which are used in English to handle technical subjects, and indeed many non-technical ones as well, one sees that in fact the vast majority of these words have actually come from some other language and have been incorporated into English.’
  • The author’s point here is that English is no different from many of these languages ‘that aren’t good enough’ because they borrow from other languages. Borrowing isn’t a negative language trait.
  • The author is trying to convince the reader just how similar English is to the ‘less useful’ languages in reality. English is simply more widely used and thus has developed a wider vocabulary, it isn’t intrinsically better.
  • In the wider context this is emphasising the equal intrinsic value of all languages.
  • Within the essay itself no theorists are referenced.
  • Status vs Solidarity is a key point to this essay, so Ryan could be compared with Harlow’s findings.
  • Aitchison’s counter-arguments to prescriptivists who are against language change could also be compared to this.
  • As already discussed, Harlow uses the examples of Maori in New Zealand, Greek philosopher’s attitude to Latin, the comparisons made between Romansh and German, the comparisons between French and Romansh, Dante’s attitude to Roman, the comparison between Maori, Old English and Modern English and English’s prevalent use of borrowings.
  • Another example is that at the end of the middle ages, as the so-called vernacular languages (such as French, English and Italian) took over functions that had previously been the domain of Latin, people complained these languages lacked the polish and depth to discuss the abstract thoughts and breadth of knowledge you could with Latin or Greek. Obviously this was proven false with time.
  • The pattern of change here seems to be that historically people think new and underused language varieties are less useful only for time to show that they can be used perfectly as well as their predecessor.