Spreading the Word – Jean Aitcheson
- The origin and spread of language change was as obscure to the majority of linguists as the source of disease.
- [Language change] is for the most part below the level of consciousness.
- Simply staring to exaggerate a tendency which was already there
- A change tends to sneak into the language like a seed, which enters the soil and germinates unseen
- Changes… around the time of the Second World War, perhaps because of a growing awareness as Americans.
- People may only become socially aware of a change when it reaches a certain crucial point.
- A new group starts to model itself on the group which has now adopted a linguistic initiative as the norm.
- New York apparently followed the lead of… fashionable cities
The Forces of Creation – Guy Deutscher
- Without what you write off as so much delay, we wouldn’t have gone much beyond grunts and groans.
- We distinguish between ‘content’ and ‘grammar’ when we talk about a language, but when you stop to think about it, the only valid reason for drawing the distinction in the first place is meaning: we call some words ‘content words’ because they have an independent meaning, and we call other words ‘grammatical words’ because they don’t.
- In real life, the actual meaning of what you say is often more than the literal sense of the words. What you say may not be exactly what you imply. How the hearer interprets what you said may not be exactly what you think you implied.
- There are two common motives that are always behind the scene: the desire to enhance our expressive range on the other hand and laziness on the other.
- When two words appear together extremely frequently, the border between them can lose its relevance, so that when the phrase is worn down, the two words fuse into one.
- Erosion keeps pounding at words, making them shorter and shorter. But shortened words are piled up into longer expressions, and the same forces of erosion then hack away at the pile, fuse the words and condenses them into a more compact word once more.
- Erosion is also a regenerative force that constantly creates new and leaner structure from over-weight multi-word phrases.
- Erosion is a highly useful compacting mechanism which allows us to convey ideas faster and more efficiently. Erosion checks the excesses of expressiveness, just as expressiveness repairs the excess of erosion.
The Forces of Destruction – Guy Deutscher
- “What looks messy and irregular at one point in time can appear perfectly logical when traced through history.”
There are many words in the English language which don’t fit our patterns and we label them as “irregular”. However, these words are not errors; they were created in the same logical way as all others, but may not make sense to us nowadays because some of our grammatical rules have changed over time.
- “The English of today is not what it used to be, but then again, it never was.”
Language change isn’t something that recently began; it has been occurring since the beginning of communication. Prescriptivists who act like language change is going to ruin English are hypocritical, because their “Golden Age” of language wouldn’t exist if we didn’t embrace change decades ago.
- “So, like any other living organism, languages have an early period of growth, followed by a period of decay.”
Language isn’t “decaying” for no reason, and the change which are happening to English are not entirely destructive. After language has expanded for some time, it needs to change in order to keep the balance and stay up to date with society.
- “The image of a flawless language spoken some time in prehistory turns out to have been mainly a mirage. In reality, there never was a Golden Age of perfection.”
There was never a period where the English language was perfect, or even close to it. It has been changing since the day English came about and linguists simply decide when they think it was “golden” based on their own subjective beliefs and opinions.
- “The forces of destruction almost seem to leap out of the pages of practically any language’s history, but the contrary processes, the productive forces of renewal and creation, are much more difficult to spot.”
Creation occurs in English just as much as destruction, but people don’t take as much notice of the subtle changes as they do to the decay because it is more obvious to us.
- “If the changes only mess things up, then how did languages ever reach their Golden Age in the first place?”
Language change can’t possibly be bad, because it led to every good feature of English that prescriptivists care about preserving. If English had never passed the initial creation stage, then all of the grammar rules and pronunciations that prescriptivists are trying to preserve wouldn’t exist.
A Reef of Dead Metaphors – Guy Deutscher
Deutscher’s central contention is that metaphors are essential components of our language, and that all language is built on metaphor.
Metaphor is an essential component of language because it is the only way that we can describe and discuss abstract concepts (by making them/linking them to concrete concepts):
- ‘Metaphor is an indispensable element in the thought-processes of every one of us’
- ‘the chief mechanism through which we can describe and even grasp abstraction’
- ‘metaphor is endemic in the structure of language’
- ‘the mind cannot just manufacture words for abstract concepts out of thin air – all it can do is adapt what is already available … the only way we have of expanding our expressive range to encompass abstract ideas is to draw on concrete terms’
EXAMPLE: ‘understand’ originally ‘meant … ‘step under’, ’comprehend’ comes from Latin ‘seize’
EXAMPLE: ‘we consistently think of more complex or abstract notions (such as self-esteem or the economy) in terms of simpler spatial directions, up and down’
- ‘If apples are piled up in the larder, the more apples, the higher the pile’
- But the image ‘has gone far beyond this original basis’
EXAMPLE: ‘to have’ is an abstract concept, which is expressed through different metaphors for possession in all languages
- Russian, Turkish and Irish use ‘physical proximity as a metaphor for … possession’
- Breton and Tamil use the idea that ‘if something is intended for you, it is yours’
- Spanish and English use the idea of ‘what one holds or carries or siezes’
Process begins with a concrete term being applied to abstract concept:
- ‘[Words are] transported out of [their] original environment in the physical world of materials, and carried across to the abstract domain of ideas’
- ‘all the metaphors flow in once direction, from the concrete to the abstract’
EXAMPLE: ‘’tough’ is really an attribute of materials like fabrics, metals or meat’
The figurative sense may overtake the literal one:
- ‘What was once a vibrant metaphor has thus asserted itself as the usual meaning of [a word], and the literal sense is hardly remembered’
EXAMPLE: ‘curb’ was used for ‘curbing the movement of a horse’ but is now much more frequently applied to ‘curbing … power’
These metaphors inevitably lose their force and become dead metaphors:
- ‘’Tough’ may once have been a glamourous newcomer in the domain of ideas
- ‘all semblance of former vitality has been lost’
- They become ‘the stock-in-trade of ordinary language’
- ‘we trample on the relic of metaphors all the time [without] a moment’s thought’
- ‘the death of metaphors in no way detracts from their usefulness, as they simple add more means to our vocabulary’
ALL of our language has gone through this process: (see page 125 for more examples)
EXAMPLE: Old English ‘thyrlian’ meant ‘pierce’ so ‘’I’m thrilled to bits (literally ‘I’m pierced to bits’) must have been a graphic equivalent of today’s ‘it’s killing’ or ‘smashing’’
EXAMPLE: ‘’Sarcastic’ comes from Greek ‘flesh-tearing’’
The concepts and associations based on which we create metaphors may be common across languages which share no roots:
- ‘Similar metaphors are found in languages all over the world’
EXAMPLE: English ‘decide’ comes from Latin ‘cut off’
- ‘[physically] cutting or separating seem to be the source of the concept of ‘deciding’’
- This image is seen in the German, Ancient Greek, Swahili, Chinese (and others) ‘decide’
Metaphor ‘categories’, too, become dead, even if the individual term is original:
- ‘a well-established link in our mind between … two domains … conceptual metaphors’
EXAMPLE: ‘souffle of promises’ isn’t especially striking because it ‘belongs to a larger context which is familiar…food terms to describe abstract ideas’
Even functional grammatical elements were originally metaphors:
- ‘there is no known language where spatial terms are not also used to describe temporal [time] relations … prepositions … originally denoted spatial terms, and … were metaphorically extended into the domain of time’
- ‘there is hardly any part of the body which has not been enlisted as a metaphor for spatial and more abstract concepts’