4.2 Language Change Theorists – Millroy, Trudgill, Aitchison, Deutscher & Harlow

1. Children Can’t Speak or Write Properly Anymore – James Millroy

Main point:

ž Within his article, James Milroy makes a few points although the main theme running through his article is his argument as to whether there was once a Golden Age within spoken and written language.

ž Some Linguists and Theorists have commented that there was once a time in our English Language that both Spoken and Written language was perfect and unmistakeable. It appears we were all using the English Grammar and Language use was at its best.

ž James Milroy however tackles this belief and provides the evidence that suggests there was never such a period of time as the Golden Age of the English Language.

Therefore Milroy is arguing for a loss in the attitude that there was ever a Golden Age.

ž Milroy also tackles the belief that rote learning and persistent testing are the best methods for learning language.

ž Something of the past was consistently to have spelling tests as a way of trying to learn the English vocabulary and spellings and also have grammar tests. Milroy makes it clear that he does not feel such learning is always the best way to grasp a language despite the Government reinforcing such methods nowadays.

ž Milroy also tackles the view that written English is lacking proper grammar and correct spelling, whilst spoken language differently is without variety.

ž Milroy tries to disprove the idea of a “Golden Age” of language.

ž Considering the English Language was only standardised in 1755, Milroy tries to suggest there has never been such a time period of language excellence.

In the 18th century as well as 19th century, 40 percent of brides and bridegrooms could not write their own name. This disproves any belief of perfect reading and writing in that time.

ž The 20th century?

1970s, 1980s and 1990s there have been the same complaints of the loss of the “Golden Age”. Therefore it couldn’t have been in those decades.

ž Milroy senses the only possible time for such a Golden Age was between 1940 and 1965, although this seems unlikely.

ž In the 1950’s there were fewer than twenty universities nationwide. You would think therefore there is less likely to have been a “Golden Age” of language then than today when we have some few hundred universities.

It makes little sense.

However 1944 did see an introduction of the Education Act. Never before was secondary education compulsory however the introduction of this act saw encouragement for both second and tertiary education.

Milroy uses the evidence that generally children learn to read and write at school. They do not learn to speak at school.

Therefore, for all we know, speech amongst children today is something of the parent’s issue in raising their child, not of their education.

Why children “cant speak” can only be addressed as something of a parental problem.

ž Milroy uses his own personal example on the procedure of a spelling test.

ž Milroy went to a rural school in the 1940s and whenever taking a Spelling Test and receiving their marks, their teacher would draw a line of chalk on the floor. Those who got full marks would stand on one side of the chalk line whilst the others who had incorrectly spelt more than three words would stand on the opposite side of the chalk line.

ž Those with the incorrect spellings would then be given a strap on the hand and those who were continually wrong with the most incorrect spelt words were given multiple straps on the hand.

ž Generally, it would be the same children that would be given a strap on the hand. Thus suggesting that this form of rote learning was not that effective.

From the Observer

For some time I have been wondering if I was suffering from an acute shortage of memory. I remember when many children in my Primary School who were unable to read….. When exactly was the time we hear so much about, when children could all read and write and do everything so much better than today’s pupils?”

This letter acts as supporting evidence to Milroy as it to questions when the “Golden Age” was.

This writer to the observer is struggling just as much as Milroy is to find when the “Golden Age” ever took place.

Other Theorists?

ž Milroy could look to Jean Aitcheson for support. She feels language is continually developing and is not deteriorating because of generation change.

ž However, Guy Deutscher would disagree. Guy Deutscher is a prescriptivist and does not see language change as something good. Instead he would support the idea that today’s generations are leading to today’s children not being able to speak properly or write correctly.

“It does not of course follow that everyone will be certain of the spellings of supersede and dilapidate”

ž This suggests that throughout all times there can never be a Golden Age of language because not everyone will always know how to write such words as “supersede” and “dilapidate”.

ž The highly literate people even have difficulties with such spelling and because of that it seems it will always be hard to measure literacy in order to conclude when there was a golden age of English Language use.

“Teaching methods should certainly be debated, but there is no reason to believe that exclusive reliance on classroom drills and rote learning was particularly successful in the past.”

ž Milroy does not feel such rote learning as continually shouting out or using a methodical way of learning grammar and spellings is that useful.

ž In the past, the grammar use and percentage of literate children was poor, therefore Milroy sees no basis as to why on earth we would ever return to the old methods of teaching.

“Young people, it is said, are liable to misuse the language, or not learn it properly”

ž Our young generation of today are being held responsible for the reason as to why there is a decline in today’s English Language use.

ž Does this link in with all the other things we are being accused of?

ž Increased crime, increased laziness, increased rudeness and other such accusations of today’s young generation.

ž “not learn it properly”- what if it isn’t young people’s faults, maybe we aren’t being taught it properly, that is the question.

“Is there any really persuasive evidence that literacy standards have declined?”

ž Evidently there is no secure and sound evidence that such a decline is occurring. There is no concrete evidence which suggests for sure we are seeing a decline in language use.

ž Use of rhetorical tries to get the reader thinking their opinion, has language actually changed that much?

“Like complaints about declining literacy, they are largely untrue” (referring to spoken Language)

ž Milroy comments here that spoken language is not in decline either. It seems that there is no issue regarding the variety and way in which people speak today.

ž There may be issues surrounding how people speak today because speech is evolving. We tend to use more slang variants today in our spoken language such as “I’d”, “should’ve” and “could’ve” contractions. Something that is not elitist spoken language. For some this would suggest a decline in today’s Spoken language.

“There was no Golden Age”

ž This quote simply summarises Milroy’s main message within his article.

ž He feels that confident that he tries to convince as well as persuade the reader of his view by point blankly stating no Golden Language ever existed with Language.

ž Simple sentence= simple persuasive remark to all readers.

My opinion?

ž I do agree with Milroy. There has never been a “Golden Age” of language, language has never been of a perfect form, spoken or written.

ž Personally I feel we are building towards a “Golden Age” in which nationally and globally, everyone shall be literate and be able use language freely.

However we are far from reaching that day.

ž Particular words are not in decline either, such as the use of “init” or “safe” to mean good, instead, language is just evolving.

2. Conflicting loyalties and opposing social pressures by Jean Aitchison

Jean Aitcheson begins her essay commenting on how people do not pay much attention to the behaviour of others unless it differs massively from the norm. However, she comments that if a person’s behaviour is VERY different then this is mostly exaggerated by others and that this pattern of behaviour is similar in language.

Lots of people say ‘wha(t) stupidity’ or ‘ho(t) water’ but don’t realise they are doing so. However, when a few say ‘wha(t)?’ or ‘it’s ho(t)’, not pronouncing the ‘t’ sound at the end of a sentence, it is usually noticed and ‘censored,’ e.g. parents may tell their children to not speak in a ‘sloppy’ way, without realising that their own speech fluctuates, sometimes also using ‘T dropping.’

In Norwich, the Standard British English forms walking and talking alternate with forms ending in ‘n’ e.g. ‘walkin’ and ‘talkin.’ Labov noticed that listeners reacted in one of two ways to this. Up to a certain point they did not perceive the speaker ‘dropping  his g’s’ at all; beyond a certain point they perceived them as always doing so. Any fluctuation was not perceived by the listener.

The relative isolation and traditional independence of Norwich has meant that its local speech habits have remained fairly entrenched. Norwich speech was studied by peter Trudgill-a native of the city- using the same methods as Labov. He interviewed a cross-section of the population in 4 different speech styles: casual speech, formal speech, reading passages and reading word lists. He confirmed Labov’s findings that when there is both class and stylistic variation, a change is likely to be in progress. Trudgill found that in words such as ‘walking’ and ‘talking’, unlike in Standard British English where the sound spelt ‘-ng’ (a ‘velar nasal’) in Norwich it was pronounced ‘talkin’ and ‘walkin.’ This is a remnant of old style of speech. It used to be considerably more common across Britain and even in the 1930s was socially acceptable pronunciation among large sections of speakers of Standard British English.

Its widespread usage in the past is shown in rhymes and misspellings e.g. Shakespeare’s ‘cushing’ ‘javeling’ for ‘cushion’ ‘javelin’ were never pronounced with ‘-ng’  indicating that he added the ‘-g’ as he thought it was the spelling. The current standard use of the ‘-ing’ (with velar nasal) was perhaps due to the spread of a hypercorrect pronunciation in the first part of the nineteenth century, an imposed pattern like the New York ‘-r.’

In Norwich, this pattern never fully imposed and the local ‘–in’ remained. Recently, however, the alternation between the local ‘-in’ and Standard ‘-ing’  has emerged into speakers’ consciousness. Trudgill noted interplay not just between social classes, but also between the sexes in the ‘New York’ change. He found in all social classes, the more careful the speech, the more likely people were to say ‘walking’ rather than ‘walkin.’ He found that more people from the lower socio-economic groups said ‘walkin’ e.g. forms such as ‘walkin’ appeared 100% in the casual speech of the lower working-class and 28% of middle class. The non-standard forms appeared considerably more often in the speech of men than of women in all social classes- men are pulling away from the overt prestige form (covert prestige) and women towards it.   When asked, women said they used the standard form more and than they did and the men said they used the non-standard more than they did = wishful thinking.

Trudgill said this was because…

>Women in our society are more status-conscious than men, are more aware of the social significance of different speech forms.

>Male working-class speech tends to be related to roughness and toughness- masculinity which men aspire too, not desirable feminine attributes though.

>Women are consciously trying to ‘speak better’ because of their social insecurity and in their aim not to sound ‘tough.’ They encourage their children to speak this way so it aids this cycle.

>Subconscious changes, on the other hand, may be aided by working-class men. They imitate the language of other working-class men as they strive to be seen as masculine. These changes are supported by the New York and Martha’s Vineyard changes where women were more likely to use ‘r-insertion’ in both completely different places- this is a widespread phenomenon and found in Switzerland, Paris and Chicago.


To outsiders the language differences in Belfast might not have been so surprising e.g. high unemployment, premature death above average and juvenile crime widespread.  To others though it might be surprising e.g. deep-rooted division between Protestants and Catholics who rarely spoke to each other and at worst, were in open-conflict, but the varying vowel sounds e.g. ‘graws’ (grass) and ‘nacks’ (necks) weren’t between Protestants and Catholics but between men and women.

‘Provincialisms in Belfast’ published in 1860, shows the new changes between then and now, with the vowels ‘a’ and ‘e’. Compared with the mid-nineteenth century more words spelt with ‘a’ are pronounced as though they are spelt with ‘aw’ (e.g. bawd, graws etc). On the other hand, fairly pronounced ‘Irishisms’ of the nineteenth- century such as ‘wren’ ‘desk’ as ‘ran’ ‘dask’ are on the decline. On investigation, it appears that men are dragging ‘a’ words (bad, grass, hand) in one direction and women ‘e’ words (bed, best) in another.

Pronunciations such as ‘bawd’ and ‘graws’ were highest in inner city Belfast; higher number of unemployed, young males.

Shop assistants matched up the language of their customers, seen in Labov’s New York department store survey. This linguistic accommodation is the way that alterations are picked up, according to some sociolinguists. Second, the shop-assistant phenomenon suggests that changes move from one network to another via weak links. When people speak to one another they simply reinforce these trends.


In Reading, it is not uncommon to hear sentences such as ‘we knows how to do that’ ‘they calls me all the names under the sun’ etc. Jenny Cheshire, a linguist at the University of Reading, studied the incidence of these non-standard verb forms in the speech of a number of playground adolescents in places noted as local trouble spots. She noted that among the ‘tough’ children (13 boys and 12 girls studied) these non-standard verbs alternated randomly in their usage. However, there was a clear pattern in their distribution. In casual speech, the overall average of the non-standard forms was fairly high, around 55%. In formal speech e.g. with teachers it was 25%.  There was little difference between the use of non-standard English in casual speech but in formal the girls’ percentage of non-standard language was much lower than that of the boys’.

There is some evidence that these forms of language in Reading are not an innovation but a relic from an earlier time when in Southern-western dialects of English, there was an ‘–s’ all the way through the present tense e.g. ‘I knows, you knows, he knows she knows’ etc. This verbal paradigm gradually lost ground as Standard British English began to spread through London. So perhaps the Reading adolescents are just maintaining an old tradition and so aren’t innovators, but the delayers of a change which may be spreading from above towards Standard British English.


Jocks wanted to follow a conventional lifestyle and the burnouts wanted to breakaway. This was a pattern among teens at Belten High in Detroit, studied by Penelope Eckert. So these teens tried to be as different as they could e.g. wore different clothes, listened to different music etc. Each group also adopted a different style of language; pronunciations, expressions and intonation patterns. Take the sound in the first syllable of words such as mother and butter known as the (uh) variable. Jocks used the nearest to the standard heard in British English e.g. hut, some, whereas the Burnouts used a non-standard vowel like the sound in British put, foot. The teens in neither group (the ones in between) or breakaway Jocks or Burnouts used a variant of the two.   This is an example of geographic diffusion.


Changes usually originate from elements already in language which get borrowed and exaggerated.

There is a grain of truth in that language changes are catching, like a disease, since people tend to conform to the speech habits of those around them. However, in other aspects the disease metaphor breaks down as people do not want to catch diseases. Changes can also be subconscious- people pick language changes up when talking to others without realising it.

Third, conscious language changes are usually in the direction of overt prestige, such as standard British English. These often originate from the middle or upper class and are usually imitated by women. Subconscious changes are usually away from overt prestige and often begin by working-class men, whose speech habits are often associated with toughness and masculinity so is most common in men – covert prestige.

Fourth, people often accommodate’ their speech to fit others’ in minor ways, picking up other’s accents and passing to other friends.

‘The spread of language change is essentially a social phenomenon, which reflects the changing social situation.’ JEAN AITCHESON



  • The central point made by the author in this essay is that language is changing all the time and despite many people objecting to it and thinking it is for the worst it can not be stopped and is not really a good or bad thing but just a inevitable event that has to take place due to the fact society and people change all the time and therefore the language must change with it.
  • The author is a descriptivist arguing that language does change and there is nothing we can do about it but that there is nothing we should want to do about it because it is not a bad thing. Language changes especially in meaning but despite arguments that this causes confusion the author Trudgill goes on to argue and give examples that this does not cause confusion at all due to context used or due to the fact that the newer version of the meaning of a word has become so much more commonly used than the older version therefore there is never confusion.
  • The author is arguing against prescriptivists and those who claim that language change is a negative thing because the change in meaning causes confusion and is a result of misuse of language as well as ignorance and laziness.  He is also arguing against people who think we should try and stop language change and that instead we should look to a word’s origins because this is the ‘real’ meaning of the word. The author argues that it is not wrong to use different meanings for words and that we shouldn’t try and stop languages from changing because there is nothing bad about it. They are all a result of different types of changes, usually social changes and that it does not cause confusion.


  • Disinterested and uninterested

Interested has had two meanings, first meaning ‘having a personal involvement in’ and the second meaning ‘demonstrating or experiencing curiosity in, enthusiasm for or concern for’.  This has led to two different negative forms of interested to apply to the two different meanings. However in recent years disinterested has started to be used to also mean ‘uninterested’. The author comments how people have said this is down to ignorance and the author agrees that the new use of disinterested probably came from people not knowing it’s original meaning but he disagrees that it causes confusion because the context in which it is used will always indicate the meaning and that it is not a misuse of the word because if everyone is using the new meaning or at least everyone understands the new meaning then how can it be misuse? The author also points out how the new use of disinterested has gained benefits like new distinction with disinterested seeming to be stronger in meaning than uninterested with disinterested ‘indicating real, positive lack of interest’ whereas uninterested refer to ‘simple apathy or indifference’. Another benefit is the possibility of a single-word noun corresponding to the adjective. ‘Uninterestedness’ or ‘uninterest’ was never used therefore people had to say lack of interest and now they can say ‘disinterest’.

  • Imply and infer

These two words have different meanings and we are taught that they should be used differently with ‘she implied he was stupid’ meaning she was suggesting or hinting that he was stupid without outright saying so. Whereas ‘she inferred he was stupid’ meaning that from his behavior/speech she was able to gather that he was stupid. However people now do use infer to mean imply and it is very unlikely to cause any confusion because you can always tell from the context used either situational or grammatical. People will argue that if you use infer the ‘wrong’ way then you are careless and uneducated but the author disagrees and argues that if everyone understands you and others do use it as well then why should it be wrong?

  • Lend/borrow and learn/teach

These pairs of words are called converse terms because they are pairs of words which are related to each other in a way which they can both be used to mean the same thing. In some dialects they are always distinguished but speakers of other dialects they do not observe the distinctions. Purists argue that we should let this ‘potentially confusing variation’ happen between dialects. But the author agues that it causes no confusion of meaning because speakers of the different dialect will always understand one another and the context or the use of prepositions (from/to) will make it clear. The author says have it is difficult for purists to argue that there is anything wrong in failing to observe such distinctions.

  • Nice

The word nice has had a gradual change in meaning with it changing from meaning ‘to be ignorant of’ to ‘foolish/shy’ to ‘modest’ to then ‘delicate’, ’considerate’, ‘pleasant’, and finally ‘agreeable’. The author argues how people will say that we should stick with the first meaning because this is the ‘real’ meaning but no one would ever argue that we should use nice to be ‘to be ignorant of’ nowadays so why should we with any other word. This has also happened with words like ‘aggravate’ but people argue we should use that only to mean ‘make worse/more serious’ rather than the more recent meaning of ‘irritate’ but the author argues why should we argue against the change in meaning of aggravate but not nice?


  • Although Trudgill does not specifically refer to any theorists, he does mention purists and therefore could refer to Lynn Truss who argues that language change is bad thing and that we should try and stop it because it has become a result of laziness and ignorance which is exactly what Trudgill is arguing against. Trudgill talks about how language change is a result of changing society and different dialects and that it is not a bad or good thing but merely an inevitable change that we can not try and stop because language is a result of what all speakers want from it not from what individuals want from it. Those who try and go against what the majority are doing will have trouble being understood is what Trudgill argues. He does in some places agree that changes have come out of ignorance because people have used different meanings for words because they have not known the original meaning but he disagrees that this has caused a decay in language or that these changes are undesirable
  • Trudgill could have also included Jean Aitcheson because Aitcheson also argues that language change is inevitable and is not a good or bad thing. Both these authors argue against opinions that language is decaying and that it is a result of laziness like Aitcheson says in her parodies of theories, damp spoon, infectious diseases and crumbling castle.


‘Language change cannot be halted’ I think this quote from Trudgill is important because it sums up his whole point from the essay because he has been arguing that despite people having so many opinions and standards about language change and whether it is bad or good, it is pointless trying to stop it because there is no way to stop it. As long as society and people are changing so will the language because it has to keep up.  The author is trying to tell the reader that no matter what their opinion on language change, that language will never stop changing so there is no point trying to stop it or stay in the past and that they might as well embrace language change because they will never get their own way of stopping it if that is what they wanted.

‘Languages are self-regulating systems which can be left to take care of themselves’

This is important as it highlights again why we can’t control language change because it is a result of society and no one ever means to change language it just happens. This supports the author’s argument that you can not halt language change because we have no control over it, it changes by itself and we can never tell when it is going to change therefore how could we ever stop it. We can not control how people speak therefore we can not stop language from changing.

‘‘When is misuse not misuse?, the answer is clearly ‘when everybody does it.’’

This points out how the author is arguing against the people who say that language change is a result of ignorance and people misusing the words. This shows how the author agrees that at first it may have been misuse of the word but if this misuse then continues to grow and more and more people use it then people can no longer call it misuse because if other people use it and understand it then how can it be wrong, it is just another part of language. The author is trying to persuade the reader that there is no wrong language, there are preferred and less desired forms of language but these changes due to opinion but language is not wrong if others also use words and understand your meaning.

‘Words do not mean what we as individuals might wish them to mean, but what speakers of the language in general might wish them to mean’

This shows how the author is saying that everyone with their own opinion about language change is entitled to their opinion and can obviously think what they want too but they can not expect for anything to come from their opinions because they can not control language. Language is a result of a common use by people of words and meanings and therefore if many people want the same word or meaning then it will probably become part of a language but one person can not control language or what people say. People will say what they want to say but if no one understands you then what is the point in you speaking like that?

‘The only languages which do not change are those, like Latin, which nobody speaks’

This is the author arguing that languages have to change because they are a result of communication between people and the way people speak. You can not stop it changing because people will always talk and always communicate using these languages and so there has to room for these changes because people change the way they speak and change what they speak about. Latin is a dead language and no one uses it anymore and this is why it doesn’t change because it is not subject to social changes and speech changes but languages that are still in use have to be changed.

‘The language will perhaps have lost something, but it will also have gained something’

The author is pointing out how language change can not be seen as bad thing because no matter if we lose something from a change there are always bound to be benefits and gains that add to the language. The change can not be seen as bad because it does not make our lives any worse having different words and meanings, it just changes the language around a bit and every loss has a gain and the author is saying why do we not focus on what we have rather than what has been lost because we can’t get back what was lost. He is arguing that those that argue against language change have a pointless debate because if something in language has been lost it has been lost for a reason and so it is not going to come back or at least not easily.


I do agree with Trudgill’s viewpoint because I agree that language change is inevitable and can not be stopped and therefore I also agree that those who want to stop it shouldn’t because there is not point, they can’t, its impossible. As long as people are speaking and communicating and society is changing, the language will change with it. I agree that some parts of language change may have originally been ignorance but that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing and that all language change is not a result of laziness and stupidity.

4. Some languages are just not good enough – Ray Harlow

Central Contention – Some people have the idea that some languages are just not good enough – because of several things including:

  • They are messy in terms of forming words and contain few compounds and instead phrases are needed.
  • They are not used as official languages in areas such as admin, business communication, international air traffic, scientific publication etc.
  • In the past, people disliked languages that they saw as ugly.

The author seems to doubt the fact that some people say that some languages are just not good enough.

He agrees that some languages are seen as ‘not good enough’ but he challenges that if things had been different, they would not be seen in this way.

Harlow uses Romansh, a language spoken in the south-east of Switzerland, as an example. Romansh is seen as a poor language because it cannot combine words to make compounds and instead has to use phrases. And some people believe that because of this inability, it is not good enough to be used in really technical areas of life.

Italian is beautiful, German is ugly – this is a broad idea which denotes that people will often transfer to a language or dialect their opinions of the people whose language or dialect it is. For example, Dante (Italian poet of the middle ages) saw the Roman dialect as savage and wretched because this was his opinion of the Roman people of his time.

X is not good enough because you can’t discuss nuclear physics in it – this suggests that English and languages such as Russian and German are better than ‘X’ because there are topics you can discuss in one but not in the other.

‘Most languages are the first language of some community and serve the everyday functions of that community perfectly well.’ – Harlow is saying that every language serves a purpose and in relation to this, no language is useless or ‘not good enough’.

‘English expanded its vocabulary in a variety of ways over the centuries so as to meet the new demands being made of it.’ – Harlow is saying that English is one of the ‘great’ languages because it has developed with the times and with advances in areas such as technology.

‘If history had been different, they could have (been international languages of science or diplomacy), and then we might have been wondering whether perhaps English was ‘just not good enough’.’ – This is the author’s main thought throughout. He suggests that all it would have taken is a slight change in the past to affect which languages are more well known that others.

‘All languages are capable of the same types of expansion of vocabulary to deal with whatever new areas of life their speakers need to talk about.’ – Harlow is saying that no one language should struggle to develop but it is the development of the people that use that language that affects vocabulary.

‘Not only do they not act as languages of science, of international communication, of high literature, they are inherently inferior and could not be used in these ways.’ – this is why Harlow believes people see some languages as ‘not good enough’, both because of initial prestige and their inability to better this.

‘This sort of opinion can be seen particularly strikingly in societies where a minority language is spoken alongside a major language.’ – Harlow points out that there can be numerous languages within one society and that one tends to be the more highly looked upon language with another having limited uses.

5. Spreading the Word – Jean Aitcheson

Aitcheson discusses how language change occurs in two ways, named ‘pressures from above’ (conscious changes) and ‘pressures from below’ (unconscious changes).

  • ‘Pressures from above’ or ‘conscious changes’ is when we are aware of the change we are using: “changes which people realise are happening and actively encourage”.
  • ‘Pressures from below’ or ‘unconscious changes’ is when changes spread without awareness: ‘changes which people do not notice’.

New Yorkers

  • Labov’s New Yorkers are an example of ‘pressures from above’ as they ‘show a strong dislike for the sound of New York City speech’.
  • Those who were upper middle class inserted the ‘r’ in words such as ‘bear’ and ‘beard’ more frequently in casual and formal speech suggesting that the ‘r-insertion’ is socially prestigious.
  • Those who were lower middle class and working class inserted the ‘r’ less frequently in casual and formal speech, but when reading word lists, pairs and passages they actually inserted it more frequently. This is an example of a conscious change or ‘pressures from above’.
  • Labov claims that ‘the hypercorrect behaviour of the lower middle class’ is an ‘indicator of linguistic change in progress’
  • The lower middle class members tend to be socially and linguistically insecure and so they are anxious to improve their status. Therefore they are more likely to be aware of the forms of ‘correct’ speech and so in careful speech will insert the change
  • Eventually they get used to inserting the change into careful speech, and it begins to move into their casual speech also.
  • In this way the proportion of the change (in this case the r-insertion) will gradually creep upwards.

Martha’s Vineyard

  • Martha’s Vineyard is situated off the east coast of America, part of the state of Massachusetts. Each summer it has over 40,000 visitors.
  • The eastern part of the island is more densely populated by the permanent residents and is mostly visited by ‘summer visitors’. The western part is where most of the original population live.
  • Thirty years previously, a linguist had visited Martha’s Vineyard and interviewed the older families of the island. When Labov compared his findings, he discovered that the vowel in words such as ‘trout’ and ‘white’ had changed.
  • He interviewed a cross section of the islanders (excluding the summer visitors) after devising questions and passages that would display this change.
  • Labov discovered that (regarding this change) there was no ‘conscious awareness on the part of the islanders that it was happening’.
  • This is an example of an unconscious change or ‘pressures from below’.
  • ‘To summarize, Labov found that, compared with mainland America, a change was taking place in certain dipthongs on Martha’s Vineyard. This change seemed to be most advanced in the speech of people in their early thirties and forties, and was particularly far advanced in the speech of a number of fishermen in [the western part of the island]’
  • This suggested that the change began with a small group of fishermen living on the west of the island, and had then spread.
  • Labov discovered that the fishermen had begun exaggerating a tendency rather than altering the way they talked.
  • The vowels that had changed appeared to be an ‘old fashioned’ feature in the fishermen’s pronunciations.
  • The reasons behind the change seem to be the rise in popularity of the island as a tourist destination and the disapproval of these ‘summer visitors’ by the old inhabitants.
  • The fishermen were seen as the examples of the traditions of Martha’s Vineyard and were looked up to by the younger islanders.
  • They began to subconsciously imitate the vowel, to identify themselves as ‘true islanders’.
  • This was supported by the fact that the change was much more prominent amongst those who intended to live on the island permanently.
  • “Middle-aged, lower-middle-class speakers tend to adopt the formal speech patterns of the younger, upper-middle-class speakers. This tendency provides a feed-back mechanism which is potentially capable of accelerating the introduction of any prestige feature.”
  • “[The fishermen] did this seemingly subconsciously, in order to establish themselves as an independent social group with superior status…”
  • “… in both places the changes took hold when one group adopted another as its model.”
  • “A change tends to sneak into a language, like a seed, which enters the soil and germinates unseen. At some point, it sprouts through the surface.”
  • “Changes from above tend to be those moving in the direction of the socially accepted norm, while changes from below tend to be those moving away from it.”

6. A Reef of Dead Metaphors by Guy Deutscher

Central Point:

The metaphor not only alters the meaning of existing grammatical elements but through its ability to transform content into structure. The metaphor is also involved in creating those grammatical elements in the first place.

Whereas in poetry metaphors turn into empty clichés once they “die” of overuse, in everyday language dead metaphors are the alluvium from which grammatical structures appear.

Metaphors are everywhere not only in language but also in our mind.

Arguing For:

We use metaphors not because of any literary leanings or artisitic ambitions but quite simply because metaphor is the chief mechanism through which we can describe and even grasp abstraction.

Arguing Against:

The convential idea/ image of the metaphor being purely used as the “language of poetry”, the summit of the poetic imagination.

Example One:

“At the cabinet meeting, ground-breaking plans were put forward by the minister for tough new legislation to curb the power of the unions.”

This extract from a report can be accused of many things but not of being poetically inspired and yet the paragraph that this sentence is taken from is jam-packed with metaphors.

“ground-breaking” is something you do with a shovel not with a plan.

“tough”  is an attribute of materials like fabrics, metals or meats. “Tough” has been transported out of it’s original environment in the physical world of materials and carried across to the abstract domain of ideas.

These two metaphors and the many more in the passage all “flow” in one direction from the concrete to the abstract. In every one of them concrete terms have been transferred from their original habitat to more abstract domains.

Thus showing that even the most tedious prose is ridden with metaphors.

Example two:

Suppose during an election campaign you read: “ critics derided the new election manifesto as nothing more than a soufflé of promises”

Although you may have never heard such a metaphor before  it does not strike itself to be something out of the ordinary.

This is because the metaphor: “ a soufflé of promises” belongs to a larger context which is familiar.

You will have certainly encountered many similar images that use food terms to describe abstract ideas, thoughts and emotions for example People speak of troubles: “brewing”, “simmering”, “fermenting” etc.

So there is a well –established link in our minds between the two domains which unites all the individual images into a broader conceptual metaphor: “ideas are food”.

This shows that most metaphors even new metaphors used in said texts and language are familiar on a deeper level leading to our lack of realisation that they are even metaphors.

Example three:

In theory there is no reason why graphs shouldn’t be drawn with “down” meaning “more” and “up” meaning “less” like this chart below:

The diagram may look odd but there is nothing wrong with from a logical point of view.

They only appear to be strange because they go against the “more is up” convention.

This example highlights how the conceptual metaphor: “more is up” has taken over much more than just language and has become so deeply entrenched in our minds that it even influences how we plot graphs.

Example four:


“Goes back to an old English verb “thryllian” which originally meant pierce.

The current sense of “thrill” must have started out as a metaphor with some shock value: “I’m thrilled to bits” must have been a graphic equivalent of today’s “it’s killing”.

But as the image became familiar and established the metaphor was bleached of its vitality and died and eventually the original sense fell by the wayside so that today “thrill” is only a skeleton that betrays no trace of its metaphoric origin.

This highlights that almost every word was one a thriving image or metaphor.

Example five:


We have “hands and legs”, we have “dandruff and the flu” and we have “family and friends”

We all think that “have” is not some fancy optional component to a sentence but a necessary basis of the basic formation.

It is difficult to imagine even having the most basic of conversations without the use of the word “have” somewhere.

And yet even though “have” is the “bread and butter” of formations it is an abstract notion quite unlike physical activities such as “kicking something”.

What do we actually have when we “have” something?

This shows that the metaphor is as rife in the plainest day to day chit chat as it is the most highfaulting prose.

Other theorists:

Jean Paul – language is nothing but “a dictionary of faded  metaphors”

Agrees as whilst in poetry, metaphor which have expired through over use are dismissed as faded clichés, ordinary language is not so prodigal.  The death of metaphors in no way detracts from their usefulness as they simple add more means to our vocabulary.

But he also believes that even Jean Paul’s radical characterization does little justice to the role of the metaphor as it turns out that the metaphor is not only a chief supplier to our store of words it also provides the raw materials for the structure of language itself.

For example:

The “Encyclopaedia Britannica” begins its article on the concept of “space-time” in Einstein’s theory of relativity with the following declaration: “In physical science, single concept that recognizes the union of space and time, posited By Albert Einstein in the theories of relativity. Common intuition previously supposed no connection between space and time.”


Whilst physicists may not have identified the relation between space and time in their theories until a century ago, everyday language proves that “common intuition” has recognized this link for many thousands of years.

Even if we are not always aware of it we invariably speak of time in terms of space and this reflects the fact that we think of time in terms of space.

Ie if we consider some of the simplest words we use to describe spatial relations : “in”, “at”, “by”  all reflect such a notion.

Space                                                                  Time

“from London to Paris”                                    “from Monday to Friday”

All the above prepositions originally denoted spatial terms and all of them were metaphorically extended into the domain of time.

The link between time and space is so entrenched in our cognition that it is extremely difficult to extract ourselves from it and appreciate that time cannot literally be “long” or “short”. Time cannot go “forwards” or “backwards” – time doesn’t actually go anywhere at all.

However as these concepts are so deeply rooted in our cognition it is hard for us to even think that such prepositions are metaphors at all.

Important Quotations

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

Metaphors hold a significant position in our everyday language they are not just literary devices but form the basic structures of what we speak and are constantly in use.

Backs up his claim that “the metaphor is not only a chief supplier to our store of words it also provides the raw materials for the structure of language itself”

“Like Monsieur Jourdain, who all his life has been speaking prose without knowing it, we all speak and think in metaphors. In ordinary language, we trample on the relics of metaphors all the time, and hardly even pay them a moments thought”

Metaphors have integrated into our language to the extent in which we don’t realise we are using them.

For example: We do not think when we are using the infinitive verb “have” that we are in fact using a metaphor.

Robert Lowth would agree: “the principle design of a Grammar of any language is to teach us to express ourselves with propriety in that Language”

When we learn language (our mother tongue at least) we are not concerned what each element is i.e. this is a metaphor but more how it will help us to communicate more successfully.

“The truth of the matter is that we simply have no choice but to use concrete-to-abstract metaphors. And when one stops to think about it, this is not surprising, since after all, if not from the physical world, where else could terms of abstract concepts come from?”

Metaphors are vital in language and it is clearly obvious that they shape language so much for the only way we can develop a name for something we do not know is by taking it from something we do.

“’Pointing metaphorically’ is both extremely common in language, and has all the point in the world to it, for it helps to maintain coherence over long stretches of discourse, and allows us to refer to people and objects concisely and efficiently”

“Pointing Metaphorically”-

Looking in a shop window: “Do you like that?”

“That” refers to something which can be pointed at

But in this conversation….

“Darling, do you have any idea where my blue Marks and Spencers shirt is?

“Oh, I chucked that away ages ago”

“That” is used as physical pointing as you can not point at a shirt that is no longer there.

We use metaphors for convenience – it is easier to say “that” then “Oh, I chucked the blue Marks and Spencers shirt away ages ago”

“Like a reef, which grows from layer upon layer of dead coral skeletons, new structures in language can rise from the layers of dead metaphors deposited by the flow towards abstraction.”

From old metaphors comes language as we know it today. Essentially all language is just the remains of the past.

Jean Aitcheson would agree: “We in the twentieth century are the direct descendents of this eighteenth-century puristic passion”

Our language today is the result of our ancestors.

7. Guy Deutscher – A Reef of Dead Metaphors

What is the central contention of the essay?

“Metaphors are used because the only way we have of expanding our expressive range to encompass abstract concepts is to draw on concrete terms.”

  • That the spread of metaphors reflects the way that language change is spread.
  • That language changes and erodes, like metaphors turn into dead metaphors, but that this happens in all languages, therefore erosion in language should not be seen as a negative thing as it allows us to expand our language in order to encompass and describe abstract concepts.
  • He claims that all language is metaphorical, being made of a “reef of dead metaphors”.
  • Deutscher is reluctant to believe that language is deteriorating. He does acknowledge that there seem to be some long-term trends, such as the loss of complex grammatical forms, however he claims that our language is expanding as well as eroding.
  • Overall, Deutscher’s idea is that language change, here exemplified by the erosion of metaphors into dead metaphors, is useful and builds the basis of modern language.

What is the author arguing for?

Deutscher is a radical prescriptivist as he talks about how language change is necessary and good for our language, as erosion allows us to create new meanings which are more useful to us.

What is the author arguing against?

Deutscher is arguing against the idea that language change should be perceived as something negative, as our entire language is built on a “reef of dead metaphors”, and that if language was static we would find it more difficult to express abstract concepts.

What examples does the author use?

“ground breaking”, “put forward”, “tough”, “clear”, “go along”, “leaked”, “erupted”, “holding back”, “growth”, “on top of the facts”

Of what are these examples evidence?

These examples are evidence of how we use metaphors in everyday speech without even realising it. Such examples are called “dead metaphors” as their literal meanings have been ignored or forgotten. These are the metaphors most commonly used in spoken language, and Deutscher uses them to show the reader that these dead, but extremely useful metaphors have only come about due to language change.

What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?

Deutscher does not refer to any other theorists in this essay; however he could refer to linguists such as Jean Aitchison, as she takes a similar stance on the subject, believing that language change is inevitable and is a good thing as it enables a language to suit its users. Deutscher could also refer to Lynne Truss, whose stance is completely different from his own. She feels that language change is a bad thing and that everyone should adhere to the rules of language and should be unwelcoming of change.

List six important quotations from the essay and explain why they are important

“Metaphors are used because the only way we have of expanding our expressive range to encompass abstract concepts is to draw on concrete terms.” ,“We use metaphors not because of any literary leanings or artistic ambitions, but quite simply because metaphor is the chief mechanism through which we can describe and even grasp abstraction.”Deutscher points out how useful metaphors, and therefore language change, are to our everyday expression of ideas.

“This expressive urge also drives us to use the same images again and again, but through such over-use the metaphors are bleached of their original vitality and eventually fade and die.”– Deutscher explains how metaphors turn into dead metaphors which are used every day without us noticing it.

“…tracing a stream of metaphors that runs right through language and flows from the concrete to the abstract.  In this constant surge, the simplest and sturdiest of words are swept along, one after another, and carried toward abstract meanings.  As these words drift downstream, they are bleached of their original vitality and turn into pale lifeless terms for abstract concepts — the substance from which the structure of language is formed.  And when at last the river sinks into the sea, these spent metaphors are deposited, layer after layer, and so the structure of language grows, as a reef of dead metaphors.”- Here, Deutscher points out how the erosion of language is the basis of our language as it is today. He highlights the fact that erosion of older language creates room for growth and expansion so that language can suit the user’s needs better.

“try thinking about it this way: why are graphs plotted to show that more is up and less is down? In theory, there is no particular reason why graphs shouldn’t be drawn with ‘down’ meaning ‘more’, and ‘up’ meaning ‘less’.”- Deutscher points out the fact that metaphors affect the logical way in which we think and see the world

“If one only pauses to think about these images, one is aware that it’s really a steak that is tough, not legislation, or that what really rises is water, not unemployment.”- This highlights Deutscher’s opinion that if we words such as ‘tough’ or ‘rise’ are actually used incorrectly, therefore why is it not O.K for us to use other language incorrectly?

8. The forces of creation – Guy Deutscher

This essay took the form of a script from a speech made by Dr Chris de Troy at a language conference followed by a brief summary by Guy Deutscher. I’m not sure if this lecture actually happened, or if Deutscher invented de Troy to illustrate a point, but de Troy is a descriptivist who makes the point that language change is a cycle of destruction and creation. His opposition is personified in a member of the ‘Royal Society for the Protection of the English Language’ who makes snarky comments about de Troy’s theories and is then outmanoeuvred by de Troy’s flawless logic and impressive verbal sparring skills.

The central point of the essay is that destruction in language is also creation. “Grammatical elements don’t just appear out of thin air. And if things like prepositions, case endings or tense markers were not consciously invented, they must have developed from something that’s already there”. Therefore “the forces that create grammatical structures in language are nothing other than the by-products of destruction”.

The main contention is that erosion causes new grammatical structures, verb forms, nouns etc, so it can’t be all bad. This challenges prescriptivists who say that erosion is the reverse of creation and that it causes a language to move backwards. It’s not the language rotting, it’s part of the life cycle that gives us new language, variation and diversity.

Many examples of creation and destruction working together in English and in other languages are made. The main example is of the verb and future marker ‘going to’, where one usage implies travel and physical movement, whereas the other means the direct opposite.

‘Are you going to the concert this evening? No, I’m gonna stay at home’

There is a lexical change in the example that is optional depending on the accent of the speaker. It demonstrates that only ‘going to’ used as a replacement for ‘will’ can become ‘gonna’; you would never hear ‘I’m gonna London’ or ‘I’m gonna bed’. The shift was as a result of two common motives that are almost always behind such changes: the desire to enhance our expressive range and laziness. Speakers always seek fresher ways of emphasising that something is really going to happen. As the temptation to take shortcuts in pronunciation grows, the risk of misunderstanding is decreased because two meanings can be retained with one adopting a pronunciation change. Because ‘going to’ is so commonly used, it had a lot of opportunity to undergo semantic change, and later lexical change too. In such conditions the phrase is more prone to erosion so it’s not surprising that the bleached future tense is shortened to ‘gonna’.

The essay goes on to explain how it came to be that a normal verb underwent a transformation to a modal auxiliary type word, such as ‘will’ or ‘shall’. The change was very slow – there was no sudden leap between context and structure – there was a gradual erosion of meaning, followed by an erosion of sounds.

1439 – in a appeal sent to parliament, the (old spelling of the) phrase ‘as they were going to bring him there’ cropped up. Here, ‘going to’ still clearly represents physical movement and is shorthand for ‘going somewhere, in order to do something’.

1482 – one of the earliest printed books in English, Revelations of St Nicholas to a Monk of Evesham, contains ‘going to be brought to hell’. The woman in question is indeed moving to hell, but the passive form of brought shifts focus away from any intention on the part of the woman – the physical movement serves to highlight the more abstract implication that she will be brought to hell against her will.

Shakespeare – at the end of the 16th century, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, we see the line ‘I am going to deliver them’. ‘Going to’ comes increasingly into the fore and physical movement remains in the background.

1642 – Charles I writes a letter whining about how his big arms depot – or ‘magazine’ – will be taken in conflict.

v ‘My consent is going to be put in execution’

v ‘My magazine is going to be taken from me’

There is no question here about the purpose of ‘going to’ because it is unlikely that his beloved depot is going to go anywhere.

1646 – the transformation is complete as Joshua Poole’s manual says that ‘going to is the signe of the Participle of the future, as I am going to read’.

‘Gonna’ does not have a written history until recently because written sources don’t tend to reflect ‘substandard pronunciation’.

The essay refers to Mikhail Bakunin, a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism. He is quoted form 1842 saying ‘the urge for destruction is, at the same time, a creative urge’. He wasn’t a language specialist, but his ideas (and subsequently Deutscher’s / de Troy’s) pertain to and challenge Jean Aitchison’s laughable ‘crumbling castle’ idea. They are in agreement with her in being derisive towards the ‘crumbling castle’ because they say that the castle is crumbling but that we shouldn’t try to stick it back together. Conversely, we ought to take a sledgehammer to it, or at least not get in the way of natural erosion, for the sake of progress. I agree with this view, but only to a certain degree. I don’t think that it could backfire and we would degenerate back into monosyllabic grunts, but I think that, unchecked, erosion could cause more harm than good, especially if people took it as an excuse for allowing poor levels of literacy.

There are loads of French and Latin examples that aren’t very pertinent so I’m not going to bother with them, apart from this one >>>

Noun + postposition à noun-case ending à noun

Eg: Proto-Indo-European dative ending –ei

Latin nouns ending with vowel –o

Lupo-ei à lupói à lupó

Latin nouns ending with consonant

Ped-ei à pedí (to the foot)

“You only have to add one arrow to the diagram going from the end back to the beginning, and it turns into a cycle. It’s true that erosion makes words shorter and shorter, but speakers start stringing words together again, for instance putting a new postposition after the noun. And the whole cycle can start afresh when the postpositions fuse with the noun”

In French, a popular phrase meaning ‘today’ has the literal meaning ‘on the day of on the day of this day’, all stuck together to add emphasis and interest.

LATIN – hoc die à hodie à hui (meaning this day or just today)

OLD FRENCH – au jour d’hui (meaning on this day today)

MODERN FRENCH – aujourd’hui à au jour d’aujourd’hui

(therefore meaning on the say of on the day of this day).

‘Erosion keeps pounding at words, making them shorter and shorter. But shortened words are piled into longer expressions, and the same forces of erosion then hack away at the pile, fuse the words and condense themselves into a compact word once more’.

‘Constructions are created by abbreviations, as shortcuts. We have neither time nor energy to say everything’. This relates to Aitchison’s ‘damp spoon’ analogy for laziness. It agrees that laziness can cause language change, but that is not a bad thing to be conservative with time or energy.

‘The simplest form of abbreviation is the attributive adjective: She told a harmless lie replaces she told a lie and it was harmless’. This erosion cuts out a part of the sentence but has no effect on the meaning or on comprehension, and is a perfect example of how the forces of destruction can work, simultaneously and somewhat paradoxically, as forces of creation.


  • Deutscher is a radical prescriptivist meaning he believes language is getting better, and more suited to the world in which we live in.
  • The central point in his article is that within language, destruction and creation are intimately entwined, and in order to understand creation you must ‘lead through alleyways of destruction’.
  • He is arguing against the notion that our language is decaying (Crumbling castle idea) as many claim, including George Orwell -1946- and linguist August Schliecher -1848.
  • Deutscher claims many people believe language is changing for the worse because decay is more easily spotted by the naked eye, whereas language renewal and creation are more difficult to spot.
  • Therefore, this is why decay has dominated the perception of language change for so long.
  • He believes that if an irregularity in language appears messy or illogical, there will more than likely be logical reasoning behind it.
  • For example…

The Irregularity of Flowers

  • In Latin, there are five different groups of nouns, each with a different set of case endings. With the noun “flos” for “flower” you would expect the following to occur:






  • However, this is not what occurs in Latin. Instead,






  • Why?…
  • Deutscher found out that at one point in history, flowers had been perfectly regular (flos, flosem, flosis…) until a certain point when a change took place stating that every ‘s’ between two vowels should turn into an ‘r’.
  • This was an entirely regular change and happened to all eligible candidates.
  • As a result, an irregularity had wormed its way into words like flos.
  • The consequence of this change in Latin can still be felt in English today
  • Just and jurisdiction both go back to the Latin root “jus”.
  • For just, from the Latin “justus”, the s remained unaltered (as it wasn’t between two vowels).
  • However, the Latin “jusis” was changed to “juris” since the s lay between two vowels. This is how we came to have the word jurisdiction.
  • The same applies to rustic and rural, both from the Latin “rus” meaning country.
  • Deutscher therefore claims that since we can find an explanation to the ‘irregularity’ of “flos” and “floris”, then surely we should be able to discover the reason behind other exceptions to general rules, too.
  • Deutscher claims that, when it comes to language and in particular rapid speech, we are all bone-idle.
  • For this reason, we tend to expel only the minimal amount of energy required for our listener to understand the intended meaning.
  • This is perfectly demonstrated with “je ne sais pas” often being pronounced “shepa” and “I do not know” stripped down to “dunno”.
  • In particular, it is the at the end of the word where speakers tend to run out of steam and more than likely assume the listener will have gotten the gist of word by then.
  • More often than not, the end syllable is left most exposed.

What happened to the rather portly Latin “persica malus”, Persian apple?


-second word dropped altogether


-then the vowel “i” disappeared


-further shortened to:


-then to:


-and finally:


***This ended up on English palates as a rather shrivelled***


  • Other prescriptivists include:



  • Other theorists Deutscher refers to include:


-he believed language should progress and develop more and more perfect structures during their history, but instead we find the opposite. He put this down to the observable period coincides perfectly with the period of decay, whereas the phase of building the language coincides precisely with the period that is impossible to observe.


-in what became known as ‘Grimm’s law’, Grimm established a set of regular correspondences between early Germanic stops and fricatives and the stop consonants of other languages, in particular Latin and Greek.


-famously reported the discovery of a genuine, but shocking, linguistic relationship between Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and the classical European languages Latin and Greek.


“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”

“What looks messy and irregular at one point in time can appear perfectly logical when traced through history”

“English started borrowing heavily from Latin and French, and thus developed a two-tier vocabulary of home-grown and borrowed words.”

So, like any other living organism, languages have an early period of growth, followed by a period of decay”

“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 had ever been there.”

Pre-historic languages must have had scores of irregularities, but these must have vanished without trace. So 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.”

To Conclude…

  • I agree with Deutscher’s claim that decay and renewal within language is very closely intertwined, so in theory we should not say that our language is getting worse and worse.
  • I also believe that in some instances, it is in fact very subjective when it comes to determining whether language is improving or decaying.
  • Therefore, language is simply changing as history progresses, neither for better or worse.

2 thoughts on “4.2 Language Change Theorists – Millroy, Trudgill, Aitchison, Deutscher & Harlow

  1. ‘Deutscher is a radical prescriptivist meaning he believes language is getting better, and more suited to the world in which we live in.’
    ‘Guy Deutscher… does not see language change as something good. Instead he would support the idea that today’s generations are leading to today’s children not being able to speak properly or write correctly.’
    Does a prescriptivist not view language as not getting better since they viewed language change as a decay and subsequently a bad thing?

    • a prescriptivist as far as language is concerned is normally someone who objects to change, as opposed to a descriptivist who doesn’t – merely describing the change / current use. what G D thinks, on my reading, is that language does change, it must, it is a living system of which change is a necessary characteristic – languages change or they die – this is essentially a descriptivist position. however; where G D might be seen to depart from the descriptivist view, is that he takes a normative position on language change – i.e. makes a value judgement – so much as the normal prescriptivist says that such and such a change is bad, G D might say that such and such a change is in fact good – i.e. that language is not getting worse, but in fact getting better. this is clearly not a descriptivist position, nor is it the normal – or conservative prescriptivist position… so what is it?

      to prescribe means to take a view that something is good or bad – so, in the true meaning of the word, G D is a prescriptivist as far as language change is concerned – but to distinguish him from those prescriptivists who baulk at any change, as change is always for the worst, therefore making them conservative, G D might be termed a radical prescriptivist – language change is a good thing – so “could of”, disinterested meaning very uninterested, “innit” & “lol” are actually improvements – making language more effective, more efficient or more expressive – not, as a conservative prescriptivist would say, poorer, confusing and offensive to the ear.

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