We all know that languages change and develop over time, particularly in the digital age when so many new technologies and platforms are appearing that need names. Many people frown upon the new words that arise, believing that it is lessening the quality of the English language. But did you know that language has always changed throughout the world and throughout time, and it actually needs to and is inevitable? Even using the word ‘but’ to start a sentence, like we just did, would have been regrettable five years ago, and now it is becoming more and more accepted. As long as the needs of language users continue to change, so will the language they use.
The fact that language is changing does not mean it is getting worse or ‘less correct’, just simply different. A language embraces new words, expressions and pronunciations as people hear them day-to-day and begin to use them. This is why certain new words and phrases only become a part of regional dialects, as they are only heard in those particular areas.
Interesting fact: no two people have had exactly the same language experience. We all know a slightly different set of words.
One of the most significant impacts of language change is the movement of people from different countries, either migrating or simply on vacation. The core of English may have originated from Old English, but it has been influenced by more than 13 key languages to become what we know it to be today. As previously mentioned, another big impact on language change is the need for new words following inventions. These can change over time too; what was known in the 19th century as the ‘wireless’ is now simply the ‘radio’. Sometimes a new word can arise by mistake. The term ‘pea’ was once the word ‘pease’, used to mean both a singular pea or a serving of peas, but people assumed that ‘pease’ was the plural, so shortened it to ‘pea’. Similarly, if people started shortening the word ‘cheese’ to ‘che’.
Slang and abbreviations bring about change in language not just by shortening pre-existing words or altering their meaning but inventing new words as well. When phones all had a T9 keyboard, terms such as ‘wuu2’ and ‘hbu’ saw a dramatic rise in popularity to save time, but this has died out somewhat now everybody has much quicker touch screen keypads. However, shortenings such as ‘lol’ and ‘yolo’ withstood that change and are still very popular. Slang is not a new thing. The shortening of the word ‘you’ as ‘u’ can be seen as early as the 1800s in English Christmas cracker jokes. Interestingly, in Dutch, the singular ‘u’ does mean ‘you’. Always a fun one to mention when Grandma says that ‘text speak’ is watering down the English Language at your next family gathering.
As language develops, so does sentence structure. It may be normal for older generations to say ‘Have you a moment?’ but it may be more common to hear ‘D’you have a sec?’ today. Change can be so slow that we hardly notice it, and words we grumble at when we hear ‘the youth of today’ throwing around are bound to be common practice in a few years. Younger generations are more accepting of new phrases, and these then filter through the generations.
Here at Trident Marketing, we love the English Language, its rich history, and its many oddities.