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Language Change
• Studies language change from 1700
(eighteenth century) to present...
• The “Late Modern” period, when there is a
concerted effort at standardization
• Standardization: the fixing of norms/standards to
English (grammar, spelling, lexis etc.) and its variations
• Synchronic change: change occurring at a fixed “point”
or “moment” in time (this moment, though, is
theoretical or imaginary – we might be taking “the
eighteenth century” as our “moment”)
• Diachronic change: Change occurring across historical
time
“Drivers” of Change: Science &
Technology
• New words (often Greek/Latin in derivation)
borrowed or coined as needed
• Scientific innovation during the Renaissance
(roughly C16-mid C17) and the Enlightenment
(roughly mid C17 – C18) required expansion of
the lexicon; no language for the new discoveries
• New inventions require new words (e.g., a
machine that washes the dishes is called... um... a
dishwasher [neologism; compound])
“Drivers” of Change: Travel
• Travel – because of trade and tourism/leisure
industry – brings different languages and
cultures into contact with one another
• More borrowings/loan words (e.g., “curry”; in
C18 “currey,” when it was a neologism
without standard spelling)
“Drivers” of Change: Social, Political,
Ideological
• Changes in public attitudes (e.g., towards
gender/race) make certain lexical choices
more/less acceptable
• Political correctness exerts a pressure:
– some words undergo pejoration, & fall out of use;
– Coinages/neologisms replace older, now archaic
terms;
– changing attitudes can affect which registers will
be adopted in certain contexts
“Drivers” of Change: Media
• Might affect attitudes (& therefore register –
journalism more/less formal today that 100
years ago?)
• Introduce coinages, initialisms, acronyms
• Slang/colloquialisms become part of
“standard” lexicon (e.g., “Gotcha”)
• Hyperbole [“hy-per-b(u)lly”] and abbreviation
(initialisms, acronyms, clippings) typical of
“journalese”
Change through abbreviation
• Initialism (e.g., HQ)
• Acronym (e.g., SCUBA)
• Clipping (also “truncation” & “shortening”): Reduction of a word
by dropping one or more syllables; specific to lexical/semantic field
(e.g., from School: exam(ination), math(ematic)s)
Reasons/Effects:
• Make specialist/expert language more accessible/common
knowledge (e.g., DNA & BSE)
• Save time and space
– important in commercial publishing and some specialist/academic
writing (avoids clumsy repetition of long noun phrases)
• Humorous (can affect tenor) – e.g., WAG
How new words enter the lexicon
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Coinages/neologisms
Borrowings/loan words
Compounds
Portmanteaus/Blends
Back formation
Conversion
Affixation
Back Formation
• Removal of imagined affix from an existing
word. E.g., “edit” (C18) from “editor”
• “Editor” actually the root/base word
Conversion
• When a word is “converted” to another word
class, without any morphological change.
• Produce (verb & noun)
• Google (verb & noun)
Affixation
• Prefixing
– E.g., “mega-”; “super-” (Pinker calls it
“promiscuous” because...)
• Suffixing (especially verbing &
nominalization)
– E.g., -ization & -ize (radicalize/radicalization)
• Backformation, conversion, affixation often
reflect significant cultural shift
• E.g., “radicalization”/“radicalizing” – common
since so-called “War on Terror”
• “Edit” as back-formation of “editor” – from
late C18, reflecting spread of literacy,
standardization, book production etc.
Semantic Shift/Drift
• Amelioration
• Pejoration
• Weakening: lessening of intensity of a word (e.g.,
“soon”: used to mean “straightaway”)
• Strengthening: increasing intensity of word (e.g.,
“appalled”: feeble, pale; now deeply dismayed)
• Broadening/Generalization: expansion of
meanings/connotations of a word
• Narrowing/Specialization: Opposite of
broadening
Semantic Shift through metaphor
• Broadening can occur because of
figurative/metaphorical uses of words:
• Metaphor
• Euphemism: A mild figure of speech, designed
to mitigate
• Idiom
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Amelioration
Pejoration
Weakening
Narrowing/specialization
Broadening/generalization
Polysemy
Connotation
Denotation
Metaphor
Euphemism
Idiom
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Lexicon
Political correctness:
Archaism
Register
Slang/Colloquialism
Journalese
Overt Prestige
Covert Prestige
Antonomasia
Eponym
Trademark
Erosion/Proprietary Name
Playdough!!
Define
• Standardization
• Synchronic change
• Diachronic change
“Drivers” of Change: Science &
Technology
• New words (often Greek/Latin in derivation)
borrowed or coined as needed
• Scientific innovation during the Renaissance
(roughly C16-mid C17) and the Enlightenment
(roughly mid C17 – C18) required expansion of
the lexicon; no language for the new discoveries
• New inventions require new words (e.g., a
machine that washes the dishes is called... um... a
dishwasher [neologism; compound])
“Drivers” of Change: Travel
• Travel – because of trade and tourism/leisure
industry – brings different languages and
cultures into contact with one another
• More borrowings/loan words (e.g., “curry”; in
C18 “currey,” when it was a neologism
without standard spelling)
“Drivers” of Change: Social, Political,
Ideological
• Changes in public attitudes (e.g., towards
gender/race) make certain lexical choices
more/less acceptable
• Political correctness exerts a pressure:
– some words undergo pejoration, & fall out of use;
– Coinages/neologisms replace older, now archaic
terms;
– changing attitudes can affect which registers will
be adopted in certain contexts
“Drivers” of Change: Media
• Might affect attitudes (& therefore register –
journalism more/less formal today that 100
years ago?)
• Introduce coinages, initialisms, acronyms
• Slang/colloquialisms become part of
“standard” lexicon (e.g., “Gotcha”)
• Hyperbole [“hy-per-b(u)lly”] and abbreviation
(initialisms, acronyms, clippings) typical of
“journalese”
Change through abbreviation
• Initialism (e.g., HQ)
• Acronym (e.g., SCUBA)
• Clipping (also “truncation” & “shortening”): Reduction of a word
by dropping one or more syllables; specific to lexical/semantic field
(e.g., from School: exam(ination), math(ematic)s)
Types of abbreviation and their
effects
Reasons/Effects:
• Make specialist/expert language more accessible/common
knowledge (e.g., DNA & BSE)
• Save time and space
– important in commercial publishing and some specialist/academic
writing (avoids clumsy repetition of long noun phrases)
• Humorous (can affect tenor) – e.g., WAG
How do new words enter the lexicon?
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Coinages/neologisms
Borrowings/loan words
Compounds
Portmanteaus/Blends
Back formation
Conversion
Affixation
Back Formation
• Removal of imagined affix from an existing
word. E.g., “edit” (C18) from “editor”
• “Editor” actually the root/base word
Conversion
• When a word is “converted” to another word
class, without any morphological change.
• Produce (verb & noun)
• Google (verb & noun)
• Backformation, conversion, affixation often
reflect significant cultural shift
• E.g., “radicalization”/“radicalizing” – common
since
so-calledof
“War
on Terror”
Effects
backformation,
• “Edit” as back-formation of “editor” – from
conversion,
&
affixation
late C18, reflecting spread of literacy,
standardization, book production etc.
Semantic Shift/Drift
• Amelioration
• Pejoration
• Weakening: lessening of intensity of a word (e.g.,
“soon”: used to mean “straightaway”)
• Strengthening: increasing intensity of word (e.g.,
“appalled”: feeble, pale; now deeply dismayed)
• Broadening/Generalization: expansion of
meanings/connotations of a word
• Narrowing/Specialization: Opposite of
broadening
Processes of semantic shift
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