‘Why does language change?’ is a question I’m often asked when I’m teaching Business English. A better question would be ‘How often does our language change?’. The answer is daily. Language – and punctuation and pronunciation – changes constantly. We have to invent words to manage our world. Known as neologisms, these are driven by changes in culture and technology. Shakespeare is often held up as a master neologist, because at least 500 words (including critic, swagger, lonely and hint) first appear in his work.
A recent example is cryptocurrency – much in the headlines recently with Facebook (neologism) looking to develop the Libra (another neologism) but barely heard of a couple of years ago.
Words also disappear from common use – how many of you still use ‘dapper’ or ‘thou’ or ‘xerox’ (once a neologism in itself)? And we co-opt words to mean different things too – ‘snowflake’ and ‘mouse’ are good examples.
Some words make an unexpected comeback. Gaslighting – long gone with the advent of electricity – has returned recently to mean psychologically manipulating someone to the point where they doubt their own sanity.
Punctuation and Pronunciation Changes How?
Most of us now use what’s known as ‘open punctuation’ and look very out of step if we don’t. For example, when I was taught to write an address it looked something liked this:
Mrs. G.F. Brown,
66, Chapel St.,
Look at all those commas and full stops. Nowadays, it would be written without these for a cleaner, modern look. Currently, the full point (stop) at the end of a sentence is under threat – apparently, it’s not felt to be friendly.
Then there’s shifts in pronunciation, Over the last decade or so ‘research’ has moved from ‘r’search’ to ‘reesearch’ – a change becoming more and more common to words beginning with a ‘re’
How Old is Your Dictionary?
The OED publishes four updates a year, as do most dictionary houses. Several thousand words, including completely new entries and new senses of existing words are added each year. If your dictionary is more than five years old, it’s little more than an interesting historical document.
Fortunately, we at la Academia like to keep up with language change. We provide English at GSCE, A Level and as a foreign language and you can be sure that you’ll be learning exactly what you need for our changing world.