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Language change is variation over time in a
language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which humans communicate, and may be conveyed through a variety of met ...
's features. It is studied in several subfields of
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
:
historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include: # to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages # ...
,
sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any or all aspects of society, including cultural Norm (sociology), norms, expectations, and context (language use), context, on the way language is used, and society's effect on languag ...
, and
evolutionary linguistics Evolutionary linguistics or Darwinian linguistics is a sociobiology, sociobiological approach to the study of language. Evolutionary linguists consider linguistics as a subfield of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. The approach is also c ...
. Traditional theories of historical linguistics identify three main types of change: systematic change in the pronunciation of
phonemes In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
, or
sound change A sound change, in historical linguistics, is a change in the pronunciation of a language. A sound change can involve the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature value) by a different one (called phonetic ch ...
; borrowing, in which features of a language or dialect are altered as a result of influence from another language or dialect; and analogical change, in which the shape or grammatical behavior of a word is altered to more closely resemble that of another word. All living languages are continually undergoing change. Some commentators use derogatory labels such as "corruption" to suggest that language change constitutes a degradation in the quality of a language, especially when the change originates from
human error Human error refers to something having been done that was "unintended consequences, not intended by the actor; not desired by a set of rules or an external observer; or that led the task or system outside its acceptable limits".Senders, J.W. and M ...
or is a prescriptively discouraged usage. Modern linguistics rejects this concept, since from a scientific point of view such innovations cannot be judged in terms of good or bad. John Lyons notes that "any standard of evaluation applied to language-change must be based upon a recognition of the various functions a language 'is called upon' to fulfil in the society which uses it".


Causes

* Economy: Speech communities tend to change their utterances to be as efficient and effective (with as little effort) as possible, while still reaching communicative goals. Purposeful speaking therefore involves a trade-off of costs and benefits. ** The principle of least effort tends to result in phonetic reduction of speech forms. See
vowel reduction In phonetics, vowel reduction is any of various changes in the acoustic ''quality'' of vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of sp ...
,
cluster reduction In phonology Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or si ...
,
lenition In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and ...
, and
elision In linguistics, an elision or deletion is the omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase. However, these terms are also used to refer more narrowly to cases where two words are run toget ...
. After some time a change may become widely accepted (it becomes a regular
sound change A sound change, in historical linguistics, is a change in the pronunciation of a language. A sound change can involve the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature value) by a different one (called phonetic ch ...
) and may end up treated as
standard Standard may refer to: Symbols * Colours, standards and guidons, kinds of military signs * Heraldic flag, Standard (emblem), a type of a large symbol or emblem used for identification Norms, conventions or requirements * Standard (metrology) ...
. For instance: ''going to'' → ''gonna'' or , with examples of both vowel reduction and elision , . * Expressiveness: Common or overused language tends to lose its emotional or rhetorical intensity over time; therefore, new words and constructions are continuously employed to revive that intensity *
Analogy Analogy (from Greek language, Greek ''analogia'', "proportion", from ''ana-'' "upon, according to" lso "against", "anew"+ ''logos'' "ratio" lso "word, speech, reckoning" is a cognition, cognitive process of transferring information or Mean ...
: Over time, speech communities unconsciously apply patterns of rules in certain words, sounds, etc. to unrelated other words, sounds, etc. *
Language contact Language contact occurs when speakers of two or more languages or Variety (linguistics), varieties interact and influence each other. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics. When speakers of different languages interact closely ...
: Words and constructions are borrowed from one language into another. * Cultural environment: As a culture evolves, new places, situations, and objects inevitably enter its language, whether or not the culture encounters different people. * Migration/Movement: Speech communities, moving into a region with a new or more complex linguistic situation, will influence, and be influenced by, language change; they sometimes even end up with entirely new languages, such as pidgins and creoles. * Imperfect learning: According to one view, children regularly learn the adult forms imperfectly, and the changed forms then turn into a new standard. Alternatively, imperfect learning occurs regularly in one part of society, such as an immigrant group, where the minority language forms a
substratum In linguistics, a stratum (Latin for "layer") or strate is a language that influences or is influenced by another through language contact, contact. A substratum or substrate is a language that has lower power or prestige than another, while a s ...
, and the changed forms can ultimately influence majority usage.''The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language'' (1997, p. 335) * Social prestige: Language may not only change towards features that have more
social prestige The reputation of a social entity (a person, a social group, an organization, or a place) is an opinion about that entity typically as a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria, such as behavior or performance. Reputation is a ubiquitous ...
, but also away from ones with negative prestige, as in the case of the loss of rhoticity in the British
Received Pronunciation Received Pronunciation (RP) is the accent traditionally regarded as the standard and most prestigious form of spoken British English British English (BrE, en-GB, or BE) is, according to Oxford Dictionaries, " English as used in Gre ...
accent. Such movements can go back and forth. According to Guy Deutscher, the tricky question is "Why are changes not brought up short and stopped in their tracks? At first sight, there seem to be all the reasons in the world why society should never let the changes through." He sees the reason for tolerating change in the fact that we already are used to " synchronic variation", to the extent that we are hardly aware of it. For example, when we hear the word "wicked", we automatically interpret it as either "evil" or "wonderful", depending on whether it is uttered by an elderly lady or a teenager. Deutscher speculates that " a hundred years' time, when the original meaning of 'wicked' has all but been forgotten, people may wonder how it was ever possible for a word meaning 'evil' to change its sense to 'wonderful' so quickly."The Unfolding of Language, 2005, chapter 2, esp. pp. 63, 69 and 71


Types


Phonetic and phonological changes

Sound change A sound change, in historical linguistics, is a change in the pronunciation of a language. A sound change can involve the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature value) by a different one (called phonetic ch ...
—i.e., change in the pronunciation of
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
s—can lead to
phonological change In historical linguistics, phonological change is any sound change that alters the distribution of phonemes in a language. In other words, a language develops a new system of oppositions among its phonemes. Old contrasts may disappear, new ones ...
(i.e., change in the relationships between phonemes within the structure of a language). For instance, if the pronunciation of one phoneme changes to become identical to that of another phoneme, the two original phonemes can merge into a single phoneme, reducing the total number of phonemes the language contains. Determining the exact course of sound change in historical languages can pose difficulties, inasmuch as the technology of
sound recording Sound recording and reproduction is the electrical, Mechanical system, mechanical, electronic, or digital inscription and re-creation of sound waves, such as spoken voice, singing, instrumental music, or sound effects. The two main classes of ...
dates only from the 19th century, and thus sound changes before that time must be inferred from written texts. The orthographical practices of historical writers provide the main (indirect) evidence of how language sounds have changed over the centuries. Poetic devices such as rhyme and rhythm can also provide clues to earlier phonetic and phonological patterns. A principal axiom of historical linguistics, established by the linguists of the
Neogrammarian The Neogrammarians (German: ''Junggrammatiker'', 'young grammarians') were a German school of linguists, originally at the University of Leipzig Leipzig University (german: Universität Leipzig), in Leipzig in Saxony, Germany, is one of the wor ...
school of thought in the 19th century, is that sound change is said to be "regular"—i.e., a given sound change simultaneously affects all words in which the relevant set of phonemes appears, rather than each word's pronunciation changing independently of each other. The degree to which the Neogrammarian hypothesis is an accurate description of how sound change takes place, rather than a useful approximation, is controversial; but it has proven extremely valuable to historical linguistics as a
heuristic A heuristic (; ), or heuristic technique, is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be Mathematical optimisation, optimal, perfect, or Rationality, rational, but is nevertheless ...
, and enabled the development of methodologies of comparative reconstruction and
internal reconstruction Internal reconstruction is a method of reconstructing an earlier state in a language's history using only language-internal evidence of the language in question. The comparative method compares variations between languages, such as in sets of co ...
that allow linguists to extrapolate backward from known languages to the properties of earlier, un
attested language In linguistics, attested languages are languages (living or dead language, dead) that have been documented and for which the evidence (attestation) has survived to the present day. Evidence may be Archaeological record, recordings, Transcription ( ...
s and hypothesize sound changes that may have taken place in them.


Lexical changes

The study of lexical changes forms the
diachronic Synchrony and diachrony are two complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A ''synchronic'' approach (from grc, συν- "together" and "time") considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic l ...
portion of the science of
onomasiology Onomasiology (from el, ὀνομάζω ''onomāzο'' 'to name', which in turn is from ὄνομα ''onoma'' 'name') is a branch of linguistics concerned with the question "how do you express X?" It is in fact most commonly understood as a branch of ...
. The ongoing influx of new words into the
English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabitants of early medieval England. It is named after the Angles, one of the ancient Germanic people ...
(for example) helps make it a rich field for investigation into language change, despite the difficulty of defining precisely and accurately the vocabulary available to speakers of English. Throughout its history English has not only borrowed words from other languages but has re-combined and recycled them to create new meanings, whilst losing some old words. Dictionary-writers try to keep track of the changes in languages by recording (and, ideally, dating) the appearance in a language of new words, or of new usages for existing words. By the same token, they may tag some words eventually as "archaic" or "obsolete".


Spelling changes

Standardisation of
spelling Spelling is a set of conventions that regulate the way of using graphemes (writing system) to represent a language in its written language, written form. In other words, spelling is the rendering of speech sound (phoneme) into writing (grapheme) ...
originated centuries ago. Differences in spelling often catch the eye of a reader of a text from a previous century. The pre-print era had fewer
literate Literacy in its broadest sense describes "particular ways of thinking about and doing reading and writing" with the purpose of understanding or expressing thoughts or ideas in Writing, written form in some specific context of use. In other wo ...
people: languages lacked fixed systems of orthography, and the handwritten manuscripts that survive often show words spelled according to regional pronunciation and to personal preference.


Semantic changes

Semantic changes are shifts in the meanings of existing words. Basic types of semantic change include: *
pejoration A pejorative or slur is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative or a disrespectful connotation, a low opinion, or a lack of respect toward someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a ...
, in which a term's connotations become more negative * amelioration, in which a term's connotations become more positive * broadening, in which a term acquires additional potential uses * narrowing, in which a term's potential uses are restricted After a word enters a language, its meaning can change as through a shift in the valence of its connotations. As an example, when "villain" entered English it meant 'peasant' or 'farmhand', but acquired the connotation 'low-born' or 'scoundrel', and today only the negative use survives. Thus 'villain' has undergone
pejoration A pejorative or slur is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative or a disrespectful connotation, a low opinion, or a lack of respect toward someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a ...
. Conversely, the word "wicked" is undergoing amelioration in colloquial contexts, shifting from its original sense of 'evil', to the much more positive one of 'brilliant'. Words' meanings may also change in terms of the breadth of their semantic domain. Narrowing a word limits its alternative meanings, whereas broadening associates new meanings with it. For example, "hound" (
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
''hund'') once referred to any dog, whereas in modern English it denotes only a particular type of dog. On the other hand, the word "dog" itself has been broadened from its Old English root 'dogge', the name of a particular breed, to become the general term for all domestic canines.


Syntactic change

Syntactic change is the evolution of the
syntactic In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature an ...
structure of a
natural language In neuropsychology, linguistics, and philosophy of language, a natural language or ordinary language is any language that has linguistic evolution, evolved naturally in humans through use and repetition without conscious planning or premeditati ...
. Over time, syntactic change is the greatest modifier of a particular language. Massive changes – attributable either to
creolization Creolization is the process through which creole languages and cultures emerge. Creolization was first used by linguists to explain how Language contact, contact languages become Creole language, creole languages, but now scholars in other social s ...
or to relexification – may occur both in syntax and in vocabulary. Syntactic change can also be purely language-internal, whether independent within the syntactic component or the eventual result of phonological or morphological change.


Sociolinguistics

The
sociolinguist Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any or all aspects of society A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social territo ...
Jennifer Coates, following William Labov, describes linguistic change as occurring in the context of linguistic
heterogeneity Homogeneity and heterogeneity are concepts often used in the sciences and statistics relating to the uniformity of a substance or organism. A material or image that is homogeneous is uniform in composition or character (i.e. color, shape, siz ...
. She explains that " nguistic change can be said to have taken place when a new linguistic form, used by some sub-group within a speech community, is adopted by other members of that community and accepted as the norm." The sociolinguist
William Labov William Labov ( ; born December 4, 1927) is an American linguist widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of variationist sociolinguistics. He has been described as "an enormously original and influential figure who has created much of ...
recorded the change in
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect ("correct pronunciation") or simply the way a particular ...
in a relatively short period in the American resort of
Martha's Vineyard Martha's Vineyard, often simply called the Vineyard, is an island in the Northeastern United States, located south of Cape Cod in Dukes County, Massachusetts, Dukes County, Massachusetts, known for being a popular, affluent summer colony. Mart ...
and showed how this resulted from social tensions and processes. Even in the relatively short time that broadcast media have recorded their work, one can observe the difference between the
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect ("correct pronunciation") or simply the way a particular ...
of the newsreaders of the 1940s and the 1950s and the pronunciation of today. The greater acceptance and fashionability of regional accents in media may also reflect a more democratic, less formal society — compare the widespread adoption of language policies. Can and Patton (2010) provide a quantitative analysis of twentieth-century Turkish literature using forty novels of forty authors. Using weighted least squares regression and a sliding window approach, they show that, as time passes, words, in terms of both tokens (in text) and types (in vocabulary), have become longer. They indicate that the increase in word lengths with time can be attributed to the government-initiated language "reform" of the 20th century. This reform aimed at replacing foreign words used in Turkish, especially Arabic- and Persian-based words (since they were in majority when the reform was initiated in early 1930s), with newly coined pure Turkish neologisms created by adding suffixes to Turkish word stems (Lewis, 1999). Can and Patton (2010), based on their observations of the change of a specific word use (more specifically in newer works the preference of ''ama'' over ''fakat'', both borrowed from Arabic and meaning "but", and their inverse usage correlation is statistically significant), also speculate that the word length increase can influence the common word choice preferences of authors. Kadochnikov (2016) analyzes the political and economic logic behind the development of the Russian language. Ever since the emergence of the unified Russian state in the 15th and 16th centuries the government played a key role in standardizing the Russian language and developing its prescriptive norms with the fundamental goal of ensuring that it can be efficiently used as a practical tool in all sorts of legal, judicial, administrative and economic affairs throughout the country.


Quantification

Altintas, Can, and Patton (2007) introduce a systematic approach to language change quantification by studying unconsciously used language features in time-separated parallel translations. For this purpose, they use objective style markers such as vocabulary richness and lengths of words, word stems and suffixes, and employ statistical methods to measure their changes over time.


Language shift and social status

Languages perceived to be "higher status" stabilise or spread at the expense of other languages perceived by their own speakers to be "lower-status". Historical examples are the early Welsh and Lutheran Bible translations, leading to the liturgical languages Welsh and High German thriving today, unlike other Celtic or German variants. For prehistory, Forster and Renfrew (2011) argue that in some cases there is a correlation of language change with intrusive male Y chromosomes but not with female mtDNA. They then speculate that technological innovation (transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture, or from stone to metal tools) or military prowess (as in the abduction of British women by Vikings to
Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic countries, Nordic island country in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean and in the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is the most list of countries and dependencies by population density, sparsely populated coun ...
) causes immigration of at least some males, and perceived status change. Then, in mixed-language marriages with these males, prehistoric women would often have chosen to transmit the "higher-status" spouse's language to their children, yielding the language/Y-chromosome correlation seen today.


See also

*
Calque In linguistics, a calque () or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal translation, literal word-for-word or root-for-root translation. When used as a verb, "to calque" means to borrow a word or phrase from ...
*
Dialect continuum A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a series of language varieties spoken across some geographical area such that neighboring varieties are mutually intelligible, but the differences accumulate over distance so that widely separated vari ...
*
Grammaticalization In historical linguistics, grammaticalization (also known as grammatization or grammaticization) is a process of language change by which words representing objects and actions (i.e. nouns and verbs) become grammatical markers (such as affixes or p ...
*
Koiné language In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and ...
*
Language transfer Language transfer is the application of linguistic features from one language to another by a bilingual or multilingual speaker. Language transfer may occur across both languages in the acquisition of a simultaneous bilingual, from a mature sp ...
* Morphemization *
Neologism A neologism from Ancient Greek, Greek νέο- ''néo''(="new") and λόγος /''lógos'' meaning "speech, utterance"is a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not ...
*
Origin of language The origin of language (spoken and signed, as well as language-related technological systems such as writing), its relationship with human evolution, and its consequences have been subjects of study for centuries. Scholars wishing to study th ...
*
Phono-semantic matching Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is the incorporation of a word into one language from another, often creating a neologism, where the word's non-native quality is hidden by replacing it with Phonetics, phonetically and semantically similar words or ...
* Wave model (linguistics)


Notes


References

;Journals * * ;Books * * Labov, William (1994, 2001), ''Principles of Linguistic Change'' (vol.I ''Internal Factors'', 1994; vol.II ''Social Factors'', 2001), Blackwell. * Lewis, G. (1999). ''The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success.'' Oxford : Oxford University Press. * Wardhaugh, R. (1986), ''An Introduction to Sociolinguistics'', Oxford/ New York.


Further reading

* AlBader, Yousuf B. (2015)
Semantic Innovation and Change in Kuwaiti Arabic: A Study of the Polysemy of Verbs
* Hale, M. (2007), Historical linguistics: Theory and method, Oxford, Blackwell *


External links


Sounds Familiar?
The British Library website provides audio examples of changing accents and dialects from across the UK. {{DEFAULTSORT:Language Change Historical linguistics Sociolinguistics