Language change


Old English

  • English began as a combination of Germanic languages forming Anglo-Saxon English used from 450-1150AD
    • some of the everyday words used in Modern English come from Old English e.g. wife (wif), house (hus) and bloody (blodig)
    • The grammar of OE relied heavily on inflections, prefixes and suffixes which showed person, number, mood or tense
    • OE spelling and pronunciation varied between dialects
      • By the 9th century, 4 very different major dialects had emerged: Northumbrian, Mercian, Kentish and West Saxon
      • The lack of a standardised spelling system meant it was extremely difficult to try and learn
1 of 62

Middle English (ME)

  • 1150AD onwards
  • Most significant change was the loss of inflections
  • Word order became much more important as ME needed a basic word order, which became subject-verb-object
  • There were still huge variations in spelling
  • The 4 OE dialects developed into 5 - Northern, East Midlands, West Midlands, Kentish and Southern
2 of 62

Early Modern English (EME)- The Printing Press

  • In 1476, William Caxton established the first printing press in Westminster - the centre of political administration and law
  • This was a step towards standardising English
  • Producing identical copies of a text meant that everyone was reading the same thing, written the same way
  • This was a tricky task as in Old and Middle English, words were often spelt differently according to dialect or the personal choice of the writer, so he had to decide which spellings to use
  • Caxton also had to choose an appropriate punctuation system as there was no uniform system in place
3 of 62

The East Midland Dialect

  • Caxton chose the type of English being used in the courts, the universities (particularly Cambridge) and in London at the time, which was pretty similar to the East Midland Dialect of ME
  • This dialect was already associated with political authority, learning and commerce- using it in printed books gave it a feeling of permanence and prestige
  • The process of standardisation didn't occur overnight. The spelling in Caxtons printed books wasn't consistent
  • At the end of the 16th century, the first guides to spelling were published e.g. Elementaries (1582) by Richard Mulcaster contained around 8000 words of recommended spelling (but no definitions) 
4 of 62

EME Punctuation

  • The early printed texts of this period used three basic punctuation marks 
    • The Punctus which functioned like a full stop
    • The colon used for a variety of purposes
    • A forward slash sign known as a virgule which functioned like a comma
  • The exclamation mark and semi-colon started to be used in the 16th century
  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, a printer had more punctuation to choose from. These included full stops, commas, question marks, semi-colons, quotation marks and parentheses
5 of 62

Expansion of English vocabulary

English carried on borrowing words from all over the world

  • There was a surge of interest in Roman and Greek art, architecture and literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. New words derviced from Latin and Ancient Greek were introduced into English
    • Latin: encyclopedia (1531) temperature (1533) conspicuous (1545)
    • Greek: Catastrophe (1540) Larynx (1578) and pneumonia (1603)
  • Latin and Greek also gave English lots of prefixes, like anti- (from Greek) or bi- (from Latin) English also took suffixes like -ism found in both languages
  • Increased international trade links, travel to and communication with other countries also brought new words into English, mainly from Italy and Spain
    • Italian: rocket (1611) volcano (1613)
    • Spain: tobacco (1588) hurricane (1555) guitar (1621)
6 of 62

Change in pronunciation

Between 1400 and 1600 there was a significant change in the pronunciation of all long vowels

  • The Great Vowel Shift (GVS) was the major phonological difference between Middle English and Early Modern English
    • e.g. ME- naam became EME name
  • Various theories have been put forward for why this change occured
    • one theory is that the new vowels were a way of rejecting French pronunciation patterns and adopting ones that were associated with a prestige form of English
    • i --> ai e.g. teem to time
    • e --> i e.g. sae to see
    • a --> ei e.g. naam to name
    • o --> u e.g. rote to root
    • u --> au e.g. hoos to house
7 of 62

Changing grammar

  • EME used verb forms such as art (now just art) and second and third person inflections -st and -th as in lovest and loveth (now just loves)
  • Double negatives such as 'not in sport neither' and double comparatives such as 'more elder' were grammatically acceptable
  • In ME people asked a question by inverting the subject and verb e.g. Hadst thou? in EME people started to use the auxilary verb do instead
    • Shakespeare used both do and subject-verb inversions to form questions
  • People started to form negative questions with and without do, as in know you not? amd do you not know?
  • Latin had an influence on sentence structures. ME relied on a lot of conjunctions such as and and then, but EME showed more complex sentence structures - using subordinate clauses and subordinating conjunctions
8 of 62

Late Modern English (ME) Prescriptive books

Prescriptivism is an attitude towards language that assumes there are a set of 'correct' linguistic rules that English should follow

  • Although grammar books had existed since the 16th century, they became really popular in the 18th century, when they were written to lay down rules about language and prescribe the correct usage
  • 18th century grammarians were also proscriptivists- they outlined rules on the types of language people shouldn't use (prescriptivism states what types of language people should use)
    • e.g. sentences shouldn't end with a preposition so where do you come from? would be considered wrong
  • A lot of rules were invented by 18th century grammarians like Robert Lowth. Some were imposed on English from Latin or Ancient Greek because these were seen as superior languages- they weren't spoken any more, so they couldn't 'decay' like English
9 of 62

The first dictionaries

  • The first dictionaries had a strong influence on standardising spelling
  • one of the most important publications in the history of the English Language was Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which contained about 40,000 words
  • Johnson's dictionary laid down rules for the spelling and meanings of words. He stated that his aim was to tame the language because he felt that it was out of control, despite also saying that he wanted 'not to form but register' the language
  • The dictionary was important because it helped standardise spelling and meaning. If someone needed to know the meaning of a word or how to spell it, the dictionary could be used as a standard reference point
10 of 62

Gradual grammatical change

  • In EME, different second person pronouns were used depending on a person's status- you was used to address someone of a higher social rank and thou was used for someone of a lower rank
  • In a process that started in EME, the auxiliary verb do took the place of verb-subject inversions
  • Syntax has gradually become less complex. Modern writers tend to avoid very long sentences with multiple subordinate clauses
11 of 62

Growth of vocabulary

  • The expansion of the British Empire brought new words into English from the countries that came under British rule. For example, the following words came from India: bangle (1978), dinghy (1810) and thug (1810)
  • During the Late Modern period, advances in science and medicine led to the invention of new words like: centigrade (1812) chemotheraphy (1907) penicillin (1929)
  • New inventions brought more new words and phrases into the dictionary such as typewriter (1868) radio (1907) video game (1973)
  • Social, cultural and political developments have contributed to the lexis e.g. hippie (1965), grunge (1980s) and credit crunch (2000s)
  • New words have also emerged through international conflict and war - blitz (1939) kimikaze (1945)
12 of 62

Change in accent and dialect

Improved communication and increased mobility in the Late Modern period meant that people were exposed to a wide range of accents and dialects for the first time


  • Radio, films and television have affected regional pronunciation
  • For example Estuary English is a relatively new accent that is spreading partly because it's used by a lot of people on tv and the radio
  • International soap operas (e.g. Neighbours) may have affected younger speakesr
  • Inventions like the telephone have meant that people from different regions can communicate easily


  • Railway and cars have enabled people to travel more 'diluting' regional dialects
  • Very strong accents have tended to get softer to so different regions can understand
  • International travel- non-native speakers from different countries use SE or AE
13 of 62

New Words

New words are always being created

  • For example, people think that Shakespeare invented over 1700 words, some of which are still used today including assassination, courtship and submerged
  • In recent years the following new words have been accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary: Fashionista, wussy and twonk
  • The creation of new words is known as coinage and the new words themselves are called neologisms
14 of 62

Creation of word processes

Borrowing- 'borrow' words from another language

  • Many of the words used frequently in everyday language are borrowing or load words
  • e.g. Barbecue comes from spanish. A lot of borrowings relate to food or objects not traditionally found in the UK e.g. Spaghetti from Italian

Scientific Progress

  • Advances in medicine, science and technology cause new words and phrases to be invented. For example in vitro fertilisation is a term that emerged in the 1970s

Affixation- new prefixes or suffixes are added to existing words

  • Many words in the English Language have been created by adding Latin or Greek prefixes or suffixes
  • E.g. the Greek word hyper is found in the words hyperactive and hypersensitive
15 of 62

Creation of word processes

Compounding- combining two seperate words to create one word

  • E.g. Thumb + Print = thumbprint, hand + bag = handbag

Blending- two seperate words completely merged together

  • E.g. netiquette is a blend of net and etiquette and Jeggings is a blend of leggings and jeans

Conversion- created when an existing word changes word class

  • Many words that started off as nouns are now also used as verbs e.g. text/to text
  • The word doesn't change its form only its function
16 of 62

Creation of words by shortening

Clipping- drop one or more syllables to create an abbreviation

  • E.g. demo is often used rather than demonstration
  • Rents rather than parents

Initialism- first letter of a word stands for the word itself and are pronounced letter by letter

  • e.g. FYI takes the first letters for your information

Acronymns- initial letters of words also combine to create a completely new word

  • E.g. NASA stands for national aeronautics and space administration and is pronounced as a word rather than letter by letter

Backformation- suffix is removed to create a new word e.g. noun babysitter became before the verb baby sit

17 of 62

Names of people, places and things

  • Eponyms are words that are derived from people's names e.g. nicotine comes from Jean Nicot, a French ambassador to Portugal in the 16th century who sent tobacco seeds back to France
  • Brand names are sources of new words e.g. (example from American English) asking for a Kleenex rather than a tissue
  • Sometimes words are derived from a particular place. e.g. the word limousine derives from Limousin- came about because the car designers thought the driver's compartment was similar to the hoods historically worn by shepherds in that area
18 of 62

Disappearing of words

  • Old words disappear
  • Word that have become obsolete are known as archaisms
  • E.g. durst (dare) and trow (think) aren't used in Modern English
  • Other words might still be used but have fallen out of fashion e.g. courting (dating) wireless (radio)
19 of 62

Fixing of spelling

The English spelling system (orthography) is notoriously complicated and is actually quite random

The letters -ough are probably the most famous example of a segment that can represent a lot of different sounds in spoken English.

The spelling of words with ough originated in Middle English, but probably sounded something like -och part of loch. variations:

  • through (an 'oo' sound) though ('oh' sound) tough ('uff' sound) plough ('ow') hiccough ('up')

One reason for idiosyncrasies like this is that changes in pronunciation occured during and after standardisation of the system. This meant sounds were lost from spoken English, while their original historic spelling remained in written English

20 of 62

Semantic Change

  • Words which remain part of a language for many years often change their meaning over time. This is known as semantic change
  • Language changes all the time without anyone noticing e.g. metaphors like surfing the net are used without thinking, as are words like burn (to copy files to a CD)
  • Slang and colloquialisms give new meanings to established words. For example, the following words are used to express approval: cool, buzzing, safe, mint
21 of 62

Words can develop into positive and negative meani


  • =when a word develops a more positive meaning
  • e.g. Tremendous used to mean terrible but is now used to say something very good


  • =when a word develops a negative meaning
  • e.g. hussy used to have the same meaning as housewife but now refers to an impudent woman of loose morals

Some words change meaning altogether e.g. tomboy used to mean a rude, boisterous boy but is now only used to refer to girls who act in what is percieved to be a boyish way

Sometimes a word ends up making less of an impact- weakening e.g. glad used to mean bright, shingin, joyous and it now means pleased

22 of 62

Broadening and narrowing of words

  • A word that has a specific meaning can develop a broader meaning over time- broadening, generalisation, expansion or extension
  • e.g. Arrive used to be a term that was connected with landing on shore after a long voyage. Today it means to come to the end of any kind of journey, or to reach a conclusion
  • A word that has a general meaning can develop a narrower meaning- narrowing, specialisation or restriction
  • e.g. meat used to mean food in general but now specifically refers to animal flesh
  • Words can go through multiple semantic changes e.g. silly
    • silly: bless > innocent > pitiable > weak > foolish
23 of 62

Political Correctness (PC)

  • PC has had a major impact on how language is used. Its purpose has been to remove words and phrases that have negative connotations from the language
  • e.g. old people are referred to as senior citizens and the term half caste is no longer used for people who are mixed race
  • Trivialising suffixes such as -ess and -ette are no longer used in many cases
    • e.g. the word actor now refers to either a male or female performer and the word actress is gradually becoming redundant
  • Many people feel these types of semantic change are positive and that they remove negative connotations from the language
  • Some people feel it's gone a bit too far when the changes begin to obscure meaning e.g. using the job title sanitation consultant instead of toilet cleaner
24 of 62

Figurative expressions give new meanings to old wo

Metaphor- describe things as if they were actually something else

  • e.g. the following phrases were originally associated with the sea but are now used metaphorically: plain sailing, high and dry, clear the decks

Metonymy- is when we use a word associated with an object instead of the object itself

  • e.g. cash used to mean money box but over time it came to mean the money itself

Idiom- sayings that don't make sense if you literally interpret the meaning of the words

  • e.g. from the words it's raining cats and dogs means it is raining very heavily
  • idioms usually have some factual, literary or historical basis
25 of 62

Figurative expressions give new meanings to old wo


  • Is the use of alternative words or phrases to avoid offending someone or to make something appear less unpleasant
  • e.g. there are lots of euphemisms for death, like kicking the bucket, pushing up daises or popping your clogs


  • If idioms are used a lot, they may become cliches - overused phrases which fail to excite the imagination
  • The business world has many cliches, such as pushing the envelope and blue-sky thinking
26 of 62

Use of inflections

Inflections are affixes which give extra information about the base word they're attached to. They can indicate number, tense, person or mood, but a lot of them aren't used anymore

Present Day English (PDE) contains some inflections, but there used to be more in OE

Most inflections had disappeared by the end of the Middle English period

  • Nouns- OE you'd form the plural stan (stone) by adding the inflection -as, -a, -or, -um depending on its function in the sentence. These have been lost in PDE
  • Verbs- During EME period the -est and -eth inflection on verbs were still used however, the usage quickly faded. The anglo-saxon -eth inflection was replaced by an -s so sitteth became sits- this is the form that survived into PDE
  • Adjectives- Comparative and superlative inflections exist in PDE as they did before, but the form of some adjectives has change. e.g. 19th the superlative properest was grammatically acceptable
27 of 62

Reasons why inflections disappeared

  • Inflections were often unstressed when they were pronounced, so they were less obvious in spoken English - and when they stopped being pronounced they stopped being written
  • The system of inflections was pretty complicated, so moving to a simpler system could have just been a natural development
  • Different dialects used different inflections, so the loss of inflections made it easier for people from different areas to understand each other
28 of 62

Change in language construction due to loss of inf

Word order

  • In OE it was possible to have different subject, verb and object orders. The inflections on each component would show who was doing what
  • In PDE there's a fairly rigid subject-verb-object (SVO) order.

Increased use of auxiliary verbs

  • Increased use of auxiliary verbs like do in EME affected word order
  • In PDE, the subject and verb are inverted from the old construction SVO. Auxiliary verbs like do are now used at the start of questions

Negative constructions

  • In PDE, the negative not is placed before the verb rather than after it
  • Phrases like I do not deny it replaced the older constructions like i deny it not
29 of 62

The use of second person pronouns

Using you as we do now wasn't common until the 16th century (in the EME period)

  • The earliest forms of the second person pronoun were thou and thee
  • The huge influence of French and English meant that the next development reflected French forms. In french, tu is an informal form of you, while vous is the polite, formal equivalent
  • 13th century English reflected this by using the old singular forms thou, thee and thy to address people of a similar or lower social standing. The plural forms ye, your and you were used respectfully to address people who were higher status than the speaker
  • In the EME period the old singular forms fell out of use and the more respectful ye,you and you became the standard. ye then also disappeared, so now only you and your are used
30 of 62

Double negatives

  • Double negatives such as I don't want nothing are considered non-standard are no longer used
  • In ME, double negatives were used to give emphasis to a statement. e.g. in the 14th Century, Chaucer wrote ther nas no man nowher so vertuous
  • The authors of 18th century prescriptive grammar books, trying to standardise English decided that double negatives were 'incorrect' and shouldn't be used
  • Robert Lowth's A Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) was very influential. He used mathematical logic to make the case that double negatives weren't acceptable
    • 'Two negatives in English destroy one another, or are equivalent to an affirmative' i.e. two negatives make a positive
31 of 62

The function of words change over time

  • As people use more and more new technology like mobile phones and the internet, the function of the words associated with it has changed - nouns like text, email and facebook have become verbs
  • In SE, the adverb well is used with past participles e.g. the meal was well cooked. In contemporary English it's also common to see well as an intensifying adverb before an adjective e.g. that was well good
  • Innit used to be a shortened version of the tag question isn't it? In urban slang it's become interchangeable with a variety of other tag questions too, e.g. we can do that tomorrow innit? where innit means can't we
  • In the 1990s the intensifying adverb so started to be used with not e.g. I'm so not ready for this
32 of 62

Changing pronunciation

  • The most significanrt shift in pronunciation occured between 1400 and 1600. During this period the long vowels of ME changed a lot. This transition is called the Great Vowel Shift
  • Between 1700 and 1900, following the GVS, the long a vowel sound in words such as path (pronounced parth) came to be used in southern parts of Britain. Before this it would have been pronounced in its shorter form, as it is in Northern and Midlands accents
  • In PDE, the schwa, is a generic vowel sound we use instead of fully pronouncing the vowel. It's become more common in everyday speech than it used to be, even in RP
    • e.g. we tend to say uhbout rather than a-bout
  • Consonants have also changed e.g. before the 19th century -ing was generally pronounced in, even by the middle and upper classes
  • Today, some speakers replace the th sound with f, this is a feature of Estuary English called th-fronting
33 of 62

Intonation patterns

  • A specific change in intonation since the early 1990s is uptalk or upspeak. Usually, intonation rises when people ask a question. With uptalk, intonation rises when you're making a statement
  • At first uptalk was a feature of teenage speech, but it's now found in a wider range of age groups.
  • One theory is that it's been picked up from Austrailian intonation patterns that are heard in soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away
  • There are different theories about people's reasons for using it. Some linguists say it's used because speakers don't want to sound aggressive or too sure of themselves. Others claim that it's only used when speakers are telling someone new information
34 of 62

Reasons for changing pronunciation

  • Social factors affect pronunciation- people change the way they talk depending on the context
  • Pronunciation probably changes when being formally interviewed, compared to talking to friends. e.g. might be more careful about pronouncing hs in words like have. This is known as upward convergence- making everyday language closer to RP
  • Other languages can have an impact on pronunciation - e.g OE the stress was usually on the initial syllable of a word. The French words that became part of the language had a different stress pattern
  • American English (AE) hsd also affected British English (BE) pronunciation
  • The media can influence pronunciation- The BBC has a pronunciation Unit which guides broadcasters on how to pronounce words to make sure presenters are consistent. Viewers often copy the pronunciation of unfarmilar or foreign words so they become standard
  • Aitchison (1991) suggests that phonological change is a process
    • 1. Accent of one group differs from another
    • 2. The second group is influenced by the pronunciation of the first group
    • 3. A new accent emerges and the process continues
35 of 62

Change in Received Pronunciation

  • Received pronunciation (RP) was seen as the Standard English accent and is sometimes called Queen's English. It is a prestige accent- associated with good standing in society and being well educated
  • The emergence of RP in the 20th Century also caused regional accents to be seen as socially inferior
  • RP was adopted as the official accent of the BBC in 1922 because they thought it would be the accent that everyone would be able to understand adding to prestige value- it became the accent of authority- sometimes RP called BBC English
  • From the late 1950s, RP changed quite significantly
    • e.g. before 1960s hand pronounced more like hend, often like awften
  • In the 1960s, working-class teenagers going to university in larger numbers and the emergence of celebrities who spoke with regional accents, RP lost some of its desirability
    • e.g. Emerging pop stars like Paul McCartney had regional accents and young speakers wanted to immitate them
  • Today, RP has been toned down and is rarely heard. e.g. broadcasters use Standard English but with regional accents rather than RP
36 of 62

Emergence of new accents

Estuary English

  • Some linguists claim that RP is being replaced as the most 'acceptable' English accent by Estuary English . This is an accent that has roots in the speech found around the Thames Estuary area in London
  • It contains many similar features to the Cockney accent e.g. dropping hs at the beginning of words (pronouncing hit like it) and pronouncing th like f
    • Estuary speakers will use a glottal stop instead of t, so bottle is pronounced bo-ul
  • It's used by a lot of people in the entertainment industry, as it's seen as a commercially acceptable accent
  • Because of the influence of the media, Estuary English is becoming quite common outside London. It's become a widespread accent, probably a result of people copying the speech of radio and tv presenters
37 of 62

Cause of language change- need to be simplified

Sometimes language changes because it has become too complex to use easily

  • E.g. The complex system of ending words with inflections that was characteristic of Old English was gradually lost and replaced with a simpler system
  • Similarly in EME, the second person pronouns (thee, thou, thy, ye) were reduced to just you and your

Sometimes language become more complex

  • E.g. in Caxton's time the punctuation system consisted of three main punctuation marks By the end of the 17th Century, the range of punctuation that we have today was in use
  • This range of punctuation marks enabled writers to be more expressive and gave them more options when organising their writing
38 of 62

Phonological change

Tends to make pronunciation easier

Omission and assimilation are trends of phonological change that make things easier to pronounce

Omission = when sounds are lost from the language. Part of the reason why inflections were lost from OE was because they weren't pronouned with any stress or emphasis

  • In OE the [l] sound used to be pronounced in words like folk. This was dropped in ME
  • More recently, RP speakers have dropped the y sound in words like tune, which used to be pronounced tyune. It now sounds more like choon

Assimilation =where one sound in a word is affected by an adjacent sound to produce a new pronunciation

  • e.g. some people pronounce the word sandwich as samwich
  • Also occurs across word boundaries e.g. what do you want?/whatju want?
39 of 62

Standardisation caused change- spelling

  • The first major development was Caxton's printing press (1476). It helped establish the East Midland's dialect as the 'standard' as well as making it readily available to people
  • It also marked the beginning of the standardisation of spelling. Caxton had to choose one of number of different dialect spellings, though he wasn't always consisent
  • It wasn't until the 18th century that spelling began to look fully standardised. Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language laid a firm foundation for the spelling system we have today
40 of 62

Standardisation caused change- Grammar

  • People also tried to standardise grammar in the 18th century. A number of scholars published books prescribing how English should be constructed 
    • e.g. Robert Lowth's A Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762)
  • These ideas have influenced what people consider to be 'good' English
  • This as meant that there's less variety in Standard English
41 of 62

Standardisation caused change- Phonology

  • Teaching a standardised form of pronunciation was a key feature of private school education. The main person behind this was the actor and educator Thomas Sheridan in the mid-eighteenth century
  • He believed there was a correct way to speak and that this could be acquired through elocution lessons
  • Like the other prescriptivists, Sheridan published books, including A General Dictionary of the English Language in 1780, which outlined how to pronounce words 'properly'
42 of 62

Influence of other languages

A lot of language change has been brought by the influence of foreign languages, especially because of loan words (borrowings)

8th-11th centuries- invasions from other countries

  • Scandinavian- skirt, cog, skip
  • French- accompany, department, tax

16th-17th centuries- words brought into English from Latin and Greek by writers

  • Latin- benefit, temperature, the prefixes sub and trans
  • Greek- catastrophe, pneumonia, the affixes auto and pan

18th-19th centuries- Words borrowed from colonised countries during the expansion of the British Empire

  • Malay- amok, Hindi- shampoo

20th Century- immigration to the UK e.g. Cantonese- wok

43 of 62

Internal or external language change

External language change

  • =Language change as a result of outside influences on a group of speakers
  • For example, English has been influenced by things like invasions, immigration and the media

Internal language change

  • Happens because of a need for simplification and ease of articulation
  • For example, Old English inflections were lost because they weren't pronounced with any stress and gradually became unnecessary
44 of 62

Technological influence

  • Industrialisation between the 18th and 19th centuries introduced new words and phrases relating to labour 
    • such as productivity, shift work and clocking-on
  • Scientific advancement, new inventions and brand names have resulted in new words entering the language
    • e.g. spacesuit, microwave, PC, email, download, iphone, ipod
45 of 62

English is a world language

  • English is spoken by about 1/4 of the world's population. The number of native speakers is estimated to be between 350-400 million
  • English is the dominant language in 75 countries - it's the language used in their legal and administrative documents
  • English is so widespread because of Britain's colonial past, the British Empire used to cover about 25% of the world.
  • English came to be seen as the language of international trade and business. It became the lingua franca- the language that speakers of different languages often used to communicate
  • Use of English has also spread through academic, scientific and technological advances. 
46 of 62

International varieties of English

Some parts of the world that used to be British colonies use varieties that differ from Standard English


  • Lexis- cobber (mate)
  • Grammar- diminutives (shortened nouns) arvo (afternoon), barbie (barbeque)

South Africa

  • Lexis- takkies (trainers) 
  • Grammar- object nouns or pronouns ommitted e.g. I shall have (i shall have it)


  • Lexis- duppy (ghost)
  • Grammar- verb 'to be' is not used as an auxiliary e.g. him nice (he is nice)
47 of 62


  • =A language that develops so that speakers of different languages can communicate. It originally referred to the language Chinese and English traders used to communicate in the 19th century - pidgin was how the chinese traders pronounced business
  • There are no native speakers of Pidgin forms of English, because they only develop so that speakers of different languages can understand each other
  • Features of Pidgin English include a limited vocabulary (e.g. few function words) and simplified grammar (e.g. only one verb form)
  • For example, Nigerian Pidgin , watin dey happen means what is happening. The vocabulary is simplified - dey is used for is and are. The grammar is also simplified - the ing inflection isn't used for the present participle verb happening
48 of 62


  • When a pidgin is used as the main language in a community, it develops into a creole
  • It has native speakers (people who are brought up using it as their first language)
  • The lexis and grammar expand to fit the needs of all speakers
  • Creoles have their own grammatical rule
    • for example, in Jamaican Creole, mi is used as a first person pronoun rather the the Standard English I
49 of 62

American English (AE)

  • In the 20th century, America developed into a superpower, Its political, economic and cultural influence has maintained the importance of English as a world language
  • American English can be accessed all over the world, especially because of the influence of music, films and tv.
  • Advertising means that American brand names are internationally recognised
  • Standard American English has a few specific lexical, grammatical and orthographical differences for SE
  • Lexis
    • AM: trash, sidewalk, soccor, gas
    • SE: rubbish, pavement, football, petrol
  • American grammar
    • More frequent use of the subjunctive e.g. I wish I were taller
    • Omission of references to days of the week e.g. see you Tuesday
    • Noun phrases ordered differently e.g. a half hour instead of half an hour
  • Orthography
    • AM: meter, color, organize, gray
    • SE: metre, colour, organise, grey
50 of 62

English as a foreign language

  • Many students in non-English speaking countries learn English at school or through English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes
  • Students are taught different varieties of English. For example, students in many European countries are taught standard English and Recieved Pronunciation. However, their English is often influenced by American TV and music
  • In other parts of the world, such as parts of South America and Asia, people are taught Standard American English with a General American accent. American English has now overtaken British English as the variety most used by second language speakers.
51 of 62

English as second language

  • Many immigrants in English-speaking countries speak English as a second language
  • Their English often contains features of their first language
    • For example, the speech of Mexican immigrants in North American might contain some Spanish pronunciation features. Initial th sounds may be pronounced as d (tese rather these)
    • In terms of grammar, a hispanic speaker might miss out the third person singular
  • People with English as a second language may have learnt English through formal education, but much of their language develops naturally through interaction with native English speakers. Speakers often pick up some of the dialect features of the region they live in
52 of 62

Uncertain future of English

  • English has the 4th highest number of native speakers in the world
  • More people speak it as a second language than any other language, and this number is growing all the time
  • With so many people speaking English, there are various possibilities for how the language will change in the future
53 of 62

English might become more uniform

  • It's necessary for international trade to have a lingua franca. English has taken this role
  • Some countries (such as nigeria) that weren't originally English-speaking have adopted English as their official language - necessary to have a standardised language that everybody in the country can understand, happened especially in countries that have a lot of different tribal languages
  • Shows a trend towards uniformity suggesting that eventually other languages will die out
  • AE may become the global standard. It's already the dominant form as people want to learn AM because it's the language of world trade and has global prestige and authority
  • AM is also growing because of films, music and brands. As more people in LEDCs gain access to TV and internet they have more exposure to AM
  • As the importance of AE grows, other varieties might lose status and die out- dialect levelling
  • Differences between world varieties of English are decreasing. It's possible one day this will lead to the emergence of a World Standard English - one that becomes the official international language of business and takes the place of all other varieties
54 of 62

Technology might help make English more uniform

  • English has been established as the language of scientific and technological advancement for a long time, it's important for foreign scientists/ academics to learn
  • The internet has spread English. Estimated thats 90% of computers connected to the internet are in English-speaking countries. Around 80% of the information stored on computers worldwide is in English
  • Technology has already had a dramatic impact on English usage. Computer software usually uses American spelling, such as programs and favorites. This is helping to establish AM as a global standard
  • Computers are changing English in other ways too, for example
    • Spelling check programmes mean people don't need to know how to spell unusual words correctly. This lead to less emphasis being put on teaching spelling at school, because it isn't considered necessary
    • Web addresses don't contain capital letters, so they might gradually die out in other written texts
    • Punctuation isn't needed when you look something up in a search engine, so some marks might die out
  • As internet access grows around the world, more people will have access to this electronic variety of English so it could end up being the World Standard English
55 of 62

English might become more diverse

  • Different varieties of English around the world could develop into seperate languages, e.g. AE would be completely different from Indian English. This is what happened to Latin, which was once spoken across a lot of Europe, but then split into romance languages like Italian, French and Spanish
  • These seperate varieties of English could then become a way of displaying national identity and independence. People might see it as a way of rejecting cultural imperialism from countries like America and Britain
  • As the varieties became more different from each other, localised national standard Englishes might emerge, e.g. a particular form of Indian English. These forms would then become the official language of the country, rather than SE or SAE
  • As well as this, America's economic, political and cultural dominance might be challenged by countries like China or India in the future. If this happens, then AE might not be the most useful or powerful language
56 of 62

Technology might make English more diverse

  • English isn't only the language of the internet
  • As more people in LEDCs gain internet access, English might stop dominating the web
  • As online translation software improves, people won't have to be able to speak English to look at British or American websites
  • As well as this, there are already lots of versions of American and British websites and search engines in other languages
  • Countries like India and China are likely to have much more of an impact on science and technology in the future. This could meant that languages like Mandarin Chinese become more important to learn than English
57 of 62


= Switching between two dialects depedning on the context and purpose

  • This scenario imagines the possibility that standard form of English will become ore uniform, while regional and social varieties will become more diverse. People will have to learn the standard form for formal situations and for communicating with people from other countries
  • This is already happening to a certain extent. For example, a Nigerian business executive might use a regional form of Nigerian English when speaking informally with local customers, but use a more standard English or American form with international customers
58 of 62


  • Prescriptivism involves stating a set of rules that people should follow in order to use language 'properly' (prescribing what language should be like)
  • Prescriptivists believe that language should be written and spoken in a certain way - in English this means using Standard English and RP. Other varieties of English are seen as incorrect and inferior
  • Prescriptivists argue that it's essential to stick to the rules of the standard form, so that everyone can understand each other
  • The prescriptivist view is that language decays as it changes, and the only way to stop standards falling further is to try and stop linguistic change
59 of 62


= Describing how language is actually used

  • Descriptivists don't say that aspects of language are 'correct' or 'incorrect.'
  • They believe that different varieties of English should all be valued equally
  • The idea that language change is inevitable, so it's a waste of time to try and stop it. Instead, descriptivists record how and why change occurs, rather than assuming all change is bad
  • Some descriptivists see language change as a process- believe that English is becoming more accurate and efficient. E.g. they'd say that OE inflections were lost because they no longer served a purpose
  • Other descriptivists, like David Crystal argue that language change is neither progress nor decay, as all languages change in different ways 
60 of 62

Prescriptivist attitudes

  • In the second half of the 18th century there was a sudden flourishing of grammar books that outlines what the rules of grammar should be. Most influential was Robert Lowth's A Short Introduction to English Grammar (1972) 
    • He argued that the infinitive should not be split by an adverb e.g. to boldly go (Star Trek)
    • Lowth argued tha the construction to + verb is a complete grammatial unit and that's how it should remain - descriptivists would argue it's a pointless rule as meaning is not affected
  • Henry Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) argued against some of Loweth's rules because he thought that constructions should be used if they sounded comfortable
  • Many people still argue that certain rules shouldn't be broken, even though they don't affect the meaning of a sentence
61 of 62

Descriptivist attitudes

  • The Oxford English Dictionary was first published in the early 20th century - editors were descriptivists and they aim was to record the language as it was not to prescribe rules
  • In the 1980s Milroy and Milroy argued that language change is inevitable and shouldn't be fought against. They also argued against the high status of SE. They claimed that fears about falling standards meant that people were often discriminated against
  • Cameron (1995) argued that prescriptivism shouldn't be discounted as just people being fussy or pedantic
    • She's descriptivist but argues that prescriptivism shows that people realise that language is an important social tool and care about how it's used
    • She argues that fear about language change often symbolises fear about social problems - people worry that declining standards of language mirror declining standards in behaviour and education
    • Means that people focus on language change because they want to make sense of bigger problems in society.
62 of 62


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Language resources:

See all English Language resources »