Saturday, May 31, 2008

Language change gets owned

New words reflect new values, and language change often feels insidious rather than enabling.

So says Henry Hitchings in a review of a new book, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English by Mark Abley in today's Telegraph. According to a quick check of Google definitions, it's a battle between language change "working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way" (insidious) and language change making things possible or allowing them to take place (enabling). So, it's basically down to the age old debate about prescriptive versus descriptive views.

According to Abley's book,
"words seem unusually volatile" at the moment and change is taking place at an incredibly rapid pace, driven in part by the spread of electronic communication. He looks at the growth of virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft and the influence they have had on mainstream language, along with the ways in which "plastic words" are used by governments and business to obscure meaning.

The review makes the book sound like good reading for any A level Language student, and it would also be good preparation for next year's new A levels for any teachers looking at the growth of hybrid languages such as Hinglish and Spanglish, as English spreads around the world and is put to use by locals in combination with their own native languages.

If you're revising for ENA5 Contemporary Language Change, have a quick look at the review and see if you can identify the prescriptive vs. descriptive positions noted above. You might also find this link to language change and technology helpful.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENGA3 (new spec) - Language Explorations

8 comments:

Dessy said...

sir i'm just reading something about social class and language, in the Englsih txtbook, (pg 92) and the author says something about identifying social class. according to him, most researchers put it down to education, occupation and income.

i have a couple of questions:

what about titles? for example, did Kelly Holmes move up the social scale when she became Dame Kelly Holmes? so if we were to investigate whether her language has converged upwards, would we be able to say that it's cos of her "new" status?

secondly, with regards to occupation, education and income determining social class, what if a Duke's son doesn't do A levels, what if multi billonaire, suddenly loses all his money, does he drop his social class? and what if a Lady works as a teacher in a state school, does her income, move her down the socail scale, (i know teachers are very well paid in this country and everything, but compared to a banker from east london, does that make his social class above hers)?

Ps: see how i assumed that the teacher was female, and the banker was male. apologies to all male teachers and female bankers.

what would you call that? it's not lexical assymetry or anything semantic, it's not the generis he thing either, so what would you label the stereotype i just made, or is there some fancy lingustic term for it i can learn before the exam. and please don't say, 'it's a stereotype' cos it has to be more than just that.

PsPs: does androcentric mean anything to you, correct me if i'm wrong, but is it exactly the same as "patriarchal society"?

Dessy said...

you could look in the book, i think trudgill's method is better than Labov's.

Dessy said...

can we draw trudgill's triangle in an essay, or do we have to explain it? sounds like a dumb question i know, but it might save time in an exam to simply draw it...

Dessy said...

by the way sir when are our exams, cos i just found out i had a muddle for history, so i want to confirm all my exam dates from my teachers.

is it 17th and 19th, or 18th and 19th?

Dan said...

Hi, sorry for long wait...

Social class is notoriously tricky to define, but my view is that as well as an economic element, there's a cultural element to it too. You may well have been knighted, but if you were born on a council estate and still hold "working class" values (whatever you might define them as) you migth still define yourself as such.

If you're a Lord who's fallen on hard times (oh boo hoo) you might still view yourself as upper class.

Having said that, it's probably not worth getting too hung up on this an English Lnaguage context as you're not really goin gto be asked for convoluted definitions of social class.

Other questions: "default assumption" is teh term I would use for teh examples you give. There's often atendency to "rectify" a default assumption by marking terms such as "doctor" with a gendered prefix or premodifier (eg "lady doctor") but you could argue that this marking draws even more atention to the "strangeness" of a female doing the job. In my view, teh solution is to ue the neutral term for both and not make an issue of the gender of the person.

And "androcentric" means "male-centered" which is slightly different from "patriarchal" which suggests a hierarchy of male power. Androcentric might suggest that the language is male-centered - takes males as the norm and standard - rather than assuming that that leads necessarily to power and status.

Dan said...

Yes, you could draw Trudgill's triangle. Then again, it wouldn't be much use in a radio script would it? Sorry, I know you're not that dumb...

Dan said...

Exams are (at least for non-clash students):
ENA5 Tuesday 17th 1.30 start
ENA6 Thursday 19th 1.30 start

Dessy said...

thank you sir. i was afraid you'd finally had enough of me...