Monday, May 01, 2006

Internet gives language change free reign

Discussions about language change often seem to focus on new words and the ways in which words change meaning over time, but what about spelling (or orthography, as we tend to call it with A Level Language)?

A brief look at older texts - from Old English through to Middle English, and even up to Late Modern English - should reveal that spellings have undergone significant changes over time. Some are due to fairly simple typographical conventions of the time - how will smilies like this appear to readers in 20, 50 or 100 years? ;-) - while others seem to change for other reasons, such as particular foreign influences. How about French/Norman "querunto", American "color" or Jamaican "sekkle"?

An article in today's Guardian points the finger at one of the media for spreading changes in orthography: the internet. According to Patrick Barkham, dubious spellings of common expressions and cliches, whose meanings and original forms have become lost in time, are increasingly being disseminated through the internet. Take for example some of these:
"slight of hand" instead of "sleight", "phased by" when it should be "fazed by", "butt naked" instead of the correct "buck naked" and "vocal chords" for "vocal cords."
Many of these are quite baffling and rely on words that have either dropped out of usage or have changed meaning over time, but with the increased speed of communication that the internet offers, the "wrong" spellings seem to spread like wildfire.

But as Catherine Soanes, of Oxford Dictionaries goes on to explain in a pleasingly descriptivist way, "We have to accept spelling is not fixed and can change over the years. You only have to look back 100 years, when the word rhyme was spelled rime. But since then we adopted rhyme as the correct spelling because this is more like the Greek word from which it originally came".

And for this week's Haribo prize, what's the deliberate spelling mistake in this post's title, and what should it be? The first two answers posted as comments below get the prize...

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change

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