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

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