linguistic evolution

I had the pleasure of stumbling across a radio program called A Way with Words. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett look at language from a different perspective. Gone are the stuffy glances from a librarian as old as the dusty tomes housed in the stacks, gone are the sharp looks from your first-grade teacher as you stumble through a spelling bee. Martha and Grant see language as a living, breathing entity that is evolving alongside the humans who use it.

There seems to be two camps of linguists: those who believe the English language is going to hell in a handbasket, and those who embrace the quirks and mutations that language has acquired over time.

According to the Linguistics Society of America, language changes according to the needs of the user. For example, consider the vast amount of technological advances we have experienced in the last 50 years. If the language didn’t adapt, we would have no way to describe the fax machine, email, or texting.

Some adhere to the idea that “proper” English should be standard but consider when the rules for this “proper” English were created and why. The LSA notes that grammarians at the time idolized Latin and thought English should behave like it as much as possible. While Latin still influences some arenas such as scientific nomenclature, it is not used very often in modern society.

An example of hotly debated change is the word “hopefully” to denote “I hope”. Linguists were fiercely against it becoming part of formal spoken and written work. That battle was lost and it is now part of the lexicon of everyday life.

Hopefully, this article will inspire you to listen to this refreshing take on the language we use and live with every day.