Language Change

Language Change

* Variation and Change: the cause behind language change is the variation of use in the areas of pronunciation and vocabulary.

 Post-vocal |r| its spread and its status: In many parts of England and Wales, Standard English has lost the pronunciation post-vocal r. The loss of r began in the 17th century in the south-east of England and is still spreading to other areas. Accents with post-vocal |r| are called rhotict, and these accents are regarded as rural and uneducated. On the other hand in cities like New York, pronouncing the letter r is regarded as prestigious.

The spread of vernacular forms: some times a vernacular feature in some communities as a reflection of ethnic or social identity such as what happened in Martha’s Vineyard Island. Labov’s 1960 study showed: when the island was invaded by summer tourists, the island community of fishermen changed their pronunciation of some word vowels to older forms from the past as a reaction to the language of tourists.

 How do language changes spread?

1- from group to group: changes spread like waves in different directions, and social factors such as age, gender, status and social group affect the rates and directions of change.

2- from style to style: from more formal to more casual, from one individual to another, from one social group to another, and from one word to another.

– Lexical diffusion: the change from one word’s vowel to another, the sound change begins in one word and later on in another, etc.


 How do we study language change 

A- Apparent-time studies of language change: it is the study of comparing the speech of people from different age groups, to find out any differences that could indicate change (whether increase or decrease).

B- Studying language change in real time: in this study, the researcher studies the language in a community and then comes back to it after a number of years to study it again, and find out any changes.

 Reasons for language change:

1- Social status and language change: members of the group with most social status, for example, tend to introduce changes into a speech community from neighboring communities which have greater status and prestige in their eyes.

2- Gender and change: differences in women’s and men’s speech are a source of variation which can result in linguistic change.

3- Interaction and language change: interaction and contact between people is crucial in providing the channels for linguistic change (social networks).

4- The influence of the media: some researcher belief that media has a great influence on people’s speech patterns and new forms.

CHAPTER 10- Style, Context and Register

* Language varies according to use and users and according to where it is used and to whom, as well as according to who is using it. The addresses and the context affect our choice of code or variety, whether language, dialect or style.

1- Addressee’s influence on style: many factors influence the addressee’s style such as social distance / solidarity / age / gender / social background.

2-Formal contexts and social roles: the formal setting where the social roles of participants override their personal relationship in determining the appropriate linguistic form (style).


3- Topic or function: style is sometimes determined by the function which language is used for.

– Audience design: the influence of the audience (listeners) on a speaker’s style, for example: the same news is read differently by newsreaders on different radio stations during the same day, therefore producing different styles for each audience.

Accommodation Theory

– Speech converges: each person’s speech converges towards the speech of the person they are talking to. It tends to happen when the speakers like one another, or where one speaker has a vested interest in pleasing the other or putting them at ease.

– Speech diverges: deliberately choosing a different language style not used by one’s addressee, it tends to happen when a person wants to show his cultural distinctiveness, social status, ethnic identity, etc

– Hypercorrection: it is the exaggeration of some lower class speakers in imitating middle class standard speech. For example: the use of ‘I’ rather than ‘me’ in constructions such as ‘between you and I’.

– Register: occupational style using specialized or technical jargon, it describes the language of groups of people with common interests or jobs, or the language used in situations associated with such groups, such as the language of doctors, engineers, journals, legalese, etc.

 In sports announcer talk; what is the difference between ply-by-play commentary and color commentary?

– Play-by-play commentary: it focuses on actions by using telegraphic grammar.

– Colour commentary: it focuses on people, with heavy and long modifications or descriptions of noun

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