The changing English language: Evolution or dumbing down?

The times and the English language are changing

It happens every so often. Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary announce the addition of new words to the English canon. My husband groans and I giggle. He thinks it's a sign of a society in decline -- the dumbing down of the human race. I think it's reflective of today's culture as language adapts to the current times -- a form of linguistic evolution. (And yet, our marriage seems to work).

No matter your opinion on the subject, the English language is changing. And it's happening fast!

With the internet age shattering geographic barriers, a wide array of slang, jargon and colloquialisms seem to find quickly infiltrate everyday conversations, texts, emails and social networks all over the world.

Some 21st Century additions to the dictionary

Use new words in a conversation with your parents or grandparents and you'll probably be met with a blank stare. Use them in an IM with your teenage niece and you may actually gain some "Cool Aunt or Uncle" points. Here are a few examples:

  • Totes: An abbreviated version of totally. According to Urban Dictionary, "The average time saved by using the word totes ... 26.6 seconds a day! Over the course of a year that adds up to 2.7 hours!!"
  • Selfie: A picture you take of yourself with the intention of sharing with your social networks. Selfie was named Oxford's word of the year.
  • Woot: A shout of joy or victory.
  • Retweet: To share someone else's message on twitter.
  • Jeggings: Leggings designed to resemble jeans.
  • Sexting: Sending sexually explicit photos, images, text messages, or emails via cell phone or mobile device.
  • Cyberbullying: Using the internet to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.
  • Bromance: A close friendship between men that is non-sexual.

How do you feel about new words like jeggings, retweet and sexting?

See results without voting

Yes, it's actually English (even if it's old)

The English language is in a constant state of flux. Just look at 13th Century Old English and 14th Century Middle English. It's like trying to read Japanese (unless, of course, you speak Japanese, in which case it's nothing like that).

Have you ever tried to read Geoffrey Chaucher's "The Canterbury Tales"? It's doable, but it's tough!

Here's an excerpt:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour.

Ummmm, what?

It's difficult to decipher. And yes, it's English. I even took an entire college literature course devoted to reading Chaucer's work.

Time to text.
Time to text. | Source

It's all about the conTEXT

How would Chaucer feel now trying to interpret the changing lexicon. With the prevalence of smart phones, just about everyone in texting these days (even your mom). The younger generation in particular has taken advantage of this new form of communication. Take a quick look at Urban Dictionary or even a text dialogue between two teens:

A: HRU
B: AAK
A: D46?
B: TTLY

Any idea what these text abbreviation mean? Neither did I. Let me enlighten you:

A: How are you?
B: Alive and kicking.
A: Down for sex?
B: Totally.

Key to English

Newscientist.com writes that a time capsule buried in 1938 in New York City included a printed "key to English" that describes 20th-century American English in order to help discoverers 5000 years in the future understand the language.

Here we are just under 75 years later, and language has already changed dramatically. It's safe to say that in 6938, the English language as we know it will most definitely be a foreign language

According to an article in the New York Times, the American Dialect Society's Brice Russ claims that the 200 million+ messages posted daily on twitter may provide valuable information to linguists about geographic speech differences.

Many teachers are reporting that the texting language common on Facebook, twitter, IM and other social media sites is polluting students' essays and homework assignments.

Source

Hubpoints

The implications of the changing language have been debated widely by scientists, linguists and even Hubbers:

As a writer I enjoy the growing lexicon. It's an opportunity to embrace new words and expand my writing horizon.

I know some people worry that these changes are making society stupid, but I would argue there has always been a portion of society that's simply that: Stupid. Or, as our teen friends might text, "AYSOS*?" I guess it depends who you ask.

*Are you stupid or something?

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Comments 13 comments

novascotiamiss profile image

novascotiamiss 5 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

Interesting hub. Yes, I sometimes also think that our society is in decline but you have a point. New words also mean new opportunities. Another interesting aspect is how languages are evolving in different parts of the world. E.g. Afrikaans is a South African language that stems from the dutch of the 1600's when the first dutch settlers inhabited the country. While the dutch in Holland has evolved, Afrikaans has remained somewhat of a baby dutch.


alezafree profile image

alezafree 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV Author

@novascotiamiss I just love the idea of language and evolution. It makes it feel so fluid and full of life!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

TTLY should not be confused with TTYL (talk to you later), which even I, in advanced age, have seen and understood.


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

You are on the right side here. Have your husband read "The Unfolding of Language" by Guy Deutscher. It's a fun read (I know, it sounds dry but it definitely is not) and he'll learn why he shouldn't groan.


alezafree profile image

alezafree 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV Author

Thank you @pcunix that actually sounds like an interesting read. I will have to check it out. Plus I sure do love being right!


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

Oh, you'll probably be wrong about something eventually. Give it time :-)


alezafree profile image

alezafree 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV Author

Haha you must have talked to my husband.


Tymolen profile image

Tymolen 4 years ago from Montana

Great Hub! I love Chaucher's excerpt you put, it's like mid-evil rap about the spring. ha Your point is undeniable and I hope that one day mankind could merge almost all language together. Kinda like some parts in Europe and Korea. Where they speak 3-4 languages on average and interchange in some sentences because each language is indeed limited on certain cultural aspects.


alezafree profile image

alezafree 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV Author

@Tymolen Thank you! I love your comment. I love the idea of a mideival rap. I also love your outlook on language. I'm so glad you stopped by!!


SpeakUpStandOut profile image

SpeakUpStandOut 4 years ago from Southern California

I love Old English. I wish we still spoke that way; listening to someone speak that way is so beautiful. If I weren't so language challenged, I'd learn how to speak like that and then I'd go around Los Angeles acting like I'm straight out of the 18th century! :)

I think that a lot of the "new" words that are being used are useless, they have no value in the English language and certainly shouldn't be introducted into the dictionary (in order to taint future generations). These words are a fad, when they fade; they will always be following us in the dictionary!


alezafree profile image

alezafree 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV Author

Hehehe, @SpeakUpStandOut I like the image of you walking down the street in a period costume talking in Old English!! Too funny!!!


SpeakUpStandOut profile image

SpeakUpStandOut 4 years ago from Southern California

It would be great! :)


JPPhilips profile image

JPPhilips 3 years ago from SC Piedmont Area

good stuff.

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