digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















Not to be confused with language shift.

Language change is variation over time in a language's phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features.

Causes of language change[edit]

  • Economy: Speakers tend to make their utterances as efficient and effective as possible to reach communicative goals. Purposeful speaking therefore involves a trade-off of costs and benefits.
    • the principle of least effort: Speakers especially use economy in their articulation, which tends to result in phonetic reduction of speech forms. See vowel reduction, cluster reduction, lenition, and elision. After some time a change may become widely accepted (it becomes a regular sound change) and may end up treated as a standard. For instance: going to [ˈɡoʊ.ɪŋ.tʊ]gonna [ˈɡɔnə] or [ˈɡʌnə], with examples of both vowel reduction [ʊ] → [ə] and elision [nt] → [n], [oʊ.ɪ] → [ʌ].
  • Analogy: reducing word forms by likening different forms of the word to the root.
  • Language contact: borrowing of words and constructions from other languages. [1]
  • Geographic separation: conversely, when people move away from each other, their language will diverge, at least for the vocabulary, due to different experiences. [2]
  • The medium of communication.
  • Cultural environment: Groups of speakers will reflect new places, situations, and objects in their language, whether they encounter different people there or not.
  • Migration/Movement: Speakers will change and create languages, such as pidgins and creoles.[3]
  • Imperfect learning: According to one view, children regularly learn the adult forms imperfectly, and the changed forms then turn into a new standard. Alternatively, imperfect learning occurs regularly in one part of society, such as an immigrant group, where the minority language forms a substratum, and the changed forms can ultimately influences majority usage. [2]
  • Social prestige: Language may not only change towards a prestigious accent, but also away from one with negative prestige,[2] as in the case of rhoticity of Received Pronunciation.[4] Such movements can go back and forward. [5]

According to Guy Deutscher, the tricky question is "Why are changes not brought up short and stopped in their tracks? At first sight, there seem to be all the reasons in the world why society should never let the changes through." He sees the reason for tolerating change in the fact that we already are used to "synchronic variation", to the extent that we are hardly aware of it. For example, when we hear the word "wicked", we automatically interpret it as either "evil" or "wonderful", depending on whether it is uttered by an elderly lady or a teenager. Deutscher speculates that "[i]n a hundred years' time, when the original meaning of 'wicked' has all but been forgotten, people may wonder how it was ever possible for a word meaning 'evil' to change its sense to 'wonderful' so quickly."[6]

Types of language change[edit]

All languages change continually,[7] and do so in many and varied ways.

Marcel Cohen details various types of language change under the overall headings of the external evolution[8] and internal evolution of languages.[9]

Lexical changes[edit]

The study of lexical changes forms the diachronic portion of the science of onomasiology.

The ongoing influx of new words into the English language (for example) helps make it a rich field for investigation into language change, despite the difficulty of defining precisely and accurately the vocabulary available to speakers of English. Throughout its history English has not only borrowed words from other languages but has re-combined and recycled them to create new meanings, whilst losing some old words.

Dictionary-writers try to keep track of the changes in languages by recording (and, ideally, dating) the appearance in a language of new words, or of new usages for existing words. By the same token, they may tag some words eventually as "archaic" or "obsolete".

Phonetic and phonological changes[edit]

The concept of sound change covers both phonetic and phonological developments.

The sociolinguist William Labov recorded the change in pronunciation in a relatively short period in the American resort of Martha's Vineyard and showed how this resulted from social tensions and processes.[10] Even in the relatively short time that broadcast media have recorded their work, one can observe the difference between the pronunciation of the newsreaders of the 1940s and the 1950s and the pronunciation of today. The greater acceptance and fashionability of regional accents in media may[original research?] also reflect a more democratic, less formal society — compare the widespread adoption of language policies.

The mapping and recording of small-scale phonological changes poses difficulties, especially as the practical technology of sound recording dates only from the 19th century. Written texts provide the main (indirect) evidence of how language sounds have changed over the centuries. But note Ferdinand de Saussure's work on postulating the existence and disappearance of laryngeals in Proto-Indo-European as an example of other methods of detecting/reconstructing sound-changes within historical linguistics. Poetic devices such as rhyme and rhythm may provide clues to previous phonological habits.

Spelling changes[edit]

Standardisation of spelling originated relatively recently.[citation needed] Differences in spelling often catch the eye of a reader of a text from a previous century. The pre-print era had fewer literate people: languages lacked fixed systems of orthography, and the handwritten manuscripts that survive often show words spelled according to regional pronunciation and to personal preference.

Semantic changes[edit]

Main article: Semantic change

Semantic changes are shifts in the meanings of existing words. Basic types of semantic change include:

  • pejoration, in which a term's connotations become more negative
  • amelioration, in which a term's connotations become more positive
  • broadening, in which a term acquires additional potential uses
  • narrowing, in which a term's potential uses are restricted

After a word enters a language, its meaning can change as through a shift in the valence of its connotations. As an example, when "villain" entered English it meant 'peasant' or 'farmhand', but acquired the connotation 'low-born' or 'scoundrel', and today only the negative use survives. Thus 'villain' has undergone pejoration. Conversely, the word "wicked" is undergoing amelioration in colloquial contexts, shifting from its original sense of 'evil', to the much more positive one as of 2009 of 'brilliant'.

Words' meanings may also change in terms of the breadth of their semantic domain. Narrowing a word limits its alternative meanings, whereas broadening associates new meanings with it. For example, "hound" (Old English hund) once referred to any dog, whereas in modern English it denotes only a particular type of canid. On the other hand, the word "dog" has been broadened from its Old English root 'dogge', the name of a particular breed, to become the general term for all canines.[11]

Syntactic change[edit]

Main article: Syntactic change

Syntactic change is the evolution of the syntactic structure of a natural language.

Over time, syntactic change is the greatest modifier of a particular language. Massive changes - attributable either to creolization or to relexification - may occur both in syntax and in vocabulary.

Sociolinguistics and language change[edit]

The sociolinguist Jennifer Coates, following William Labov, describes linguistic change as occurring in the context of linguistic heterogeneity. She explains that “[l]inguistic change can be said to have taken place when a new linguistic form, used by some sub-group within a speech community, is adopted by other members of that community and accepted as the norm.”[12]

Can and Patton (2010) provide a quantitative analysis of twentieth century Turkish literature using forty novels of forty authors. Using weighted least squares regression and a sliding window approach, they show that, as time passes, words, in terms of both tokens (in text) and types (in vocabulary), have become longer. They indicate that the increase in word lengths with time can be attributed to the government-initiated language “reform” of the 20th century. This reform aimed at replacing foreign words used in Turkish, especially Arabic- and Persian-based words (since they were in majority when the reform was initiated in early 1930s), with newly coined pure Turkish neologisms created by adding suffixes to Turkish word stems (Lewis, 1999).

Can and Patton (2010), based on their observations of the change of a specific word use (more specifically in newer works the preference of ama over fakat, both borrowed from Arabic and meaning 'but', and their inverse usage correlation is statistically significant), also speculate that the word length increase can influence the common word choice preferences of authors.

Quantifying language change[edit]

Altintas, Can, and Patton (2007) introduce a systematic approach to language change quantification by studying unconsciously-used language features in time-separated parallel translations. For this purpose, they use objective style markers such as vocabulary richness and lengths of words, word stems and suffixes, and employ statistical methods to measure their changes over time.

Language shift and social status[edit]

Main article: Language shift

Languages perceived to be "higher status" stabilise or spread at the expense of other languages perceived by their own speakers to be "lower-status".

Historical examples are the early Welsh and Lutheran bible translations, leading to the liturgical languages Welsh and High German thriving today, unlike other Celtic or German variants.[13]

For prehistory, Forster and Renfrew (2011) [14] argue that in some cases there is a correlation of language change with intrusive male Y chromosomes but not with female mtDNA. They then speculate that technological innovation (transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture, or from stone to metal tools) or military prowess (as in the abduction of British women by Vikings to Iceland) causes immigration of at least some males, and perceived status change. Then, in mixed-language marriages with these males, prehistoric women would often have chosen to transmit the "higher-status" spouse's language to their children, yielding the language/Y-chromosome correlation seen today.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.llas.ac.uk/resources/gpg/2784
  2. ^ a b c The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1997, p. 335)
  3. ^ http://www.llas.ac.uk/resources/gpg/2784
  4. ^ http://dialectblog.com/2012/10/07/was-received-pronunciation-ever-rhotic/
  5. ^ http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/the-fall-of-the-r-less-class
  6. ^ The Unfolding of Language, 2005, chapter 2, esp. pp. 63, 69 and 71
  7. ^ Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius (1651) [1510]. "23: Of the tongue of Angels, and of their speaking amongst themselves, and with us". De Occulta Philosophia [Occult Philosophy]. [...] all tongues have, and do undergo various mutations, and corruptions [...]. 
  8. ^ Cohen, Marcel (1975) [1970]. Language: its structure and evolution. Translated by Leonard Muller. London: Souvenir Press (Educational & Academic). pp. 74–98. ISBN 0-285-64779-2. [...] the shifting movements of languages in light of whatever knowledge is available of the history of humanity. 
  9. ^ Cohen, Marcel (1975) [1970]. Language: its structure and evolution. Translated by Leonard Muller. London: Souvenir Press (Educational & Academic). pp. 98–141. ISBN 0-285-64779-2. Internal evolution [...] is the passing from one system to another. [...] Internal evolution proceeds progressively, by modification and substitution of details. It is the sum of these details which, at the end of a certain period of time, constitutes a total change. 
  10. ^ Labov, William (1963). "The social motivation of a sound change". Word 19: 273–309. 
  11. ^ Crowley, Terry; Bowern, Claire (2010). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 200–201. ISBN 0195365542. 
  12. ^ Coates, 1992: 169
  13. ^ Barker, Christopher (1588). The Bible in Welsh. London. 
  14. ^ Forster P, Renfrew C; Renfrew (2011). "Mother tongue and Y chromosomes". Science 333 (6048): 1390–1391. Bibcode:2011Sci...333.1390F. doi:10.1126/science.1205331. PMID 21903800. 


  • Altintas, K.; Can, F.; Patton, J. M. (2007). "Language Change Quantification Using Time-separated Parallel Translations". Literary and Linguistic Computing 22 (4): 375–393. doi:10.1093/llc/fqm026. 
  • Can, F.; Patton, J. M. (2010). "Change of Word Characteristics in 20th Century Turkish Literature: A Statistical Analysis". Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 17 (3): 167–190. doi:10.1080/09296174.2010.485444. 

External links[edit]

  • Sounds Familiar? The British Library website provides audio examples of changing accents and dialects from across the UK.

Further reading[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_change — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
1000000 videos foundNext > 

TYP104 - Reasons for Language Change

This E-Lecture discusses the main principles of language variation in order to find out in what way they influence the development of English from its beginnings ...

How languages evolve - Alex Gendler

View full lesson: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-languages-evolve-alex-gendler Over the course of human history, thousands of languages have developed from ...

How Does Language Change Your Brain?

Please Subscribe! http://testu.be/1FjtHn5 Many studies have been conducted and have shown that learning more than one language is beneficial to so many ...

English Language: Language Change Theory

Produced by: Nick About: Language change theories, their theorists and examples. Theories Included: Sapir-Whorf, Lexical Gap, Verbing, Random Fluctuation ...

Windows 10: How To Change The Default Language

This video shows how to change the default operating system language of the freshly released Windows 10. I hope the tutorial is helpful for some of you guys.

Windows 10 change system language

Facebook ▷ https://www.facebook.com/mennovanderkrift Website ▷ http://mennovanderkrift.com In this i video i show you how to change the system language ...

How to change language in Assassin's Creed Syndicate from Russian to English ( No patch required )

You can follow me on Google+ : https://www.google.com/+NikhilMirandaNexus Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/nikhil.miranda In this video you will learn ...

How To Change The Language on iPad

In this video I show you how to change the language on your iPad or iOS device. Have suggestions or need help with something in Mac or Windows or on a ...

Windows 8 - How to change language and add language packs

Changing the main language of your windows 8 operating system and adding language packs.

How to change Language in Fallout 4 | Change from Russian to English in Fallout 4

This video will show u how to change language in Fallout 4. After you follow all the steps in my video, u will see all script in the game change to English.

1000000 videos foundNext > 

144740 news items

Bank Jobs in India (blog)

Bank Jobs in India (blog)
Thu, 21 Apr 2016 05:34:22 -0700

SBI Clerk 2016 recruitment official languages,SBI Clerk 2016 recruitment last date extended There is an important news about SBI clerk 2016 recruitment, which will enable more candidates to submit their applications.State Bank of India has released a ...
The Cigar Authority
Mon, 18 Apr 2016 13:34:40 -0700

Last week we reported on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies released the draft legislation for FY2017 which included a provision to ...

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
Thu, 28 Apr 2016 09:06:27 -0700

Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, applauded the proposed defense act language change. “This bipartisan effort is a win for New Balance workers in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway,” McCabe said. “For too long, New Balance workers have been waiting for ...

Business Insider

Business Insider
Tue, 26 Apr 2016 11:45:51 -0700

I came up with a whole series of gradations that I was able to verify, based on print sources, what stages we had reached on the Language-Change Index. The index has now become much more scientifically based. McMahon: Are there words that you once ...

Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle
Thu, 28 Apr 2016 04:03:45 -0700

Co-leader of the German Green Party Cem Özdemir was the guest on this week's edition of "Conflict Zone." He told host Tim Sebastian that he thought Angela Merkel's policy on Turkey was one of her biggest defeats. DW Conflict Zone - Dreh mit Cem Özdemir.

The Federalist

The Federalist
Thu, 21 Apr 2016 05:14:51 -0700

Yet their efforts are foolhardy because of two important factors: language change and the difference between writing and speech. First, let's deal with language change. Purists love to rail against the erosion of our language. They warn us of the ...
Daily Caller
Wed, 27 Apr 2016 05:45:00 -0700

Campus Pride, a group which claims to represent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at America's colleges, has been pushing for the application language change since 2010. Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride's executive director, said he ...

UW Badger Herald

UW Badger Herald
Tue, 26 Apr 2016 06:30:00 -0700

Williams used to work with the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, helping UW linguistics professor Monica Macaulay digitize transcribed recordings of Menominee language speakers to determine Menominee language change over time. The Menominee, along ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!

Searchlight Group

Digplanet also receives support from Searchlight Group. Visit Searchlight