language change

Jean Hudson jhudson at CUP.CAM.AC.UK
Mon Dec 4 18:51:50 UTC 1995

I'd say that the commonest driving force of language change is the desire to
express meanings that don't already exist - and (with the exception of new
terminology in a changing world) usually it is interpersonal meanings that
are evolving rather than ideational ones. The need to reduce gender bias
certainly fits the bill, but the directions and timetables are culturally -
not linguistically - dictated, so the answers lie only partially in
linguistic study. The example of Ms was an interesting one in this respect.
Until 'society' accepts the breakdown of the Miss/Mrs distinction, Ms will
continue to denote a woman who wishes to make a point. But surely THAT is
the beginning of change? Who knows?

As far as change in general is concerned it's useful to look at standard vs
'sub-standard' (ie not in the dictionary/frowned upon by teachers and the
writers of letters to the Times). One example today is 'all right' vs
'alright' - where the discourse marker use of the phrase is so well
established that it is conceptually fixed in speakers' minds as a single
word. This is a similar process to the slip of the tongue type that Rosa
Graciela Montes wrote about.

Jean Hudson
Cambridge UP

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