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The evolution of language

Rebecca Perl

Messagelab Communications

PRO

023As a copywriter, I have an interest in language and linguistics. Actually, as a human I have an interest in language and linguistics. I love the shape of words, their sounds and movement, their potential and power. I like seeing how language changes over time. New words appear, existing words are re-purposed, and old words resurrected. Language evolves – as it must.

At the moment, the English language is changing more quickly than ever before because of technology. New words spring from the internet and are swiftly incorporated into our language.

Overshare. Selfie. LOL. Photobomb. FOMO. Emoticon.

You might not use them, like them, or even think of them as ‘real’ words, but they are all in Oxford Dictionaries.

The changing language of childhood

When I heard that Oxford Junior Dictionary (created for 7-year-olds) decided to cut around 50 words connected with nature to make way for 21st-century terms, it made me nostalgic for a time of Famous Five adventures and building dens in the woods. Words that got the chop include adder, catkin, clover, heron, kingfisher, newt and otter, to make way for analogue, broadband and cut and paste.

Of course kids need to speak the language of technology; this is the age they are growing up in. But I don’t understand why it has to be at the expense of the natural world. Does a childhood immersed in technology have to equate to a childhood devoid of nature?

I get that for urban kids otters and catkins aren’t a part of their daily lives (I was a suburban kid, and they weren’t a part of my life either). But why is it assumed that they don’t need to learn the language of the things beyond the confines of their environment? That’s the whole point of dictionaries; they allow you to learn about things beyond what you know.

It’s not even as if the species that were removed are extinct. The language of nature is being eradicated before the nature itself, which to me seems short-sighted and a terrible loss.

Comments

6th March 2015

Andy Maslen

Nice post – I, too, mourn the passing of those lovely words from everyday children’s usage, especially since we moved to the country. I agree with your point about limiting children’s grasp of the world.

Teeny quibble: not sure we are experiencing the biggest and fastest change in the evolution of English. Take 500-1100 AD – the coming of Christianity and literacy. Or the Industrial revolution. Or the age of Empire and all those loan words.

PRO
6th March 2015

Rebecca

Thanks, Andy. That’s a fair quibble. I think it would have been enough to say: ‘At the moment, the English language is changing quickly because of technology.’

18th March 2015

Will Edridge

I read into something similar recently about how language would evolve over time. Due to globalisation, the prediction is that in the next 100 years or so hundreds of languages will extinct in favour of English which will become a simpler language because of the need to cater to non native speakers.

Technology is strangely powerful driving force. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 50 years.

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