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The Evolution and Influence of English Vocabulary in the Digital Age

Updated: Jun 9, 2023


Language is a dynamic entity, ever-changing and adapting to the world around it. The English language, in particular, with its global influence, is in a constant state of flux, integrating new words and losing old ones over time. However, capturing these changes can be challenging due to their unpredictability and the myriad sources that contribute to the language's expansion. In this article, we delve into the evolution of English vocabulary, focusing on how digital communication platforms are accelerating this process and leading us into a brave new era of global linguistic convergence.


The evolution of the English language includes both the introduction of new words and the phasing out of older ones. However, estimating an accurate count of these new additions is quite challenging. New words spring up in everyday conversations, and their permanence in the language is unpredictable. They may either stand the test of time or be temporary, only used briefly due to trends or fads. Studies conducted on the language of the 1970s, for instance, show that approximately 75% of the new words introduced during that period faded away relatively quickly.

Several publishers and dictionary providers compile lists of 'new words' based on those that have been observed in print. These collections suggest that hundreds of fresh expressions emerge annually. Oxford University Press's publication, Twentieth Century Words, offers a glimpse of about 5,000 such examples from different decades. However, this is merely a snippet of the new language used in daily written communication.

Tracking the new words that infiltrate spoken language, which may rarely or never be written down, is an even greater challenge. Furthermore, identifying new meanings that old words acquire, such as 'text' and 'tweet' in the digital age, can be equally difficult.

The influx of new words in the English language should not come as a surprise, given the diverse sectors that generate them. These include arts, business, computing, environment, leisure, medicine, politics, popular culture, sports, science, and technology. These new words often mirror the current societal trends, inventions, and prevailing attitudes.

Defining 'contemporary society' in the context of vocabulary evolution raises intriguing questions. Pre-internet era, new vocabulary within a region, like Britain, would predominantly originate from local sources such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, or the jargon of specific professions and colloquial language. The advent of the internet has significantly expanded this scope, making it possible to access English in its global lexical diversity with a mere click.

This internationalization of English vocabulary has a growing influence on the internet and, by extension, our linguistic awareness. As we encounter a broader range of English words and phrases, our understanding of foreign vocabulary expands, and over time, some of these words may be integrated into our language use.

The digital age, with its virtual interactions via chatrooms, blogs, and social media, presents a linguistic melting pot, with participants from across the globe. Various dialects of English, along with different levels of language competency, share the same digital space. This could lead to widespread language accommodation and cross-influence between different English dialects. As a result, we stand on the precipice of an exciting new era of lexical evolution.


Estimating the exact number of new words incorporated into the English language annually is complex due to their unpredictable permanence and varied origins. Nevertheless, numerous sectors, including arts, business, technology, politics, and popular culture, contribute to the language's expansion. With the advent of the internet, English vocabulary has become more global, making it possible for anyone to encounter diverse words and phrases from different parts of the world. This digital exposure to a broad range of English dialects and expressions is leading to widespread language accommodation and accelerating the evolution of the English language.


1. What factors make it challenging to accurately estimate the number of new words entering the English language each year?

2. According to studies conducted on the language of the 1970s, what percentage of new words faded away relatively quickly, and what might this imply about the transience of new words?

3. How do publishers and dictionary providers track 'new words,' and what does this indicate about the pace of language evolution?

4. What challenges are there in tracking new words that infiltrate spoken language, and why might this be important in the study of language evolution?

5. Which sectors are often sources of new words in the English language, and what does this tell us about the relationship between language and society?

6. What does the article imply about the role of the internet in the evolution of English vocabulary?

7. How has the advent of the internet influenced our linguistic awareness?

8. What do virtual interactions via chatrooms, blogs, and social media contribute to the evolution of the English language?

9. What is meant by 'language accommodation' in the context of this article?

10. What might the future of English language evolution look like according to the article?


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