Updated: Jun 9
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?
Answer: The factors that make it challenging include the unpredictability of the permanence of these new words, the difficulty in tracking words that enter spoken language but are rarely written, and the challenge in identifying new meanings that old words acquire.
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?
Answer: Approximately 75% of the new words introduced during the 1970s faded away relatively quickly. This suggests that many new words may be temporary, only used briefly due to trends or fads.
3. How do publishers and dictionary providers track 'new words,' and what does this indicate about the pace of language evolution?
Answer: Publishers and dictionary providers track 'new words' based on those that have been observed in print. This indicates that hundreds of new expressions emerge annually, demonstrating a rapid 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?
Answer: The challenges include that these words may rarely or never be written down, making them harder to document and study. This is important in language evolution as these words might reflect societal changes, dialectical differences, or new cultural phenomena that would otherwise be missed.
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?
Answer: The sectors include arts, business, computing, environment, leisure, medicine, politics, popular culture, sports, science, and technology. This shows that language is closely tied to societal trends, inventions, and prevailing attitudes within these sectors.
6. What does the article imply about the role of the internet in the evolution of English vocabulary?
Answer: The article implies that the internet has significantly expanded the scope of English vocabulary by making it possible to access diverse words and phrases from different parts of the world, leading to a more globalized English language.
7. How has the advent of the internet influenced our linguistic awareness?
Answer: The advent of the internet has broadened our exposure to a diverse range of English words and phrases, expanding our understanding of foreign vocabulary and over time, integrating some of these words into our language use.
8. What do virtual interactions via chatrooms, blogs, and social media contribute to the evolution of the English language?
Answer: These platforms provide a space for participants from across the globe to interact, allowing various dialects of English and different levels of language competency to coexist. This can lead to widespread language accommodation and cross-influence between different English dialects, accelerating the evolution of the English language.
9. What is meant by 'language accommodation' in the context of this article?
Answer: 'Language accommodation' refers to the process of adjusting one's language use, consciously or unconsciously, to align with that of the person they are communicating with. In this context, it refers to how exposure to diverse English dialects and expressions on digital platforms may lead individuals to adapt their language use accordingly.
10. What might the future of English language evolution look like according to the article?
Answer: The article suggests that we are entering an exciting new era of lexical evolution. This future is characterized by a greater internationalization of English vocabulary, facilitated by digital communication platforms. As a result, we may see an increasing integration of foreign words into our language use, as well as greater cross-influence between different English dialects.