Ways Language Change Spreads

All languages change if there is any doubt just pick up a book that is over 100 years old and regardless of the language it will at a minimum sound slightly different from current language use or radically different.

In this post, we will look at three common ways in which language change is spread. These three ways are from…

  • From one group to another
  • From one style to another
  • Lexical diffusion

Changes from Group to Group

This view of language change is that changes in a language move from one group. A group can be any sort of social or work circle. Examples can include family, colleagues, church affiliation, etc.

The change of language in a group is often facilitated by “gatekeepers.” Gatekeepers are people who are members of different groups. Most people are members of many different groups at the same time.

What happens is that a person picks up language in one group and shares this style of communication in another.  An example would be a child learning slang at school and using it at home. Naturally, language change moves at different speeds in different groups depending on the acceptability of the change.

Changes from Style to Style

A style is a way of communicating. It simple terms a person’s style can be formal and informal with varying shades of grey in-between. These two extremes can also be viewed as prestigious vs not prestigious.

Normally, formal/prestigious styles of language move down into informal styles of language. For example, a movie star or some other celebrity speaks a certain way and thus style is transferred downward among those who are not so famous.

There are times where informal and un-prestigious language change spreads upward. Normally, this is much slower than change moving downward. In addition, it also involves words and styles that are so old that what really happened was the young people who used these words become part of the “establishment” in their middle age and continued to use the style. For example, the word “cool” used to be slang but is commonly used among some of the most elite leaders of the world now. Therefore, it wasn’t the language that changed as much as the people who used it with the passing of one generation to another.

Lexical Diffusion

Lexical diffusion is the change of how a word is pronounced. This is often an exceedingly slow process and can take centuries. The English language is full of words that have strange pronunciations when considering the spelling. This is due to English being thoroughly influenced by other languages such as French and Latin.

Conclusion

These three theories are just some of the ways langauge change can spread. In addition, it may not be practical to thinnk of them each happening independently from the others. Rather, these three theories can often be seen as working at the same time to slowly change a language over time.

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