Language Change
Quick revise

Reason for language change

  • Individuals – Chaucer and Shakespeare
  • Technology – Internet etc needing new lexis
  • Society – Cultural changes and shifts in attitudes requiring new lexis E.g. Political Correctness
  • Foreign Influence – E.g. America through film or trade
  • Science – new inventions requiring new lexis
  • Travel, trade and colonisation – require new lexis and shared lexis to barter and trade
  • Globalisation – English becoming language of trade and business – new forms created (Spanglish)

Political Correctness

  • Refrain from causing emotional harm
  • Fit into society free of isolation
  • However – gone to far - ‘vertically challenged’

Attitudes towards language change

  • Prescriptivism – dictate how language should be used
  • Want language to remain same and refrain from change
  • Descriptivism – accept language change is inevitable and accept change
  • David Crystal – 3rd way – results in more creative and expressive form of language


  • Used for comedic effect
  • Convergence or divergence – conform to more dialectical lexis to fit in or show separate from others
  • Used as filler or to show pain and displeasure
  • Negative views towards taboo
  • Too much on TV
  • However, shows reality to modern language in Britain

Lexical change – neologisms

Words from other languages

Borrowings –

  • Loans taken from foreign languages 
  • E.g. ‘Judge’ from French and ‘Opera’ from Latin

Words formed from existing words - 


  • Adding affix (prefix or suffix) to an existing word - E.g. ‘Racism’ and ‘sexism’

Compounding –

  • Two words are combined in their entirety to make a new word
  • E.g. ‘Lap-top’ and ‘Happy-hour’


  • Two words parts are moulded together to form a new word, usually by adding the start of one word and the end of another
  • E.g. ‘Smog’ – smoke and fog and ‘Motel’ – motor and hotel


  • Changing of word class  - E.g. Noun to verb – ‘Text’ was noun now verb of ‘to text’

Words formed by shortening –

Shortening or abbreviation

  • Clipping part of a word
  • E.g. Omnibus to ‘bus’ and Public house to ‘pub’


  • Taking initial letters of words and making them into a combination of pronounceable as a new word


  • Words abbreviated to initial letter - E.g. B.B.C, F.B.I, U.S.A.

Words from proper names

  • Derived from names or places synonymous with the product
  • Denim – place in France
  • Sandwich – after Earl of Sandwich

Semantic change

Broadening or generalisation –

  • Meaning of a word broadens so as it retains old meaning but takes on new meanings as well
  • E.g. ‘Mouse’ – was animal now computer equipment also

Narrowing or specialisation

  • Is the opposite of broadening
  • Applies when word becomes more specific in its meaning, but again can retain the original meaning as well
  • E.g. ‘Meat’ – meant all food now flesh of animals
  • ‘Girl’ – middle ages meant all young people


  • Word has taken on a more pleasant or positive meaning than originally held
  • E.g. ‘Wicked’ – still means evil now modern slang of good
  • ‘Pretty’ – middle ages meant sly or cunning now beautiful


  • Opposite to amelioration
  • words original meaning becomes less favourable
  • E.g. ‘awful’ – originally 'worthy of awe' now 'exceedingly bad'


  • Words take on new meanings when begin to be used metaphorically
  • E.g. ‘Cow’ – bitchy female and ‘Catty’ – female


  • Formed from existing words but assume new meanings often as fixed frame forms
  • Can only be properly interpreted by learning what the whole frame means
  • E.g. ‘In the dog house’ and ‘Over the moon’


  • Polite way of describing something unpleasant, embarrassing or socially undesirable
  • More politically correct
  • E.g. ‘Friendly fire’ and ‘Passed away’
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