Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Why English Is Evolving

Right now, English is in a high-change period.  Languages do this every few hundred to a thousand years.  I've been watching it live in action for about 20 years now.  Most people don't spot it until it's in the past, where it's easier to recognize; but if you know what to look for, it's easy to recognize as it's happening.  Languages make new words, phrases, slang, etc. all the time in a slow flux of more and less frequency.  What you want to watch for are changes in the use of punctuation or grammar, because those change very rarely.  Any cluster of activity in those areas tend to mark a major change.

So my partner Doug and I got to talking about this because there's a new book out on the topic.  I'm excited that other linguists are starting to notice this stuff now.  (Yep, 20 years, that'd be why.)  I mentioned that I've been watching this for years and how the leading edge preceded the internet which has now blown the language wide open.  Now usually, this kind of dramatic change happens because of an invasion, though not quite always; other major social changes can trigger it too.

Whereupon Doug said that there was  an invasion, and pointed to the privacy issues of computers invading our lives.  I thought about that and noticed a few things.  First, all the changes I've noticed are post-DARPAnet.  The first place I noticed the big indicators was in fandom and speculative fiction, which are rife with geeks.  Then I correlated that many of the grammatical changes in English are in fact performative features in one or more computer languages, like "!" used to make compound words ("little!Tony") or "because (noun)."  I've also seen things like "Coke pipe keyboard," in which "pipe" is an input/output command -- and a much more concise way of saying "I spit my Coke onto my keyboard."  It absolutely is a language-invasion situation, but for the first time, it's not an invasion of one natural human language into another.  It's an invasion of invented machine language into a natural human language, and English is absorbing and digesting it the same as always.  What an exciting time to be a linguist!  Hello, future people researching this, some of us noticed it while it was happening.  :D

Also, this is why geeks should pair up with geeks.  I've been watching English transform for 20 years, but it took a computer  geek to clock the source as a machine invasion, which I then backtracked to the computer languages and matched to historic examples of language invasions causing major changes.  I doubt either of us would've spotted it alone, but there it is.
Tags: cyberspace theory, history, linguistics, romance, science, science fiction
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