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Thread: Language change

  1. #1 Language change 
    Forum Professor Pendragon's Avatar
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    No matter what language area you come from, young people always come up with new words and forget some old words. People usually try to correct this, but is this process necessarily a bad thing? Exactly the same process created the languages we speak today.

    An example I found in a coursebook on language change:

    In Black English, be is used to indicate a habitual action: “She be goin to
    the store every Tuesday.” This is a more explicit way of marking habituality
    than Standard English’s simple “She goes to the store every Tuesday.”
    Indeed, the be is “unconjugated,” but in your opinion, does that render this
    usage of be “wrong” even if it also lends the dialect some clarity?
    Should we correct someone who says "I be going to the store", or should we adopt this new linguistic feature as a useful addition to the language? :P Or alternatively, should we accept "Black English" as a new dialect distinct from standard English, so features like "I be doing this" become correct grammar in that new dialect?


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  3. #2 Re: Language change 
    Forum Junior Kolt's Avatar
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    No.

    The phrases “She be goin’ to the store every Tuesday.” or "I be goin’ to the store." were never generated let alone taught with any intent to be part of a separate more efficient dialect. Instead it is merely the lack of effort - a lack of proper education altogether. Allowing such grammatical errors to be interpreted as a new dialect is a corrosive habit. All you are doing is working backwards by making excuses for underdeveloped language skills.


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  4. #3 Re: Language change 
    Forum Ph.D.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kolt
    No.

    The phrases “She be goin’ to the store every Tuesday.” or "I be goin’ to the store." were never generated let alone taught with any intent to be part of a separate more efficient dialect. Instead it is merely the lack of effort - a lack of proper education altogether. Allowing such grammatical errors to be interpreted as a new dialect is a corrosive habit. All you are doing is working backwards by making excuses for underdeveloped language skills.
    word, brutha.
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  5. #4  
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    Why is "She be going" compared to "She goes" instead of to "She is going" to which it is obviously more parallel? "She is going" is accepted as as correct in all English-speaking countries.
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  6. #5 Re: Language change 
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pendragon
    Should we correct someone who says "I be going to the store", or should we adopt this new linguistic feature as a useful addition to the language? :P Or alternatively, should we accept "Black English" as a new dialect distinct from standard English, so features like "I be doing this" become correct grammar in that new dialect?
    I will hold my hand up to prescriptivist tendencies, but even from the point of view of the 'descriptivists', English right now needs either some discipline, or fission. Whether or not "She be going" is common usage in a particular population, it can never be accepted as standard English in a world that includes not just USians, but UKians and Australians and nearly 50 million Indians who are 'doing' English. If we still want all these Englishes to be mutually comprehensible (and from the point of view of commerce, politics, the spread of scietific education and so on, this seems like a 'good thing'), then they will need to have a set of minimum standards for syntax, register and so on (vocabulary is far more malleable). Arguments from comprehensibility, and even clarity, within a particular population group (and Stephen Pinker uses a lot of these in his books), entirely ignore this fact.

    Further, as a prescriptivist, I am appalled to see that the amount of change means that, today, it is hard to find a bookshop with a decent edition of The Canterbury Tales. Invariably all I find are translations, whereas 20 or 30 years ago I could find editions with modernised spellings and comprehensive glosses, so that I could read Chaucer in the original. All these changes that we grown ups are trying to prohibit, are changes that take the younger generation that much further away from enjoying Shakespeare, Chaucer, Spenser, Donne, and even Jane Austen, Longfellow, Poe and others. What's the point of inheriting a language with such a rich literary history if, thanks to your parents' acceptance of descriptivist notions, it's a closed book to you?

    Them's my thinks anyway...

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  7. #6  
    Forum Bachelors Degree Demen Tolden's Avatar
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    I think that these words originate more from a desire to be an individual or to belong to an individualistic society. I know that does sound like a contradiction, but the behavior that the mind demands is sometimes hypocritical. I believe that is the reason why its young people that are typically doing this. It's the same reason that young people often get angry over small things to those in positions of authority. Expressing anger is a way to seperate oneself from the normal structure of the society, and be an individual.

    Now I know over time these new words become adopted into a language, and eventually become part of the culture of the society, and thus negating its original purpose. The only solution for the next generation of young people is to create more words, and the cycle continues with each new generation claiming its own individuality with its new invented language.
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  8. #7  
    Forum Professor Pendragon's Avatar
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    First of all, I'm not on a crusade :wink: I think language change, and the reflex to try to freeze language in place, are quite interesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kolt
    The phrases “She be goin’ to the store every Tuesday.” or "I be goin’ to the store." were never generated let alone taught with any intent to be part of a separate more efficient dialect. Instead it is merely the lack of effort - a lack of proper education altogether. Allowing such grammatical errors to be interpreted as a new dialect is a corrosive habit. All you are doing is working backwards by making excuses for underdeveloped language skills.
    Whether it's lack of effort or not, this is natural language change at work. Not so long ago people still used words like "hither" and "tither" ("thither?"), much more elegant than saying "to here" and "to there". And very long ago English could at least separate second-person singular from second-person plural, now it's both an undefined 'you'. Should such words, and hundreds like them, be reintroduced and enforced in the English language? Where do you draw the line?

    At least "She be going" adds something to the language instead of taking something from it, it gives a new grammatical tool to distinguish acts that are repetitive from acts that are unique ("she always goes to the store", versus "she goes to the store this time")
    Quote Originally Posted by free radical
    Why is "She be going" compared to "She goes" instead of to "She is going" to which it is obviously more parallel? "She is going" is accepted as as correct in all English-speaking countries.
    "She is going" refers to a concrete situation, the person is doing it right now. "She goes" is undefined, it can refer to a unique situation but also to a repetitive one. But "she be going" only refers to a repetitive situation, so it does in fact add something new to the language.

    Quote Originally Posted by sunshinewarrio
    I will hold my hand up to prescriptivist tendencies, but even from the point of view of the 'descriptivists', English right now needs either some discipline, or fission. Whether or not "She be going" is common usage in a particular population, it can never be accepted as standard English in a world that includes not just USians, but UKians and Australians and nearly 50 million Indians who are 'doing' English. If we still want all these Englishes to be mutually comprehensible (and from the point of view of commerce, politics, the spread of scietific education and so on, this seems like a 'good thing'), then they will need to have a set of minimum standards for syntax, register and so on (vocabulary is far more malleable). Arguments from comprehensibility, and even clarity, within a particular population group (and Stephen Pinker uses a lot of these in his books), entirely ignore this fact.
    You got a point there, but I think fissure really is the only likely outcome. There's a flood of new non-native speakers of English rolling in every year, they're changing the language in every way imaginable. At some point I think a separate "High English" (standard English, 'frozen in time') and a "Low English" (more simple version, changing every year, different from place to place) language will develop. Perhaps "Low English" already exists. Such a diglossia (that's what it's called, can't help it :P) is quite common around the world, some languages even have multiple variations (Higher Javanese, 'medium level' Javanese, Lower Javanese, each of them fully developped and distinct languages).

    Quote Originally Posted by Demen Tolden
    I think that these words originate more from a desire to be an individual or to belong to an individualistic society. [..]

    Now I know over time these new words become adopted into a language, and eventually become part of the culture of the society, and thus negating its original purpose. The only solution for the next generation of young people is to create more words, and the cycle continues with each new generation claiming its own individuality with its new invented language.
    Agreed, that's probably the main reason for language change. But another, more practical, reason is that languages are imperfect and people tend to 'fill in the blanks' by themselves, to make them more usable for their specific needs. For example in some regional dialects of English people are creating a new second person-plural, to solve the problem of the undefined 'you' (see above). Somewhat like "y'all", "ye guys", but there are many other forms.
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  9. #8  
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    What year is it? the exact same question was rampant back in 1967.

    Get out the tie-dyed T-shirts, beeds and sandals..we're all going down to the drive-in to watch a new movie: 'Shaft' .
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