Tag Archives: words

What English words are dying out?

lettersLinguists at the University of Reading have developed a computer model of the development of the English language:

Reading University researchers claim “I”, “we”, “two” and “three” are among the most ancient, dating back tens of thousands of years.

Their computer model analyses the rate of change of words in English and the languages that share a common heritage.

The team says it can predict which words are likely to become extinct – citing “squeeze”, “guts”, “stick” and “bad” as probable first casualties.

This reminds me of another exploration of the future of language.

[at BBC News][image from AYUMi ~ PHOTOGRAPHY]

Stephen Fry on the power of words and CCTV

Stephen Fry’s latest blessay on words and their use is splendid, and it also includes a point relevant to the emerging Panopticon:

CCTV is such a bland, clumsy, rhythmically null and phonically forgettable word, if you can call it a word, that the swipe lacks real punch.

If one believed in conspiracy theories, you could almost call it genius that there is no more powerful word for the complex and frightening system of electronic surveillance that we lump into that weedy bundle of initials.

For if CCTV was called … I don’t know …. something like SCUNT (Surveillance Camera Universal NeTwork, or whatever) then the acronyms might have passed into our language and its simple denotation would have taken on all the dark connotations which would allow “One nation under scunt” to have much more impact as a resistance slogan than “One nation under CCTV”. “Damn, I was scunted as I walked home,” “they’ve just erected a series of scunts in the street outside,” “Britain is the most scunted country in the world” …

I for one will immediately adopt this usage (and the equally compelling “SS” or “Surveillance System” Fry goes on to suggest).

It’s a profound point: meaning matters, but so do the shape and nature of the words themselves.

[image from squacco on flickr]

Dictionary to slaughter cool archaic words

TimesOnline (UK) is trying to save them:

It may appear agrestic to ask, but The Times is calling on its readers to come to the rescue of words that risk fading into caliginosity.

Dictionary compilers at Collins have decided that the word list for the forthcoming edition of its largest volume is embrangled with words so obscure that they are linguistic recrement. Such words, they say, must be exuviated abstergently to make room for modern additions that will act as a roborant for the book.

[Story tip and panel: Dinosaur Comics]

Future talk: how will we speak in the future?

talkingAn interesting look at the changes in language over time – and a science-fictional look at what languages of the future might be like in 1000 years time:

… some factors do show long-term directional influences.  An obvious one is ease of use: people won’t bother saying “omnibus” when “bus” will do, or “environment” when their friends are getting away with “emviromment”.

Children forming their initial mental model of how English works don’t want to believe it’s a mess of random idioms; any regularities they notice (like “past tenses end in -ED”) are extended by analogy as far as their peers will let them (“bended”).  All these consistent “trends” in language change make prediction more feasible, or at any rate, less obviously hopeless.

A slightly different comment on language-change is provided by Erin McKean in the Boston Globe, pointing out that there is nothing wrong with changing the English language if you can get your point across clearly (I tend to be pedantic about word-use – a tendency I’m trying to remove):

Part of the joy and pleasure of English is its boundless creativity: I can describe a new machine as bicyclish, I can say that I’m vitamining myself to stave off a cold, I can complain that someone is the smilingest person I’ve ever seen, and I can decide, out of the blue, that fetch is now the word I want to use to mean “cool.” By the same token, readers and listeners can decide to adopt or ignore any of these uses or forms.

[both links via Boing Boing][image from katiebate on flickr]