Language and Slanguage

How are we changing it?


Did you know that “soon” and “now” once shared a definition? And centuries ago, if you called someone “nice,” you’d be insulting them? Every generation has an effect on our language – so what effect is our generation having?

The universe is evolving still, and the world changes every day. We’re learning new things all the time and even the language we use is growing. Slang that was popular 20 years ago, like “rad” is seldom heard in 2015; who knows where the words we use now will end up in 10 years? And will the words we use now have a different meaning soon? Will our misuse of day-to-day words completely change their definitions?

“One of the things that happen with language changes is that there is a highly steady rate of word change; people invent new words, people use old words for new things,” Dr Jonathan Hope of Strathclyde University, who teaches Renaissance Literature, and an interdisciplinary class on Literature, Culture and Technology, explained. “The Internet and more rapid communication with other people might be speeding that up.”

Slang, along with swearing, is so common in our day-to-day lives. It’s easy to use it, for the sake of convenience, and for the sake of more accurately conveying what we mean. Even if you do not use it, the people around you do – be it your younger sibling, your teenaged neighbour or your co-worker. But has it always played such a major role?

Dr Hope said, “It’s probably true that slang and swearing has always been completely integrated into language, and it’s part of language. What it’s not been, at some points, is accepted in writing and certain formal contexts, and it’s probably true that that kind of resistance to formal language has broken down, but it’s only in certain contexts.

“If you look at the history of writing from the 19th century up until now you can see a pretty steady increase in less formal structures and vocabulary that includes more swearing and new language features.”

“People think language changes on the surface, but it’s been part of human culture for quite a long time now. And fundamentally, for as long as we could tell, hasn’t been changed. So I think words, vocabulary items, change – people use different types of language in different circumstances. But, actually, fundamentally language carries on.”

The word “like” has noticeably become a very prominent part in the younger generations dialogue. Again, this is probably for convenience’s sake. When it comes to communicating another person’s words, isn’t it easier to use the phrase “they were like…” instead of “they said…?” When saying, “they said,” it implies a direct quotation, which can have negative social consequences. Saying, “they were like,” implies a summary of what was said.

Dr Hope does not think the word “like” is overused; “it just spreads to a lot of instances when it wasn’t used in the past. So we become aware of it in a way that we probably weren’t 15 or 20 years ago. It’s just common for people to use and serves quite a lot of different functions than it did in the past.”

Jacqueline Corbrick, 47, a librarian from Glasgow agrees with Dr Hope. She said, “Although I use the word myself I don’t actually like it and cringe when I hear it being used before every word as lots of people do these days, often not even realising they are doing it.”

Alastair Thomson, 18, a student from East Kilbride agrees. “Basically, it can be used for so many things without question; to imply anger, as a synonym for intercourse, as an insult, as a compliment, to imply surprise or shock, and for more or less anything you could think of. Almost anything that has a 15 rating on it is almost guaranteed to have that in it so it is all over the media.”

Going back to what Dr Hope said earlier, it becomes clear that swearing and slang are obviously a part of our everyday language, and according to Sandra, Jacqueline and Alastair, are a strongly used part in it as well.

But will we ever reach a point where it will become acceptable for a student to use the God forsaken f-word before an adjective in an English essay? Could a lawyer ever casually throw the word “brill” during a court session? Will these words even mean the same thing in five years? Only time can answer these questions. Maybe you’ll notice yourself using the word “like” more than you’d like to think after reading this, or you’ll catch yourself using a word for something other than its intended usage; with every sentence, every conversation, are you changing our language?

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