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  1. #31
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Changes underway in English

    Why do you think that grammar is slower in change?

    Well, Bianca I am of course not sure but I would say:

    1. Lexis is more dominat in everyday life than grammar. Meaning is mostly made with the help of vocabulary not grammar. The lexical approach puts more emphasis on grammaticalised lexis (see the following URL) BBC | British Council teaching English - Methodology - Lexical approach 1

    2. lexis can even replace grammar particularly the tenses. For example instead of using the going to form you can say we plan to, intend to.

    3. When a language is learnt as a foreign language or when children start speaking it is lexis not grammar which dominates. But again words don't follow one another at random. There is always some kind of stringing or threading sth on sth: collocations (grammaticalisation of lexis). The two areas of language are so closely intertwined that neither of them can exist independently.
    Jamshid
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 01-May-2007 at 19:48.

  2. #32
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Changes underway in English

    Dear Dr. Jamshid

    To your statement nr.3 - "when children start speaking it is lexis, not grammar, which dominates..."

    My question is: dominates what - the brain, the learning?
    Children are born with a remarkable language expertise: they have the grammar already in their brain (not the conventional notion of Grammar as we use it in textbooks). All they need is words to define their world.

    Noam Chomsky wrote a very controversial theory, namely that there is a so-called "universal grammar" (common to all human languages) that argues that "the human brain contains a limited set of rules for organizing language. In turn, there is an assumption that all languages have a common structural basis. In other words, with a limited set of grammar rules, humans are able to produce an infinite number of sentences, including sentences no one has previously said". That explains how children, when hearing grown-ups speak faulty English (grammatically), they don't immitate or reproduce these errors, but put the sentence the right way. In other words, grammar is the frame of language - you figure out on your own that smth is wrong with it, or else it will collapse.

    Also, the presence of creole languages is cited in his work as further support for this theory. These languages were developed and formed when different societies came together and devised their own system of language. Originally these languages were pidgins and later became more mature languages that developed some sense of rules and native speakers.

    Such languages all share certain features. Each language, syntactically, uses particles to form future and past tenses and multiple negation to deny or negate. Another similarity among these languages, that Chomsky highlights, is very important: that by changing inflection rather than changing words, a sentence or a question can be implemented. You said previously that meaning is mostly being made with the help of vocabulary, not grammar, but here you have an example that grammar, too, plays an important role in the establishing of meaning, not only words.

    Now to some history of English grammar:

    The original Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) language was fully inflected in the 9th c. A.D., but its grammar has changed. Why this loss of the noun endings? Because of the Norman Invasion of the 11th century, when English as a language came under the influence of French, not only in terms of words and manners of speech, but also in terms of French grammar functions. French does not have case forms for the noun.

    So, English grammar has changed greatly across the centuries, not only its lexis. Now, with all the Englishes around the world, and the need for speed of communication, will E grammar survive as we know it today? Will they devise their own system of an English language? Or will their impact on E grammar NOT be so strong as French was centuries ago?
    Last edited by bianca; 01-May-2007 at 22:30.

  3. #33
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Changes underway in English

    Just to go back and comment on some of the points in your posts:
    1. I am a bit sceptical about institutions regulating language because I believe in the dictatorship of the majority. Language will change despite the efforts of some institutions to regualte it. Maybe they can slow down the pace a bit but I don't think they are able to stop a natural process.

    2. After the Norman invasion English lost its case endings (apart from the S 3rd person sgl. which is the only Germanic ending left) English word order seems to have frozen. In German you can start a sentence with the dative but in English SPO order has to be kept for fear of confusion even in questions formed with the help of do. French was the language of the educated and the rich. People even apologized when they wrote in English and felt they needed justification. So the situation cannot be compared with what is happening now. After the Norman conquest English became the language of double everything particularly in vocabulary:
    cow - beef, calf - veal, sheep - mutton...
    enter - go in, abandon -give up
    Still you can see that English is more Germanic when speaking.

    Indeed Chomsky's ideas are controversial or taken from Ferdinand de Saussure. I hope brain research can tell us more but we still need to give him credit for his theory of a universal grammer. As far as vocabulary and grammar are concerned the two complement each other or maybe should not treated separately. Dear Bianca: I think language is more complex and defies some existing theories. Machine translation has shown the problem. To know more we need inter-disciplinary cooperation.
    Jamshid
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 01-May-2007 at 22:35.

  4. #34
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Changes underway in English

    Allow me to clarify one thing:

    As far as I remember, there are four levels of diction in the English language: the uneducated, the standard, educated and the most formal one. I guees the academic one. All of them are going to look differently, more or less, hundreds of years from now. But my focus is on the academic language mainly.

    Now let me comment on your previous input (you may correct me if I'm wrong):

    Existing linguistic theories are nothing wrong to look at as long as they give us the picture of how language has changed throughout the centuries, how meaning has been established in a changing language and how grammar and vocabulary have been affected by these changes. I'm not saying that they must be analysed so as to define the future of the English language, or any other language for that matter, but I made my own predictions based on them and my own assumptions. Besides, sometimes you may get an inkling about the future based on the nature of the past changes, in all fields and even though times are "a-changing".

    You said that you believe in the dictatorship of the majority, not in the regulating institutions. But the institutions themselves are not against the peopole, neither do they serve some selfish interests. On the contrary, they are as democratic as they can be. Their job is to safeguard the clarity of a language, which in turn goes to serve people's needs. And secondly, as long as there are ranks among people, there will be degrees of formalities, whether we like it or not.

    Yes, I have also said that changes will occur, but I think cultural issues will interfere with them to a certain point. My guess is that, since English comes from England, a very conservative country in all respects, and the rules for correct English are set by the British institutions, well, then these institutions must change, too. Their regulations of right and wrong in an effective communication are further taken over by schools and so on. There are so many redundancies coming into English as a global language, like "keep the cat off of the couch" and so on. Will they,too, become part of the language just because everyone uses them? Am I to teach my students that this is correct language?

    These institutions have changed their ways and will change, as well, to keep pace wih people's needs, but no natural process in the life of a language will allow for these changes to stay, as long as they cripple its own clarity. That would be linguistic suicide! Especially in a world where effectiveness in communication is so important (and as you said, mistakes in communication are costly)...


    As you said, inter-disciplinary cooperation for a better prediction of the changes in the language is of course needed. People have needs, and I already touched upon the fact that effective communication is not the only human need, literature and symbolisms (to mention two) are vital as well. Thereof, the aesthetic aspect of the language I think is so important for our well-being, and the more aggressive our world, the more they'll make their presence felt. They are not superfluous, as someone said, and they don't hamper effectiveness in communication just because their meaning is not literal, who says they do? Metaphors, symbolisms, all stylistic devises are already shortcuts in communication, and very smart ones at that ("time is money" is a metaphor, right?)

    Finally, social hierarchies will always exist as long as there is a competitive capital economy in the world, and consequently, the English language will be following those hierarchies, with all the implications for (especially) the formalities in it.
    /Bianca
    Last edited by bianca; 02-May-2007 at 13:01.

  5. #35
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Changes underway in English

    Thanks Bianca. I am afraid I am a bit busy at the moment but I will come back later. In the mean time:
    1. Don't you think language change follows democratic principles?
    2. You said you are interested in academic language. I have done some courses (academic writing) for the university here in Bremen. Maybe we can pool our resources in a separate thread.
    Jamshid
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 02-May-2007 at 11:55.

  6. #36
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Changes underway in English

    Yes, I do. Read my previous answer and you'll understand that better (institutions don't work against the changes, or against the people. I never claimed that. On the contrary, they approve of any changes as long as these changes don't interfere with the intelligibility or clarity in the language. Their job goes to serve an important function: that of safeguarding the elements of style for the sake of an efficient communication. I gave you an example previously about the use of unorthodox spelling of some words and its consequences for the clarity in language (like: when "thru" is deemed as serving a purpose, and when it also defeats the writer's own purpose).

    Your example with the dictionaries as an institution recording all the changes has nothing to do with clarity in a language. And there's a difference between words as linguistic entities in a dictionary, and their function of conveying meaning in a text, oral or written. Dictionaries' job is merely to record every change, and they also mention whether the word is colloquial, formal and so on. How could it be undemocratic for academic institutions to decide which elements in a language make for a better communication, and which not? I wouldn't name this "regulation", as you do, rather "observation" based on research.

    I believe that the most efficient language for business purpose is the formal one. It is the capitalist economy that "regulates" whether changes in a language are efficient or not, by causing inefficient communication to be costly. The differences between people in prior knowledge and interests already affect the understanding of the topic of a text, and an informal (dialectical) language makes it even harder to grasp. In this way, I'd say that the capitalist economy that keeps a tight rein on the language which, in turn, could entail a certain amount of stability in the formal language. Now, is the capitalist economy being undemocratic, i.e. going against the people by interfering with the development of their own language? Had its impact on language been a waste of time for achieving its goals, things would've been different now.

    The informal language is like a different language, it is more relaxed due to its breeziness and colourful colloquialisms. And people make more and more spelling mistakes in their writings. However, British research has recently demonstrated that by writing only the first and the last two letters in an English word correctly, the word can still be recognized and read correctly by a speaker of English. The reader doesn't scan the word letter by letter, but "photos" the word with his trained eyes. Still, I don't want to jump to conclusions - English is a crazy language, with so many words that resemble one another, and other oddities as well, that I can't get in my mind that spelling will become irrelevant for the clarity in language.

    Time has shown (and it puzzles me) that the faster this world is changing, the more the stylistic hurdles in the way of efficient communication (overuse of words, muddled formulations etc). Logically, one could expect that, in our speedy world, communication itself will find a way to deal with the lack of time, and become more intelligible. Shortening down words in writing (doc-doctor, pics-pictures...), although it saves some time for the writer, may blur the meaning and cause misunderstandings for the (unprivy) reader. Thus, such changes don't always get through -not in the academic English, anyway. Not to mention that while some words are shortened, others receive unnecessary endings "like a hat on a horse" - and again, such "oddities" or awkward constructions impair the clarity in an academic text.

    In this way, academic English is more conservative, and my guess is that it'll stay that way for some time in the future.

    As for the spoken English, many people are often very hard to follow - they could use a translator sometimes (just kidding). On the other hand, this language has its own charm, and it's bound to change more rapidly than the formal English. The broad accent in foreigners' English wouldn't be a problem for communication, as long as its clarity is spared.


    Bianca
    Last edited by bianca; 04-May-2007 at 07:51.

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