Language Change Knowledge Bank


Taking words from other languages, e.g. karaoke


Words formed from joining together two other words with or without a hyphen, e.g. laptop, see-through.


When parts of words are chopped off and put together to form a new word, e.g. smog, frappe


A word made up of the first letters of a phrase, which is pronounced as if it were a usual word, e.g. RADAR (Radio Detection And Ranging) or TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space)


A word made up of the first letters of a phrase, where the letters are individually pronounced (e.g. CD, FBI)


The creation of completely new words


Lexis specific to a particular job or interest. Requires previous knowledge


When the meaning of a particular word becomes more specific.


When a word takes on additional new meanings.


When the meaning of a word becomes more positive, e.g. how 'pretty' used to mean sly or cunning, 'wicked' can now mean great.


When the meaning becomes less favourable/more negative, e.g. how 'hussy' used to be a housewife.


An inoffensive way of describing something distasteful.


An overused expression or idea


Today multiple negatives (e.g. double negatives) are considered incorrect grammar but in the past they were considered quite acceptable and were used for emphasis.


Subordinate Clauses (an additional piece of information which couldn't stand on its own and is often parenthesised.


'Thou', 'thee' and 'thine' have generally disappeared from English. Interestingly, in some regional dialects a distinction still exists between singular and plural second person pronouns, with the use of 'youse' as a plural word.


The increase in the use of these suggests a more informal/conversational style today and non-contracted forms now suggest a degree of formality or emphasis.


The indication of the grammatical form (tense, person or number) of a word, usually at the end of the word. With adjectives, these are used for comparatives and superlatives, as in 'fast', 'faster', 'fastest'. Although there are still some in modern Engli

Word order

In Old English, inflections would indicate whether a word was the subject of a sentence of the object. This meant that, compared with modern English, the expression of meaning was less reliant on word order, so construction of sentences was freer and word


Meaning 'to fasten' - attaching parts of words to others to form a new one, e.g. microbiology, eco-warrior

Proprietary names

When a word is coined from a company name/ the name of the inventor of a product, e.g. Hoover, Walkman


The removal of part of a word, e.g. burgle (from burglar). A back-formation changes the function of the word, as in this case from a verb to an adjective.


Creating new words by extracting a portion of a longer word e.g. maths (from mathematics). Clipping results in a word from the same class, as in this case, both nouns.

Metaphorical extension

When words acquire new meanings because they have been used metaphorically, e.g. 'over the moon', 'under the weather', 'in the doghouse'.


A figure of speech with sharply contrasting ideas e.g. 'hopes and fears', 'to blow hot and cold'

Shall" or "Will

There used to be more of a distinction between when "shall" and "will" should be used ("shall" with 1st persons and "will" with other persons).

The subjunctive

Expresses 'unreal' conditions such as wishes, doubts, etc. but has recently declined in usage ("If I were you" is becoming "If I was you")

The active voice

The subject of the verb is clear e.g. "The dog chased the cat

The passive voice

The cat was chased by the dog" - used to disguise blame but has decreased in popularity, particularly in American English, where it is discouraged (e.g. US Microsoft Word Auto correct)


The intended message of a text

Shared knowledge

Allows for the use of jargon, as the reader/audience of a text shares an understanding of the topic being discussed.

Discourse structure

The way that a text is set out, be it with a clear narrative, chronological, in a question and answer format, etc.


Different fonts can be used to portray different tones and meanings, e.g. sophistication, power, childishness and informality.


Layouts can make a page busy, easy to follow, formal or informal and often reflect the context in which they would be found.


Different colours connote different moods and feelings, for example red suggests violence and blue suggests calm and serenity.


Photos, graphs and diagrams provide additional information to the written text and also grab the reader's attention.


The idea that the English language will disintegrate into a collection of related but largely separate dialects. In 1978, Robert Burchfield, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary predicted that within a few centuries the speakers of British and American


The idea that a World Standard English is emerging, with the different varieties of English growing closer together, as a result of the influence of increased communication and the media.


The ability to use two dialects of the same language, with people about to adapt their language to meet the needs of different situations. A linguist that believes in this theory is David Crystal.


Prescribes how language should be in order to be better or pure; uses criteria of good/bad language, where standard forms are seen as good; draws its model of language from dictionaries, grammar books, etc.; rejects non-standard forms (e.g. slang, dialect


Describes the nature of language variations without judgement; uses criteria of standard/non-standard, or appropriateness in context; draws its model from how language is used by a variety of people in a variety of contexts; recognises importance of a sta


Often leads to a more formal register, sophisticated lexis choice, the use of grammatical features such as the imperatives and bold fonts.


Changes in attitudes to gender has effected the English Language in the sense that texts are beginning to use more gender-neutral concepts and terminology as women have gained more rights. This change is also reflected within the use of graphology to indi


Has had a great impact upon the context of the written word, e.g. internet blogs and text messaging. The influence of the printing press was also immeasurable - Caxton's printing press led to greater standardisation and the establishment of norms


Has led to the increased use of 'slang', varied graphology and a more personal and colloquial tone. It usually runs parallel with prescriptivism and standardisation; as such processes add a more formal and rigid structure to the English Language.


Influence. This links to advances in technology, as words are created to describe new modes ("automobile" - "motor car" - "car") and communication, i.e. mobile phones and the Internet, has a great impact upon the language, e.g. the increasing use of 'text

Trade, work and urbanisation

Influence. The move from a focus on agriculture to industry has maintained some agricultural terminology in an urban context, e.g. "head count" came from farmers counting the number of cattle.

Globilisation and Travel

Influence. Communication with other countries has led to us borrowing some terms from other languages and cultures, particularly brand names and foods.

Science and technology

Influence. Technology has given us a great number of new terms as we name new inventions. It has also broadened the meaning of some terms, particularly ones that relate to computers, e.g. 'mouse', 'tower', 'cookies'.


Influence. E.g. the rise and fall of the British Empire led to foreign words entering our language. A highly important political change was the Norman Invasion in 1066, which led to the use of French words and spellings.


Influence. Words such as "blitz", "D-Day" and "radar" entered the English language after WWII.

Political correctness

Influence. E.g. "Broken Home" - Dysfunctional family, "Bin man" - Sanitation Engineer, "Sex change" - gender re-assignment.

Social groups

Influence. Stereotypes, such as "Emo" (a clipping of 'emotional'), "Goth" (which has undergone semantic shift), "Chav" (An acronym of 'Council Housing and Violence') and "Geek" (which has undergone amelioration).

Cultural changes of language

Influence. Semantic shift, e.g. "Gay" -from 'carefree and happy' to 'homosexual', "Wicked" - from 'bad or evil' to 'good or awesome'.


Instruct, explain, describe, persuade, argue, inform, entertain, etc.


The Norman Invasion. French became the language of government and from this time has held prestige


When a style, language or dialect is held in high regard e.g. standard English has prestige today; French, Latin and Greek borrowings create prestige


The formality of the text achieved through a variety of different means e.g. lexical choices, sentence complexity. Decisions made by writers elevate or lower the register.


Invention of the printing press (William Caxton). Eventually, this led to the lapse of the long s


Samuel Johnson's dictionary. Contributed to the standardisation of spelling.

The King James Bible

Put into writing and spread lots of idioms e.g. a fly in the ointment. Contributed to standardisation due to enduring influence and wide readership.

Synthetic personalisation

Currently, persuasive media such as advertising use pronouns as 'synthetic personalisation', creating a pseudo relationship with their audience. This persuasive device often results in a more conversational text and so seems more appealing to the intended


By 1700 (Late Modern English) capitalisation rules were as today. Before, abstract nouns, personified nouns- whatever the writer felt important. You might still see this in exam texts (which will be from 1700 onwards).

Punctuation expansion/contraction

First there was expansion in range of symbols, now there is contraction.
Caxton (.) (:)
The virgule (/) became the (,) during 16th c

Late Modern punctuation

Lots of commas, to link clauses
Colons and semi-colons used frequently to separate clauses
Apostrophes extended to possession and omission
Speech marks


Spelling is difficult
Spellings have to be memorised e.g. homophones
Spelling rules to be memorised e.g. double consonants sit/sitting
Old pronunciations
21st century spelling and technology e.g. text


Lowth's grammar book published. Contributed to standardisation (and invented rules)

They and them are not to be used as singular pronouns

Invented rule
Example: If anyone calls, tell them I'm in a meeting.
Comment: Such use may be inelegant style but does not break any real rule of grammar.

The infinitive should not be split (separated from to by a qualifier)

Invented rule
Example: The mission was to boldly go where no man had ever gone before.
Comment: There is no justification at all for this supposed rule.

Double negatives are really affirmatives

Comment: This derives from Robert Lowth ("Two negatives... are equivalent to an affirmative") but is deeply entrenched in popular attitudes to language.

Different should be immediately followed by "from" (not "than" or "to")

Invented rule
Comment: Aitchison finds examples of different to and H.W. Fowler's Modern English Usage labels the preference for different from a "superstition". But different to and different than may have other distinct uses.

Prepositions should not come at the end of a sentence.

Invented rule
Example: This is the man who/that I spoke to.
(Preferred form given as This is the man to whom I spoke.)
Comment: The suggestion that the preposition should come before the verb phrase has no justification. The second example above may be mo

Scandinavian borrowings

Calf, glitter, husband, kid, leg, skin, skull, bull, outlaw, reindeer

Words of Greek origin

Alphabet, biology, geometry, logic, metamorphosis, music, physics, theatre, zoo

Spanish borrowings

Banana, barricade, canyon, cigar, embargo, guerrilla, guitar, mosquito, tornado

Hindi borrowings

Bungalow, dungarees, jodhpurs, jungle, loot, polo, pyjamas, shampoo, thug


Compassion, junction, marine, nutrition, suburb, supernatural, temporary, transfer, visor

Words originating from Old English

Bring, come, father, wife, grass, ground, house, land, man, stand, summer, tree

Damp spoon syndrome

Aitchison's metaphor
Prescriptivist reaction of disgust to non-standard forms

Crumbling castle view

Aitchison's metaphor
Prescriptivist belief that language was better at some point in the past (criticism: impossible to pinpoint that moment because language constantly changes)

Infectious disease fear

Aitchison's metaphor
Prescriptivist fear that use of non-standard forms will spread e.g. through the young, or social media

Two descriptivist attitudes

Language is slowly evolving to a more efficient state or
Language can neither progress or decay


The study of the origins of words