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Language Innovation

By znnouba Feb 14, 2012 1867 Words
Language innovation

It is well known that time changes everything in this universe; thus; it would be strange if language alone does not alter. As the famous linguist Ferdinand de Saussure noted ‘’time changes all things: there is no reason why language should escape thi suniversal law’’ in (Aitchison (ed), 1981: 16).

All living languages are in a constant state of change in the sense that, new words and expressions come into existence, old words are dropped and new pronunciation takes place. This fact is commented on by the German philosopher-linguist Wilhelm Von Humboldt, who stated that ‘’ there can never be a moment of true standstill in language, just as little as in the ceaselessly flaming thought of men. By nature it is a continuous process of development’’ in (Aitchicon (ed), 1981).

Language change contributes greatly to the appearence of phonology, syntax and semantics. So what can we say about semantics ?

a) Semantic change

Semantic change is a change that affects the meaning of a word either by the addition of other possible meanings to the same word, or by the loss of its meaning of its meaning over a period of time. Polysemous words can be good examples of historical semantic change in that different lexicographers may impose different extensions of meanings on the same words through ages. This fact- as Sadiqi and Ennaji (1992) noted- helps very much in the explanation of the way lexicographers organize their dictionaries, as well as the type of historical sources they use as a basis for dictionary compiling. As an illustration, the word ‘’service’’ has acquired different meanings from its original one: * The state of being a servant

* Government employment
* Help
* Benefit, advantage
* Worship, prayer
* Complete set of plates
* Playing a ball in tennis
(Sadiqi and Ennaji, 1992: 267)

Another example of semantic change is provided by Aitchison (ed)(1981) who noticed that some words have change their meanings in unpredictable ways ‘’as Robin Iakoff pointed out, because of the decline in the employment of servants, the term master and mistress are now used in rather different ways from their original meaning’’ (Aitchison (ed), 1981:30). Master now usually refers to ‘’ to be skillfull in something, whereas mistress refers to a female lover’’.

What about phonological change?

b) Phonological change

Bailey (1973) has noted that for many young speakers in the Western part of the U.S., the distinction between the vowels in such pairs of words, such as “naughty” and “knotty”, “caught” and “cot”, “dawn” and “Don” has completely disappeared in Wardhaugh (1986:192). A second example of phonological change comes from the study of labov of the fluctuating /r/ in New York speech. He states that there are people who use or do not use /r/ in words, such as car, bear, and beard. His study does not prove that the absence or the presence of /r/ would not be a mere chance, but would be correlated with social status in (Aitchison (ed), 1981: 90).

Apart from the analysis of r, Aitchison looked at the sounds at the beginning of “the”, “this” and “that”, which in New York sometimes pronounced as /du/ /dis/ and /dat/. A third example of phonological change is the one investigated in the survey of the Norwich variable (ng). This is the pronunciation of the suffix-ing in present participles, such as “walking” “reading. In most varieties of English the final consonant of this suffix is variable, alternating between /ny / and / n/ (Trudgill, 1980: 67).

After this section about phonological change let us now move to the lexical change.

c) Lexical change

Lexical change is a linguistic phenomenon that affects the vocabulary items of any natural language, in the sense that, new terms tend to be added, replaced or changed. Thus, if we look at any big dictionary, we will find numerous words which have totally disappeared from normal usage. “Thou” “thee” and “thy” can be considered as good examples of archaic pronouns, which are no more used by English people. Today, they are replaced by other pronouns, such as “your”, “yours” and “you”.

Besides this, there are new words that have been added to the English vocabulary, such as “atomizer”, “lazer” and other words which have a direct relation to technology. Moreover, languages seem not to be influenced by lexical innovations. In England, for example, young people cannot help creating new words which are meant to differentiate them from old people. For example, they may use the terms “boss” “solid” “wicked” as adjectives to refer to someone or something which is very beautiful. They may also use the word, “mad” to refer to someone who does unusual things.

In Moroccan Arabic, lexical change is more apparent than any other aspect of language change. Thus, if we want to investigate lexical change in Moroccan Arabic, we should make a comparison between the speech of older people and that of the younger speakers are observed to use languages differently from older speakers. This is due to the fact that young people’s linguistic repertoire is pregnant with innovated words that are unused by the old generation, such as: / / (beautiful); / / (my friend). / / (money); / / (steal).

These lexical innovations are, of course, due to many reasons which we will discover in the second part of this presentation. Besides this, we will study the use or non-use of these linguistic innovations according to age, sex and area.

Now, that the theoretical part is over, allow us to move to the practical part:


Some of the words used by a person of 20 years old may not be used by a person of 40 years old. As far as young people are concerned, the use of new items is linked to their purpose of distinguishing themselves from the old generation. In other words, young people want to have their own specific words which could cause lexical ambiguity to old people; they think that lexical innovation is the “secret language” by which the young generation can communicate freely, even in the presence of old people.

Furthermore, they think that the use of such innovated words is a way by which the individual can free himself from the linguistic constraints that society has imposed on people. Thus, the creation of new words may give conversations a kind of vitality and spontaneity. Young people claim that our dialect is characterized by the rarity of words that expresses strong emotions.

Besides this, young people claim that lexical innovation play a crucial role in enriching the vocabulary of a language. For example, if a young person wants to describe a girl, he can make use of many innovated adjectives and nouns, such as: /a chick/ (a girl)

/hottie/ (a beautiful girl)
/fugly/ (ugly girl)

From the examples above, we have tackled some of the reasons that push young people to innovate or use lexical innovations. Now, we will deal with the reasons that lead old people to reject the use of lexical innovation. Old people seem not to appreciate the use of innovated words. This is dur to the fact that they consider such words to be a deviation from our dialect. This idea was illustrated by a comparison of some innovated words with the original words in the original language.

It is clear now that from all that is stated above that lexical innovation is an age-based phenomenon since this linguistic feature is pervasive among the population of young speakers, regardless of factors like class and sex.

What about lexical innovation in relation to sex?


Sex is another determining factor that may help us to identify the innovating group. In other words, we will see how the sex of the informants influences the use or non-use of lexical innovation. Women seem not to overuse linguistic innovations for they consider them to be a man’s creation. Females agree on that women should distinguish themselves from men by not using new items. The latter are deemed by women as vulgar and taboo. The use of such words is socially and educationally inappropriate with women, for they are considered as immoral and dirty. For that reason, women prefer to a French pr any other sophisticated terminology. However, in a group of young females some innovated words may be uttered (used) just for fun, or to express intimacy. What is striking about this is that most of these innovated words are related to the field of money, beauty and love.

Women also think that the use of these words will not influence their prestigious use of language. On the other hand, women seem to reject strongly the use of some innovated words, especially those which have to do with immoral behavior, or which have sexual connotations.

Women seem to agree that such words are mostly used by men since they consider them to be among the linguistic forms that indicate virility and manhood. In fact a woman’s language may reflect her personality and her social behavior. In other words, if a woman makes use of innovated words, she will be thought to be not well brought up. The use of new items may lead women to acquire some of the characteristics of female behavior, such as harshness and vulgarity. Besides this, those people think that a woman’s overuse of such items will lead her to be looked down by people and to be treated as a prostitute.

Thus, it is clear from all that is stated that men exhaust the use of lexical innovations more than women. The latter seem not to enjoy the use of new items. This is due to their interest in using a “clean” and “fashionable” language.

After analyzing lexical innovation in relation to gender, let us discover lexical innovation in relation to area.

In this section, we will make a comparison between different areas in a country or a city . For example a high social area is an area which has the less knowledge of lexical innovations than a lower one. This is due to the negative attitude that people from higher social class hold towards the creation of new items. This attitude is a result of their thinking that innovations belong to lower classes and, thus, anyone who uses lexical innovations is lowering himself.

However, this does not mean that they don’t know or use these innovated words.
However, people consider the dominance of such words in their speech as a way of showing solidarity between the members of this area. Excluding old people, they try to avoid the use of such words; they will laugh at him and consider him as an outsider. So, they think of lexical innovations as their linguistic unity through which they can identify with other poor areas. It is also important to note that some children having good knowledge of lexical innovation. This is due to the frequent use of linguistic innovations by their families, especially by their brothers and sisters.

As a conclusion, we may say that linguistic innovations, in general, come from the lower social levels. Some of these innovations-as we have mentioned- managed to reach the speech of rich people.

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