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Anna Williamson
Professor Morton
UWRT 1103 066
18 April 2016
Language: Its Just Keeping Up With the Times

"All the world 's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their
exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts" (2.7.139-143). That quote is
one of Shakespeares famous lines that appears in his play, As You Like It. Shakespeare is
renowned for contributing thousands of original words to the English language; I guess he just
couldnt find the words he was looking for, so he invented them. Throughout the ages the
English language has been molded and arranged so it will best suit the ones who need to use it.
We have compiled a long list of the various words to use throughout our lives, and many often
joke about reading this particular text. Thats right; its the dictionary. If you havent observed
this situation throughout your own life, Im about to enlighten you. Its the simple fact that new
versions of dictionaries come out every year with a multitude of changes. This goes to say that as
humans are changing, and in turn the English language is changing as well. The most important
reason the English language has changed over time is because of how speakers have changed
over the course of history. It has been said by many that how the language is changing is a
negative consequence of the changing times, and that speakers should stick with the languages
roots, but truthfully these changes allow the language to grow and thus allow us to more
effectively communicate.

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In the TED Talk with Anne Curzan, she raises several interesting points about the living
language and the humans behind dictionaries. She speaks of her encounter at a dinner party
where a man started telling her about all the ways that the Internet is degrading the English
language. He brought up Facebook, and he said, To defriend? I mean, is that even a real word?
So what is it that makes a word real? And who has the authority to do so? To answer these
questions Curzan points out, Here's the thing: If you ask dictionary editors, what they'll tell you
is they're just trying to keep up with us as we change the language. They're watching what we
say and what we write and trying to figure out what's going to stick and what's not going to stick.
They have to gamble, because they want to appear cutting edge and catch the words that are
going to make it, such as LOL, but they don't want to appear faddish and include the words that
aren't going to make it, and I think a word that they're watching right now is YOLO, you only
live once. This perspective on how the dictionary has changed is truly the cornerstone of the
living language. A dictionary is a written record of how the language is changing according to
those editors findings. This raises another point, which is the reliability of dictionaries. There
are various dictionaries and they all have differences in their contents. Curzan brings up the
saying, Just look it up in the dictionary and points out that this seems to say that all
dictionaries are the same. The truth of the matter is that dictionaries are not all the same and there
are human hands behind dictionaries, and we're really not sure who those hands belong to. We
have the authority to change the language. We as English speakers have the power to decide what
our words mean and we have the power to bring about new words. Many words have come about
lately because of the emerging of social media and texting such as tweet, hashtag, and
LOL. These words have proved beneficial to their users, and that is truly what matters. These
changes to the language have allowed the users to effectively communicate.

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The intricacy of the English language is pointed out in the beginning of The Mother
Tongue by Bill Bryson. He points out how English English and what is now American
English has diverged over the years and how in a matter of time it will be a difficult task to
communicate with our roots. Bryson points out that while English English hasnt changed
much over the years, American English has changed drastically and will continue to do so.
While many could look upon this fact as a negative thing, it can be looked at in a positive light.
We are molding our language to be our very own. We are changing it to suit us. We are creating
new means and words to communicate with. This is a very positive thing that the speakers of the
English language are not remaining stagnant. There are influences that Bryson takes into account
such as the Anglo-Saxons who are responsible for the naming of our days of the week. Bryson
points out the contribution of Shakespeare to the language because he added at a minimum 1,700
new words which include frugal, dwindle, and summit. He speaks about the complexities of the
language and how the similarities of certain words and how they can bring about
miscommunication. He points out humorously, Any language where the unassuming word fly
signifies an annoying insect, a means of travel, and a critical part of a gentlemans apparel is
clearly asking to be mangled (Bryson 11). Upon looking through the Oxford English dictionary,
I discovered that the root of the word fly, which means to soar through the air, also suggests
flapping. The usage of fly as in a means of travel is straightforward, and it over time has
become tied to the idea of an insect which can fly through the air and the word stuck with the
insect. The interesting part is how fly was related to a particular part of the pants. The first use
of fly meaning tent flap was documented in 1810. Later, in 1844 a book about military
clothing was found to have the first record of the word fly to mean pants opening. While this

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change of the language is a bit difficult to understand at first, once having a look at the roots of
the words, its not so difficult to understand why the words developed as they did.
In Our Marvelous Native Tongue: The Life and Times of the English Language, Claiborne
digs deeper into the influence of the Anglo Saxons migrating into Britain in 430 A.D. In an effort
to bring out the truth from the past he speculates that these humans who lived in Britain at the
time had only a few hundred words or a few dozen words. Claiborne writes, The total number
of English words lies somewhere between 400,000 the number of current entries in the largest
English dictionaries and 600,000 the largest figure that any expert is willing to be quoted on.
By comparison, the biggest French dictionaries only have about 150,000 entries, the biggest
Russian ones a mere 130,000 (5). An interesting etymology that is mentioned by Claiborne is
how the word jungle had originally meant desert. Once I looked this up in the Oxford
English Dictionary, it proved to be true. In 1776 the word jungle was shown to mean desert. The
word gradually changed to mean uncultivated land which is the definition we recognize today.
He provides an example of a man named Jonathan Swift, who a few hundred years ago, proposed
an institution that would try and freeze the English language. This is a very interesting concept
to be discovered, because it directly connects with my thesis. Throughout the book, Claiborne
strengthens the points of others by stating up the fact that the language changes because we are
changing it with our usage. He then reinforces this by saying, The only languages that dont
evolve are dead (Claiborne 78). This brings up the idea that the change of the language is a
positive occurrence because it is what is keeping the language alive. If Swifts idea would have
come to fruition, one could assume that the speakers of the English language would have a
difficult time finding their words in this day and time. As changes occur in the world, it is safe to
assume that changes will come about in the language as well.

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The Story of English is written by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil
and begins by explaining a space mission by the spacecraft Voyager 1 which blasted off carrying
a greeting in fifty-five different languages but then is preceded by a message from the Secretary
General of the United Nations, an Australian Kurt Waldheim speaking on behalf of 147 member
states - in English. This book contained an informative and interesting view on how the English
language has developed and has become increasingly important over time. Although it is an older
book, being published in 1986, it provides a glimpse into the past and still seems to be relevant to
todays time. The book is thorough; in which it covers the development of the Old English
language to the evolution it underwent through the years. An influence that McCrum, Cran, and
MacNeil mention is that, Throughout the 1950s, American television and movies combined to
bring American English and the American way of life as interpreted by to a world audience
(25). They also mention another important influence that still pertains today which is that,
American broadcasting, of course, had long been the most potent medium of the English
language (McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil 27). It is true, even today, that we are influenced by the
movies and television we watch, and by the songs we listen to. A clear example of this is when
the faddish word YOLO hit and has since slowly faded away. McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil
touch on the influence of Shakespeares influence on English, when they write, It is lucky for us
that Shakespeare live during the first flourishing of the popular presses; centuries later we can
still appreciate the extent of his powers, his compassion, his knowledge of the human heart, and
above all his genius for words (98). I also have discovered more words that ae contributed to
Shakespeare, such as, accommodation, assassination, dexterously, dislocate, indistinguishable,
obscene, pedant, premeditated, reliance, and submerged. (McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil 98).

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American English by Albert Marckwardt starts off with idea about the number of English
speakers in the world. It puts the number of speakers during 1958, somewhere between 300,000
and 325,000 million people and points out that it is about one-seventh of the worlds population.
As time has passed, this number has grown to be approximately 350 to 400 million.
Marckwardt points out the influence from Indians who lived in America before us, the French
who we had run ins with because of the westward expansion of the continent, and the Spanish
who the settlers encountered as they moved Southward towards the Gulf of Mexico. We
borrowed many words from these different people throughout the years. Many of these words
that we have brought into our own language include foods and items that are native to the areas
that we inhabited. He points out the close interaction of linguistic and cultural factors in the
growth of American English (Marckwardt 8). It is mentioned that sometimes new words are
borrowed from old words, or often times, old words are given new meanings. This has been true
ever since the beginning of language. I believe that if Marckwardt could read my argumentative
essay, that he would support my stance and thesis. I feel that we are likeminded in the sense that
we agree that the English language has had various influences from outsiders, yet we have taken
them and made them to suit our needs. Throughout time, we have changed a words spelling or
its definition altogether in order for it to be used effectively.
In The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg went into
depth about the history of English and its roots. Bragg explained how our language has acquired
other words from every language it has encountered. This seems to tie in well with Albert
Marckwardts American English which also speaks on the influences of others and words that we
have incorporated into our own language. This work covers the history of the English language
its contact with the Celtic language, the Scandinavian language, and the French. Bragg begins by

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mentioning, English absorbed parts of every language that it came in contact with, and then
traveled across the seas of the British empire, where other lands became very influential (15). I
feel as though The Adventure of English is a good backing for the other information that I have
found throughout my research. It mentions the various influences that have directly impacted the
language and shows that we have morphed the words and made them our own. It also directly
supports my thesis by mentioning how the language change from generation to generation is only
a means of which we will be able to communicate more efficiently and effectively. This writing
is a reminder that language usually doesnt exist in isolation. I feel that this ties in well with
Claibornes point that, The only languages that dont evolve are dead. The English language is
a living language, and must adapt with us, in order to survive.
In the book, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why
We Should, Like, Care by John McWhorter argues that language change is inevitable and
happens in all languages, while some more than others. While McWhorter has taken an opposing
stance on the topic of language change, I feel that it is important to analyze his ideas. His writing
comes off to me as a rant; this guy is not remotely happy about change. I found it interesting as I
read through his writing that he feels that language change is an inevitable thing, but then he tries
to pin the blame on the 1960s cultural revolution. McWhorter claims that there is a real problem
with the English that we are around today in the media, from our politics, and what we read in
pop culture. It directly takes a negative stance to this change and points out how it degrades
throughout time. He believes that formal English is being overwhelmed by slang that is bringing
about serious consequences for writing, music, and society. In response to this, I feel as though
we have a choice of how to use words. If one needs to write formally, one can select the
appropriate words to fit this idea of formal. The English language changes because English

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speakers change it. If someone cannot find the words they are looking for, I say, be like
Shakespeare, and create the words to suit your needs.
English is a living language that will continue to thrive and change as long as we do. The
change in the language is important because it directly impacts the ability to communicate with
one another. Various attempts have been made to stop the change of the language, but truly this
just isnt possible. To halt the change would bring about the end to the language. The changes
that occur are positive in the sense that they allow us to communicate more effectively. In a large
scale, it is impacting the world because while there are influences that impact the English
language, the English language is also impacting other languages and groups of people. What we
can do about the change is embrace it. We bring the change about naturally, practically without
even thinking about it. It works almost like a cycle, all in harmony. The change is ideal, because
as the world changes, we change with it, and the language changes with us.

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Works Cited

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. New York: Arcade
Pub, 2004. Print.
Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. New York: Avon Books,
1991. Print.
Claiborne, Robert. Our Marvelous Native Tongue: The Life and Times of the English Language.
New York: Times Books, 1983. Print.
"jungle, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 16 April 2016.
Marckwardt, Albert H. American English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. Print.
McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Viking,
1986. Print.