by

MICHAEL SWAN
MICHAEL SWAN
by


• “All languages change. The English of 500
years ago is hard for us to read, and if we
could hear it spoken, we would understand
very little…” Michael SWAN
“All languages change. The English
of 500 years ago is hard for us to
read, and if we could hear it spoken,
we would understand very little…”
Michael SWAN

In which main ways does
language (English) change?
• Grammar

• Pronunciation

• Vocabulary

REASONS FOR LANGUAGE CHANGE
1. Phonetic Erosion: Speech production is a complex
physical and mental operation, thus, less
important syllables easily lose stress and are
reduced. Phonetic Erosion has two phases;
a. Phonetic Erosion of Syllables
Ex: secretary („secretry‟ or „secetry‟)
b. Merged Words
Ex: „going to‟ turns into „gonna‟
„could have‟ turns into „coulda‟
„have to‟ turns into „hafta‟

2. Structural Erosion:

a. Erosion of Auxiliaries
Ex: „I‟ve got‟ turns into „I got‟
„What do you want?‟ turns into „What you want?‟

b. Confusion of Irregular Verb Distinctions
Ex: The ship sunk without trace. (sank/sunk)
She sung very well yesterday. (sang/sung)

“Modals express numerous subtle
shades of meaning which can easily
become blurred, so that the verbs
gradually shift their uses”.
Michael SWAN
“Modals express numerous subtle
shades of meaning which can
easily become blurred, so that the
verbs gradually shift their uses”.

Michael SWAN
c. Modals: Divergence of Meanings
Ex: What does the modal may have + past
participle refer to?

! Traditionally, it refers to a possibility
that something really happened.
e.g. (after an accident)
They have taken her in for an X-ray – she
may have broken her leg.
! Now, it also refers to an unrealised
possibility as in „You were stupid to go
skiing there – you may have broken your
leg‟, whereas older speakers would use
„might/could have broken‟.

INNOVATION IN LANGUAGE
“As the world moves along, old forms of
expression get tired and worn out, and
speakers of a language – especially
younger speakers – seek to brighten
things up”.
Michael SWAN
INNOVATION IN LANGUAGE
“As the world moves along, old forms of
expression get tired and worn out, and
speakers of a language – especially
younger speakers – seek to brighten
things up”.
Michael SWAN
1. The formula I was like, meaning „I said‟ was so catchy
that it spread through the language very quickly.
Ex: I was like „You can‟t do that‟.
She was like „Well, I‟m gonna‟.
2. „set to‟: It is losing its original meaning and becoming
grammaticalised as an auxiliary, used not only for people
but also for things and processes.
Ex: interests are set to rise
pub opening hours are set to change
3. Reintroduction of the Second Person Singular-Plural
Distinction
Ex: Irish/Scottish yez
Southern US y’all

Now, it‟s becoming common in casual speech to use „you
guys‟ instead of just „you‟.
PRONUNCIATION and
VOCABULARY
1. Pronunciation
Swan calls attention to the rapid changes in English
pronunciation norms in the last half century and points to
how „Received Pronunciation‟ was affected in this period.

What is „Received Pronunciation‟ (RP)?

• It is the non-regional class-based British accent which had
the status of a standard up to the 1960s.
• According to Swan, RP has lost its prestige and is now
spoken by no more than %3 of the population. (So, the
norms of pronunciation are also very open to any change
and thus, they are changing.)
2. Vocabulary

How might vocabulary be affected?

• The shortage of inflections makes English
borrow freely from other languages.
• The highest proportion of the borrowed words
came from French.
• Apart from this, English also created its own
words by affixations.
Ex: auto-, eco-, mono-, macro-, inter-, -ology, -
cratic etc…

INFLUENCES
“One national variety can influence
another – British English is changing
in various small ways under the
influence of its powerful American
cousin”.
Michael SWAN
What do we understand by this?

In Swan‟s opinion, another important mechanism of
change is INFLUENCE, which closes both British
and American English up grammatically.

1. Grammatical and Lexical Influence
According to Swan, for example, some British
speakers began to use ‘Do you have…?’ for
current possession instead of ‘Have you got…?’
and ‘He looked like…’ instead of ‘He looked as
if…’ under the influence of Americans. Some
Americans, on the other hand, started to imitate
British ways of speaking, using words like
‘sacked’ for ‘fired’, ‘go missing’ for ‘disappear’ or
‘at the end of the day’ for ‘in the end’ under the
illusion of British high culture.
2. Formal and Informal Varieties
• As Swan puts it, formal and informal varieties
also influence each other. For him, in 19th
century Britain and America;
*The written language had great prestige.
*The informal spoken language was regarded
as a poor relation.
• The gap between spoken and written varieties
has reduced to a large extent thanks to oral
media‟s rehabilitation of the grammar of speech.
• For the time being, Swan also asserts that the
use of highly informal grammar in e-mails and
text messages is further reducing the
spoken/written divide.
Ex: txt msgs
THE PACE of CHANGE

The world has turned into a global village
nowadays. In this sense, Swan states,
small-scale changes to specific forms are
spreading quickly such as „was like‟ to
mean „said‟ from American English to
British English in a matter of ten years or
so.
• However, changes affecting larger linguistic
systems can well take centuries to work out. Some
examples to this put forward by Swan are as
follows;
1. Use of English Progressive: We may even
hear utterances like „understanding‟ and „liking‟
nowadays, although they are not grammatically
acceptable.
2. Use of Comparative/Superlative Forms:
„More‟ and „most‟ first took over three-syllable
adjectives and are now moving into two-syllable
words.
3. „Will‟ and „would‟ have begun to replace „shall‟
and „should‟, although it has taken a long time.

TRACKING CHANGE

Swan points up the importance of linguistic
research to be able to see what is changing
in English. At this point, Swan refers to a
recent study by Leech revealing that modal
verbs such as may and must are used less
frequently than before.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING
ABOUT ALL THESE CHANGES?
• Teachers don‟t need to worry about such
changes as English is not changing quite fast.
Most of the language will stay the same for some
time to come.
• We should just be following the innovation in
language at times in order not to misinform our
students.
• The authors of language courses, grammars and
dictionaries need to be alert to even the smallest
changes that are going on.