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Theme 12. Lexical description of Modern English


If speakers of English from 1800 were able to speak to those from 2000, they would notice a few differences in grammar and pronunciation, but not very many. The main difficulty for the nineteenth-century speakers would be in understanding a huge number of new words.

Discoveries and inventions in all areas of science in the last two hundred years have led to appearance of new words for machines, materials, plants, animals, stars, diseases and medicines, and new expressions for scientific ideas. The spread of English around the world, and easier and faster communication, have resulted in creation of thousands of other new words. About 100,000 new words have entered the language in the last hundred years - more than ever before.

Here are some examples of these new words, with the date when each word first appeared in writing. Most new words (about two-thirds) have been made by combining two old words: fingerprint (1859), airport (1919), street­wise (1965). The recent development in computers has introduced many of this type: online (1950), user-friendly (1977) and download (1980). Some new words have been made from Latin and Greek; for example, photograph (1839), and video (1958). Others are old words that have been given new meanings. For example, pilot (1907) was first used to refer to a person who directs the path of ships, and cassette (1960) used to mean a small box. About five per cent of new words have come from foreign languages. Forexample, disco (1964) has come from French and pizza (1935) from Italian. And a few words have developed from the names of thingswe buy: for example, coke (1909) from Coca-Cola, and Walkman (1981) from Sony Walkman.

Beginnings or endings have been added to make new words: disinformation(1955) is false information, touchy-feely (1972) describes people who express their feelings by touchingothers. Sometimes both a beginning and an ending have been added: for example, unputdownable (I 947) describes a book which is so interesting that you cannot stop reading it. Some words have been shortened: photo (1860) for photograph; plane (1908) for aeroplane; telly (1940) and TV (1948) for television. Some words first appeared as slang before they joined the main language; for example boss (1923) was an American slang word meaning manager in the seventeenth century. Some words have combined sounds from two other words: for example, smog (1905), used to describe the bad air in cities, is made from smoke and fog. Only a few new words have not been created from other words. Two examples are nylon (1938) to describe a man-made material, and flip-flop (1970), a type of shoe that makes a noise as you walk.

Our changing world and shifting interests have added hundreds of new words and meanings to the English language in the last two decades, e.g.

netizen — Internet user

tree hugger environmen­talist

karaoke — singing

digerati — people who know about computers

wannabe — one who has aspirations

ecotourism — traveling to natural lands

pathography — biography fo­cusing on the negative elements of a subject, popularized by a U.S. writer Joyce Carol Oates; also, the study of the effects of illness on a historical person's life.

nutraceutical — a food or other substance that has been supple­mented with ingredients believed to have health benefits.

The growth in vocabulary is clear when we look at the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This dictionary includes all English words since 1150 (even those that are no longer used). It shows, with examples, when each word was first used in writing and how the meaning of a word has changed over the centuries.

Finding all this information was a huge job, although no one realized at the beginning exactly how huge. James Murray, a forty-two-year-old Scot, was appointed the director of work on the dictionary in 1879, and the aim was to finish the job in ten years. After five years, the first part of the dictionary was produced, but it only covered the letters A-ANT. Everyone realized that this was going to take a lot longer than ten years to finish. In fact, it took another forty-four. Sadly, Murray did not live to see its completion: he died in 1915, working on the letter U. However, he knew that he had helped to create a dictionary which would provide an accurate history of the development of the English language.

The first OED was completed in 1928 and had 414,800 words. The second OED, produced in 1989, explains the meanings of 615,100 words. It includes more scientific words and words from North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Caribbean, India and Pakistan. However, the OED does not include many spoken words, slang words or words from non-British kinds of English. Some people think that there are probably a million different words and expressions in English today. A third OED is planned for 2010, with the first changes to Murray's work since 1879: earlier and later examples of words will be added, as well as more details on each word's history.

The spread of new words in the twentieth century was made possible by newspapers, radio, television, films, pop music and the Internet. These ways of communication can reach huge numbers of people. Television and radio have also influenced pronunciation.

In the 1920s the BBC chose a particular accent for its presenters. This was the educated accent of the upper classes of south-east England. It became known as 'Received Pronunciation' ('RP'), or 'the King's English'. The use of RP on radio and television meant that more people heard it and connected it with social importance. It was not acceptable to use strong regional accents on television or radio, or in professions such as teaching or politics. However, in the 1960s social differences began to break down, and regional accents became more acceptable everywhere. And as the number of radio and television programmes grew, more presenters with different accents had to be employed.

Today RP is no longer a particularly important accent and people in Britain are now used to hearing all kinds of accents on radio and television. Different pronunciations, words and expressions can now travel faster and further. Some of these new words and expressions come from American English.



Date: 2015-12-11; view: 972

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