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"Changes in word usage and meaning in the English language reflect the evolving nature of society's values."Examine how societal and cultural values influence our language.

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"Changes in word usage and meaning in the English language reflect the evolving nature of society's values." Examine how societal and cultural values influence our language. The English language has been formed and developed over many centuries into the form with which we now associate, and recognise, it today. The development and change of language can be primarily attributed to societal and cultural pressures, which are occurring and influencing its speakers, which is the primary claim of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The pressures influencing language modification can be seen to arise from a multitude of sources, be it internal or external ones, with their overall result-varying dependent upon their impact on the population of that language region. Change within the English language can be seen to have come about as a result of the various influences it has seen, such as that of invasion and the movement of people, technological development, changing social attitudes, general changes in attitude to what is perceived to be acceptable or not and the changing of word usage and meaning. Language is a relative concept that is constantly adapting and changing to reflect the societal and cultural influences that affect its speakers. German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt summed up the changing nature of language in 1836 by stating that: There can never be a moment of true standstill in language, just as little as in the ceaseless flaming thought of men. By nature it is a continuous process of development.1 This idea of a language moving constantly and never completely staying still is applicable to any language as it can be shown to be changing through pressures placed upon it by a dominant faction of society. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (Appendix One) directly links language and culture by stating that: The content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.2 The hypothesis is claiming that language is created from a culture and that a language is organised is directly linked to how the society it is created from is structured.


New generations change what is acceptable and permissible in society and change their language to reflect this transformation. As new generations change their views and morals they are also changing language to reflect this and therefore language changes can be seen to be transformed more dramatically with the beginning of each new generation. The acceptable language and views of each new generation were not necessarily acceptable in the older generations and therefore language changes to incorporate this. An example of how new generations find it permissible to do what older generations did not can be seen in relation to the issue of swearing. While older generations did not find swearing permissible, and it was met with outrage if it was heard, newer generations find it permissible to hear it in everyday contexts such as on television and in movies. The word 'fuck' is now acceptable to new generations in society whereas in the past it caused considerable outrage and scandal, as can be seen when it was first said on television by Kenneth Tynan in 1965. Form the 1980's onwards many films have contained this word and it has evoked little, or none, of the outrage it did three decades beforehand. By 1997 when several broadcasting organisations produced a ranking of words by severity 'fuck' only came third.5 The changing values of a new generation are further backed up by research completed by the BBC which discovered that of a list of words that 50% plus said should never be broadcast 'fuck' was not even on the list.6 This change in socially acceptable values by new generations can therefore be shown to influence what is acceptable in terms of language and how language has to change to reflect the changing views of each new generation. Changing standards and expectations within society can also be seen to have had a result on the English language.


The hypothesis is based on the principle that language and a culture are intrinsically linked and that language actually created from society's culture and follows the conventions and structure of that society. Sapir and Whorf have both suggested that how people perceive reality is directly linked to the language that they speak and recognise and therefore that this language that they recognise helps to create their thoughts. Sapir and Whorf both agreed on the idea that culture, language and peoples thoughts are all linked together and that they all affect and help to create the other. Appendix Two The core of the English language is Anglo-Saxon and this can be seen by the name of places over the country. Some examples of these are names ending in borough, ton, bury, bridge, grove, ham or ing, or those beginning with Brig, Bourne, Mer, Mar, Stan, Stoke or Stow. Appendix Three The Normandy invasion in 1066 introduced over 50 000 new words into the English language, such as government, parliament, city and palace. Appendix Four 'The Great Vowel Shift' occurred in the fifteenth century and had a change on language which is still applicable today. This shift in vowel affected the long (tense) vowels found in words and this affected the punctuation of words in English greatly. What the language was like before the shift can be seen in works of literature and poetry from the likes of Chaucer. 1 Wilhelm von Humboldt (1836) quoted in Aitchinson, J. 'Language Change: Process or Decay?' (Third Edition), Cambridge University Press. 2 Quoted on website E Museum by Minnesota State University Http:// 3 Quoted on website Inc, Http:// 4 Page 14. Romaine, S. Language In Society. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Second Edition) Oxford University Press 5 Quoted by Margolis, J. 'Expletive Deleted' Guardian, G2 (21/11/02) 6 Research by BBC Chief advisor Andrea Willis, quoted by Margolis, J. 'Expletive Deleted' Guardian, G2 (21/11/02) 7 Quoted by Margolis, J. 'Expletive Deleted' Guardian,G2 (21/11/02) 8 Chambers Word Online, Http:// 9 Page 194. Downes, W. Language and Society Fontana, London 1

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