There are two large linguistic camps called the traditionalists and the revisionists. Essentially, traditionalists resist the formation of new words, while revisionists encourage it. The study of language is challenging, but I think  there are a few retrospective insights in philology.

Traditionalists emphasize the importance of linguistic rules, and generally are sticklers for grammar, syntax, and pronunciation. Revisionists support the flexibility and creativity of language, celebrating all the diversity they encounter. Wordsmith-ing is almost always unintentional. Neologisms become gradually acceptable as more people find it useful for communication and expression. Therefore a change in language is an actual record of the changes in culture.

While I see the logic in the traditionalist camp, I feel it often defeats the purpose of language, which is expression and communication. If people are trying to be academic, then yes, the rules are important. But ‘academic’ is not the standard for how language changes, people are. Whether people find it useful in communicating or expressing, is the rule for which words and expressions eventually become adopted or changed.

People are not logical. People break rules. Why then should we scold people’s creativity in communication? If we have a problem with a pronunciation, it’s either because we are uncomfortable with a different culture and we are too ethnocentric. Or if it occurs within one’s own culture, then it is more rooted in one’s own prejudices against the people who use it. Language has historically been used  (and still is) an isolating mechanism for the poor and uneducated.

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8 responses »

  1. Gunta says:

    As part of an ex-pat community, preserving the old language was an obsession with the older folks. Made for some bizarre arguments.

    • Interesting. Care to share?

      • Gunta says:

        Many years ago PBS did a documentary on Language where they commented on how certain pockets of folks who emigrated to another country would preserve their native language in a more “pure” form than those remaining in the home country. I don’t remember all the details, but I might try digging around to see if I can give you a reference (if you’re interested?)

        From personal experience: I was born in Latvia, my family bailed during the Soviet/Nazi invasion (when I was 8 months old), then moved on to Germany until we finally settled here in the states. The diaspora took on this mission to preserve the old culture and language when the Soviets took over the old homeland. Then came 1991 when Independence was regained and the older generation was appalled at the Russian words and sayings that had contaminated what they thought of as the pure Latvian language. Those who stayed behind thought this so-called “pure” language quaint and antiquated.

        Personally, I think language is a living thing. It grows and changes with the times. Going back to the previous situation, it was kind of amusing to see the different versions that were created to name things like TV and Computer and laptop, etc…

      • Fascinating. I would be very interested to see the video if you can find the link. I think I might have caught the tail end of it while visiting somewhere. The idea that immigrants preserve the language better makes sense for reasons. Though, I heard in my psych class that there is a pattern of generations within immigrants. First generation and second generation generally preserve the culture to a large extent, third and more generations can often leave their families, and try to completely conform to the dominant culture.

  2. Gunta says:

    Google “PBS “The Story of English”. It looks to me like you might be able to watch all nine parts of the series on YouTube. I remember it as being excellent. Plan to watch it again first chance I get. Thanks to you for bringing it back to mind again. BTW I have the companion book they issued with it.

    Not sure which generation I’m considered (born in Latvia, arrived here when I was 5). Maybe I was a rebel, or not the norm, but my tendency was to conform to US culture. Left behind all the stifling ways of the old world just as fast as I could, unlike most of the other kids in my group. (The exception that proved the rule???)

    On another note…. love your header!

    • It’s a flexible rule. The important thing to note is that people are all humans, and we generally react in the same way.
      Lol. Yeah Portland is weird, and I love it. My girlfriend took the picture.

  3. Through out the world today, people talk about change if there are changes in the melliou, i personally love the new changes and innovations in language. I will like to join or be part of you scholars, so what should i contribute as knowledge so that i can be part of your team?

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