LANGUAGE CHANGE


          About sixty years ago, Edward Sapir introduced a valuable new concept into linguistics. 'Language,' he wrote,' moves down time in a current of its own making. It has a drift... Nothing is perfectly static. Every word, every grammatical element, every locution, every sound and accent is a slowly changing configuration, moulded by the invisible and impersonal....' (E. Sapir, Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech, New York, repr. 1942). Of all linguistic elements, meaning is probably the least resistant to change. There is a proverb in our villages which says that language changes every six miles. One of the result is that "all grammars leak! because language is not a static entity. While defining language we have already said that language is 'modifiable, extendable' and that language changes in time and space.

          Living language, indeed, never hold still. All of them are continually changing their sounds, their grammar, their vocabulary and their meaning for various reasons. A look at the old inscriptions and manuscripts, at Chaucer or Shakespeare shows how many of English sounds and spellings have changed. For example the final 'e' in numerous Chaucerian words is no more seen in modern English; the sound phonetically /i/ which occurs before /u/ in words such as tune, duty, muse, has disappeared in words such as rute, flute. Once expression 'It is me' was ungrammatical, but now it is the quite acceptable.

          But for the most part these changes are gradual and systematic and minor. They are so natural that they escape our attention as they occur and remain imperceptible. Over a span of centuries, however, their cumulative effect is noticeable. 'It is only by a necessary fiction that we treat linguistic systems, for the purposes of synchronic analysis, as if they were static and unchanging. The linguistic analyst's first task is the synchronic description of linguistic structures; his second task is to formulate the changes that take place in language with the passage of time, through irreversible alterations'(Hall 1969).

          But the astonishing thing about language is not the fact that it changes, but that it changes so little not to disturb its equilibrium or upset its basic characteristics. Furthermore, language changes in an orderly and integrated fashion. No sound change is an isolated incident. In an interrelated system, a change in one item automatically affects all the other items by a chain reaction. 'Language, like thermostat, is self regulating, constantly readjusting itself in an attempt to maintain an equilibrium'. But a perfect equilibrium is impossible for various reasons, main being the irregular layout of the speech organs.

CAUSES OF LINGUISTIC CHANGE

          Language has a tendency to change from complexity towards simplicity, from length towards precision, from difficulty towards ease, from disorder towards order. Need or uniformity or diversity, desire for novelty, need for new expressions because of new inventions, discoveries, developments, and need to find words for new objects, concepts and places cause language change. 

          Language changes because of linguistic, social, cultural, psychological historical and geographical factors too. According to Saussure, language changes due to the innovations of individuals and of community, and historical reasons. Bloomfield gives several accounts of linguistic change and concludes that sound change arises from the preference for one non-distinctive variant of a phoneme over another. Changes in the syntax or phonology or meaning of a language also result from borrowing which, in most cases, takes place because of prestige'. Neighbouring dialects and languages as well as foreign languages also effect linguistic changes. 

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