The meaning of words should not be allowed to vary or change – Peter Trudgill
What is the central contention of the essay?
This essay highlights-
- Language will change no matter what, but its necessarily a bad thing as if everybody changes, then the new words/meanings will be recognised in the language.
- If the worries refuse to change then they will have a very hard time fitting in in society.
- Language change happens in all languages but confusion never occurs as grammar/ context makes sense /makes it work.
- The author, Peter Trudgill, argues that language will change no matter what and people will have to accept it.
- He argues against people worrying about language change.
Judging by Trudgill’s views, he is fairly similar to the descriptivist Jean Aitcheson.
She accepts language change and goes against people who claim there was a point of perfection in language. She doesn’t accept other contrasting theories and feels language will change no matter what. This is very similar to Peter Trudgill’s views.
When he is talking about how people are strict over word origins, he contrasts this.
He states that people say it is wrong to use aggravate to mean ‘irritate’ even though this is the most common use in English, because it comes originally from the Latin aggravare, which meant ‘to make heavier’ and was originally borrowed into English with the meaning ‘to make more serious’.
Disinterested and Uninterested
In modern English, the positive form interested has two different meanings. The first and older meaning is approximately ‘having a personal involvement in’, as in
He is an interested party in the dispute
The second and later, but now much more common meaning is ‘demonstrating or experiencing curiosity in, enthusiasm for, concern for’, as in
He is very interested in cricket
According to the dictionary the two different meanings of interested have different negative forms. The negative of the first meaning is disinterested, as in
I am disinterested and therefore able to be more objective about it
Disinterested is roughly equivalent to ‘neutral, impartial’ . The negative form of the second, more usual meaning is uninterested, as in
He is very interested in cricket, but I am uninterested in all sports.
Uninterested is thus roughly equivalent to ‘bored, feeling no curiosity’
Nice comes originally from two ancient Indo-European roots, ‘skei’ meaning ‘cut’ , which came down in Latin as the verb scire ‘to know’, probably via a meaning such as ‘be able to distinguish one thing from another’ , and *ne meaning ‘not’.
The combination of the two gave the verb ‘nescire’ which meant ‘to be ignorant of’. This led to the development of the adjective nescius ‘ignorant’, which came down into Old French as nice meaning ‘silly’
It was then borrowed from French into medieval English with the meaning, ‘foolish/shy’ and over the centuries has gradually changed its meaning to ‘modest’ then ‘delicate’ ‘considerate’ ‘pleasant’ and finally ‘agreeable’.
A very long way in 6000 years from its original meaning. “No one in their right mind though would argue that the real meaning of nice is, or ought to be not cutting”
Interesting quotes from the article…
“language change should not be halted. Nor should the worriers obliged try to halt it”
Here the author is stating how he does not think people should be concerned about language change and that it is going to happen anyway. People across the world are concerned that language is losing its perfection, but Trudgill does not agree with this and thinks we will all just have to accept it.
“the only language which do not change are those like Latin which nobody speaks”
Here the author is stating that all languages will change anyway, no matter what laws or rules get enforced. The only languages that do change are ones like Latin, which people see as the perfect language. However he is hinting that if it is so perfect why does nobody use it anymore?
“confusion never seems to occur because the context will normally make it obvious which meaning is intended”
He is stating here to the people that are concerned with change of word origins. He thinks that even if people use a word incorrectly now or in the future, the context i.e. the words surrounding the changed word will make the meaning clear. So therefore people do not have to worry about words losing their meanings, such as disinterested.
“words do not mean what we as individuals might wish them to mean, but what speakers of the language in general want them to mean”
He is saying here that language changes with society as a whole. Individuals cannot place an argument for a word to stay the same as language is such a wide scale thing. He again reiterates that language will change no matter what and we just have to accept it, laws or no laws in place.
“there is nothing at all funny-peculiar about the fact that some words in modern English are currently changing their meanings”
Here again he is stating that language change should be accepted and it happens all around the world so why cannot some English people accept it? He is reinforcing that it is very normal for language to change and worriers should not be concerned as it will happen either way.
“we also have to point out to opponents of change that there are actually some benefits to be gained from this development”
He is now saying there are actual benefits of language change to the worriers, such as simplified language so it is easier to have a conversation. Most people only see it as a bad thing but in this case he is now contrasting their views.
I do agree with Peter Trudgill’s views. I believe that language is going to change and as individuals we do not have the power to change language. If someone doesn’t want it to change I believe they will have to get more than 50% of the language speakers on side and informed, which is a very hard thing to do.
Many linguists such as Jean Aitcheson agree with Peter’s views, however some people like Lynne Truss will differ, who feel strongly about grammar and language not changing.