THE MEANINGS OF WORDS SHOULD NOT ALLOWED TO VARY OR CHANGE – PETER TRUDGILL
- The central point made by the author in this essay is that language is changing all the time and despite many people objecting to it and thinking it is for the worst it can not be stopped and is not really a good or bad thing but just a inevitable event that has to take place due to the fact society and people change all the time and therefore the language must change with it.
- The author is a descriptivist arguing that language does change and there is nothing we can do about it but that there is nothing we should want to do about it because it is not a bad thing. Language changes especially in meaning but despite arguments that this causes confusion the author Trudgill goes on to argue and give examples that this does not cause confusion at all due to context used or due to the fact that the newer version of the meaning of a word has become so much more commonly used than the older version therefore there is never confusion.
- The author is arguing against prescriptivists and those who claim that language change is a negative thing because the change in meaning causes confusion and is a result of misuse of language as well as ignorance and laziness. He is also arguing against people who think we should try and stop language change and that instead we should look to a word’s origins because this is the ‘real’ meaning of the word. The author argues that it is not wrong to use different meanings for words and that we shouldn’t try and stop languages from changing because there is nothing bad about it. They are all a result of different types of changes, usually social changes and that it does not cause confusion.
- Disinterested and uninterested
Interested has had two meanings, first meaning ‘having a personal involvement in’ and the second meaning ‘demonstrating or experiencing curiosity in, enthusiasm for or concern for’. This has led to two different negative forms of interested to apply to the two different meanings. However in recent years disinterested has started to be used to also mean ‘uninterested’. The author comments how people have said this is down to ignorance and the author agrees that the new use of disinterested probably came from people not knowing it’s original meaning but he disagrees that it causes confusion because the context in which it is used will always indicate the meaning and that it is not a misuse of the word because if everyone is using the new meaning or at least everyone understands the new meaning then how can it be misuse? The author also points out how the new use of disinterested has gained benefits like new distinction with disinterested seeming to be stronger in meaning than uninterested with disinterested ‘indicating real, positive lack of interest’ whereas uninterested refer to ‘simple apathy or indifference’. Another benefit is the possibility of a single-word noun corresponding to the adjective. ‘Uninterestedness’ or ‘uninterest’ was never used therefore people had to say lack of interest and now they can say ‘disinterest’.
- Imply and infer
These two words have different meanings and we are taught that they should be used differently with ‘she implied he was stupid’ meaning she was suggesting or hinting that he was stupid without outright saying so. Whereas ‘she inferred he was stupid’ meaning that from his behavior/speech she was able to gather that he was stupid. However people now do use infer to mean imply and it is very unlikely to cause any confusion because you can always tell from the context used either situational or grammatical. People will argue that if you use infer the ‘wrong’ way then you are careless and uneducated but the author disagrees and argues that if everyone understands you and others do use it as well then why should it be wrong?
- Lend/borrow and learn/teach
These pairs of words are called converse terms because they are pairs of words which are related to each other in a way which they can both be used to mean the same thing. In some dialects they are always distinguished but speakers of other dialects they do not observe the distinctions. Purists argue that we should let this ‘potentially confusing variation’ happen between dialects. But the author agues that it causes no confusion of meaning because speakers of the different dialect will always understand one another and the context or the use of prepositions (from/to) will make it clear. The author says have it is difficult for purists to argue that there is anything wrong in failing to observe such distinctions.
The word nice has had a gradual change in meaning with it changing from meaning ‘to be ignorant of’ to ‘foolish/shy’ to ‘modest’ to then ‘delicate’, ’considerate’, ‘pleasant’, and finally ‘agreeable’. The author argues how people will say that we should stick with the first meaning because this is the ‘real’ meaning but no one would ever argue that we should use nice to be ‘to be ignorant of’ nowadays so why should we with any other word. This has also happened with words like ‘aggravate’ but people argue we should use that only to mean ‘make worse/more serious’ rather than the more recent meaning of ‘irritate’ but the author argues why should we argue against the change in meaning of aggravate but not nice?
- Although Trudgill does not specifically refer to any theorists, he does mention purists and therefore could refer to Lynn Truss who argues that language change is bad thing and that we should try and stop it because it has become a result of laziness and ignorance which is exactly what Trudgill is arguing against. Trudgill talks about how language change is a result of changing society and different dialects and that it is not a bad or good thing but merely an inevitable change that we can not try and stop because language is a result of what all speakers want from it not from what individuals want from it. Those who try and go against what the majority are doing will have trouble being understood is what Trudgill argues. He does in some places agree that changes have come out of ignorance because people have used different meanings for words because they have not known the original meaning but he disagrees that this has caused a decay in language or that these changes are undesirable
- Trudgill could have also included Jean Aitcheson because Aitcheson also argues that language change is inevitable and is not a good or bad thing. Both these authors argue against opinions that language is decaying and that it is a result of laziness like Aitcheson says in her parodies of theories, damp spoon, infectious diseases and crumbling castle.
‘Language change cannot be halted’ I think this quote from Trudgill is important because it sums up his whole point from the essay because he has been arguing that despite people having so many opinions and standards about language change and whether it is bad or good, it is pointless trying to stop it because there is no way to stop it. As long as society and people are changing so will the language because it has to keep up. The author is trying to tell the reader that no matter what their opinion on language change, that language will never stop changing so there is no point trying to stop it or stay in the past and that they might as well embrace language change because they will never get their own way of stopping it if that is what they wanted.
‘Languages are self-regulating systems which can be left to take care of themselves’
This is important as it highlights again why we can’t control language change because it is a result of society and no one ever means to change language it just happens. This supports the author’s argument that you can not halt language change because we have no control over it, it changes by itself and we can never tell when it is going to change therefore how could we ever stop it. We can not control how people speak therefore we can not stop language from changing.
‘‘When is misuse not misuse?, the answer is clearly ‘when everybody does it.’’
This points out how the author is arguing against the people who say that language change is a result of ignorance and people misusing the words. This shows how the author agrees that at first it may have been misuse of the word but if this misuse then continues to grow and more and more people use it then people can no longer call it misuse because if other people use it and understand it then how can it be wrong, it is just another part of language. The author is trying to persuade the reader that there is no wrong language, there are preferred and less desired forms of language but these changes due to opinion but language is not wrong if others also use words and understand your meaning.
‘Words do not mean what we as individuals might wish them to mean, but what speakers of the language in general might wish them to mean’
This shows how the author is saying that everyone with their own opinion about language change is entitled to their opinion and can obviously think what they want too but they can not expect for anything to come from their opinions because they can not control language. Language is a result of a common use by people of words and meanings and therefore if many people want the same word or meaning then it will probably become part of a language but one person can not control language or what people say. People will say what they want to say but if no one understands you then what is the point in you speaking like that?
‘The only languages which do not change are those, like Latin, which nobody speaks’
This is the author arguing that languages have to change because they are a result of communication between people and the way people speak. You can not stop it changing because people will always talk and always communicate using these languages and so there has to room for these changes because people change the way they speak and change what they speak about. Latin is a dead language and no one uses it anymore and this is why it doesn’t change because it is not subject to social changes and speech changes but languages that are still in use have to be changed.
‘The language will perhaps have lost something, but it will also have gained something’
The author is pointing out how language change can not be seen as bad thing because no matter if we lose something from a change there are always bound to be benefits and gains that add to the language. The change can not be seen as bad because it does not make our lives any worse having different words and meanings, it just changes the language around a bit and every loss has a gain and the author is saying why do we not focus on what we have rather than what has been lost because we can’t get back what was lost. He is arguing that those that argue against language change have a pointless debate because if something in language has been lost it has been lost for a reason and so it is not going to come back or at least not easily.
I do agree with Trudgill’s viewpoint because I agree that language change is inevitable and can not be stopped and therefore I also agree that those who want to stop it shouldn’t because there is not point, they can’t, its impossible. As long as people are speaking and communicating and society is changing, the language will change with it. I agree that some parts of language change may have originally been ignorance but that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing and that all language change is not a result of laziness and stupidity.