Is the English Language Evolving?

Well, of course the English language is evolving, it always has. Over time (lots of time), the English language has evolved from Old English and has been infused with words from other languages. The question is, what is it evolving in to? As a former English teacher, I hear concerns from educators about the lack of correct grammar and spelling in student writing, about the informality of their writing – specifically the use of slang. Is our language developing in to a more informal language? A language of e-mail and Instant messaging short-cuts?

Anyone who knows teenagers will probably recognize what seems like jargon to many adults… the letters that stand for phrases.

LOL – laugh out loud
BBL – Be back later
OMG – Oh my God

So as educators, is the use of slang in writing, in correspondence, in discussion boards, etc. something we should be concerned about or is it something we should accept? Like Lynn Truss, should we fight the battle to stamp out the use of incorrect grammar or should we leave it alone and let it evolve in to something else? WDYT (what do you think)?

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7 Comments on “Is the English Language Evolving?”


  1. Sue and I were sitting in a restaurant called Tio Pablo’s in Los Barriles in the Baja of Mexico. We had just ordered a pizza and enjoyed half of it. In my best Spanish, albeit very poor Spanish, I asked her for a box in order to take the other half of the pizza with us. She nodded and whisked our pizza away. For the next 5 minutes I sat in tense apprehension with the fear that we had lost the other half of a very good pizza. Sue and I were greatly relieved when the waitress reappeared with the wrapped pizza in hand.

    It was a time, for me, when communication was very important. It was therefore a time when I wished that I had a better mastery of Spanish. The more important the communication, the more necessary a standard language becomes. It is a huge difficulty that discussions in the United Nations must go through multitudinous translators and therefore provide multitudinous opportunities for misunderstanding.

    I have been fortunate to have had facility with Standard English. In the United States today great value is placed on a person’s ability to use Standard English both spoken and written. A person with a command of Standard English is at a distinct advantage over one without that command. The ability to speak and write in Standard English makes the user better understood and more respected.

    There is another reason that we must have and use Standard English. To deemphasize Standard English will eventually lead to the loss of any uniformity of language. The language spoken in our country will disintegrate into a gallimaufry of dialects and we might ultimately have no uniform means of communication.

    In my recent travels and in my lifetime in general, it has become clear to me that separate languages help to separate people from one another. Those separations are sometimes geographic. But increasingly they have become generational, or cultural, or occupational. Even though a teenager and his grandfather are both speaking or writing English, it may require a translator to help one understand the other.

    The teaching of Standard English and holding students accountable for learning it is important for at least three reasons.

    1. The ability to effectively use Standard English puts an individual at an advantage in our society and that is certainly one aim of education.

    2. The use of Standard English provides the best means of precise and clear communication.

    3. Holding to a standard prevents deterioration from a single language into multiple dialects and ultimate loss of communication.

  2. astephens Says:

    Dr. B -

    As always, I appreciate and enjoy your thoughts and comments. :)

  3. garyM Says:

    very insightful read, thankyou.

  4. kog Says:

    If a langauge is static it will die, people dictate the langauge not some governing authority. English today is very differnt from english 200 years ago.

  5. Louiseb Says:

    Read both articles with interest. I believe both have very good points. Unfortunately we do not have much say in the evolving of a language. Just try to srop millions of teenagers sms ing each other in shortened forms. Englidh could do with some trimming and some spelling uniformity.

    On the other hand different languages can cause separation and misunderstanding. We do need a standard form on communicarion but does the fact that the language is changing and evolving automatically mean that it will disintergrate into many forms. Surely English is strong enough to absorb some necessary changes and ignore temporary changes. History shows that changes in the language have always come about to facilitate the speaking of it and the understanding of it. In the history of English we went through the huge vowel shift. This was a unconscious change over many years to simplify the pronunciation of the language.

    The world is much smaller place but also much faster and the language is currently under change which is happening faster than ever before and so it is more noticeable and therefore more disturbing. We tend to forget that most of us would not be able to read Chaucer’s English that easily. We certaintly could not unerstand Old English. English has change dramatically over the many years and yet here we are still able to understand one another. We invest so much attatchemnt, emotion and identification to our language that we feel we might lose who we are are if it were too change too much.

    This is precisely why each crop of young teenagers grab the language by it’s throat and stamp their sense of identity on to it. They are in the process of creating their sense of themselves and they use their tool of communication to do this. We did it. My mother did not knoe half of the “in” words we used.
    Wot wood u think of a langwidge that wos fonetical + used simbills 2 express itself. It wood b easier 4 a child 2 lern spelling but coud u rite poetree? Wood the benefits outway the unwieldiness of old Inglish? Y r we wurried.? Inglish coud becum faster 2 rite .

    Quite exciting, very interesting. I think a universal world language would solve our communication problems but then would we all dissovle into one huge puddle of humaity
    with no differences of culture. WDYT? such fun to discuss this.

  6. Kevin G Says:

    “Wot wood u think of a langwidge that wos fonetical + used simbills 2 express itself. It wood b easier 4 a child 2 lern spelling but coud u rite poetree?”

    Yes, you could still write poetry. Why wouldn’t you?
    In 2001 ‘The Guardian’ newspaper held the first text-messaging poetry competition. The requirement was to write a poem within the 160-character constraint of the current mobile phone screen. In the first year there were nearly 7,500 entries. The poems were judged by a panel which included poets Peter Sansom and U. A Fanthorpe. This is an entry from Hetty Hughes (who won first prize),

    txtin iz messin,
    mi headn’me englis
    try2write essays,
    they come out txtis.
    gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
    swears i wrote better
    b4 comin2uni.
    & she’s african

  7. Luke Ruocco Says:

    “Englidh could do with some trimming and some spelling uniformity” ….. You spelt the word ‘english’ wrong…. slightly ironic?


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