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The Ever Changing English Language

The one thing that interests both teachers and pupils in an international setting like ours is the fascinating subject of language: in particular, the ever changing English language.

The English language, along with all other world languages, is constantly adapting and changing to reflect our changing lives, experiences, and cultures. Language is not fixed; it constantly evolves.

Change in language helps us to accommodate new ideas, inventions, and technologies. Not only do the words themselves change but the way in which we use them can shift too. As cultures interact, mix and trade, language changes. English often borrows words from other languages. These are called loanwords. Avatar, tsunami and sudoku are good examples of some recent loanwords. Can you guess which language we have ‘borrowed’ these words from?

New words and phrases are also invented to describe things that did not exist before. A few years ago, we would not have been aware of, or worried about, our carbon footprint and it is only recently that we have taken selfies and listened to podcasts. Sometimes these new words are a fusion of two words that existed before. These are known as portmanteau words. For example, vlog comes from a combination of video and log. Nice is a good example of a shift word. In the past, nice has meant ‘foolish’, ‘shy’, ‘dainty’, and nowadays it means ‘giving pleasure or satisfaction’. The internet has been responsible for several more recent word shifts: mouse, surf and web are some good examples.

Even the current COVID-19 outbreak has been responsible for the introduction of some new words into the English dictionary. Here are a few of them:

Patient zero – a person who is identified as the first to become infected with an illness or disease in an outbreak.

Super-spreader – a person who is highly contagious and capable of spreading the disease to an unusually large number of people.

Social distancing – keeping a 2m distance from other people so not to spread the disease.

Self-quarantine – stop any contact with other people for a period usually by staying at home and limiting contact with family members.

As well as the more formal dictionary entries, new slang words have appeared too:

Covidiot – someone who ignores public health advice

Coronacation – time away from school due to Coronavirus (like a vacation, but not!)

Zumping – when someone breaks up with their girlfriend or boyfriend via Zoom because they cannot see each other in person

Just as the world is quickly adapting to the COVID-19 outbreak, so is the language we use. Have you noticed any new words creeping into your language?

Sources: BBC Bitesize English Key Stage 3 (definitions), medium.com (image)