English – An Adaptable Tool

As we know, no two individuals speak identically. Thus, language changes, often infinitesimally, whenever speakers come into contact with each other. Clearly, people from different geographical areas speak differently, but even within a single community there are variations according to a speaker’s age, gender, ethnic group as well as their social and educational background.

Through our interactions with these different speakers, we encounter new words, expressions and pronunciations, which we integrate into our own speech, especially if we hear all these new speech eccentricities over and over again. Don’t you find yourself using the same expressions that your mother and father used to say to you? And, then you notice your listeners giving you a quizzical glance because they don’t know what you are talking about!

When listening to radio broadcasters from decades ago compare the vocal delivery with that of current radio announcers. You will quickly identify a number of differences between the language used by each. Every successive generation makes its own contribution to language change and when sufficient time has elapsed the impact of these changes becomes more obvious. For instance, in the 60s, when pop music played on ‘records’ (with grooves) was having a huge impact on the young, the word “groovy” meaning good, great fun and very pleasing became a very trendy word, but today “groovy” sounds really old-fashioned.

Social and political situations often give rise to new expressions and even new words. In the lead up to Hong Kong becoming a part of China, the British governors had to use the language of “colonial withdrawal” to prepare the colony for a new system of governance.  They described the new social and political order as “One Country, Two Systems”, an expression that was completely new, but that has become integrated into the English language. Another new expression comes from the recent financial crisis. The metaphor “financial tsunami” was created to highlight the fact that many didn’t suspect such a crisis to happen so suddenly.

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