Change affects all aspects of language and can occur in a variety of ways. Meaningful analysis must depend on detecting patterns in these changes; some of these aspects can be easier to measure and therefore submit to analysis more easily than others. It must also be noted that language change can only be truly assessed retrospectively, and therefore in this essay I will make a distinction between the study of the historical facts of language change, which can be viewed in context, and that of recent and ongoing changes in language, a more precise science, relying on prediction and making patterns difficult to discern.An area in which it is at least partly possible to attempt analysis of language change is in the clear patterns that govern the differences and similarities in the vocabulary, grammar and sound changes in the descendants of Proto-Indo-European. These regularly occurring similarities can be most easily discerned between Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages: Latin Spanish French Portuguese It was however from the Latin of the common people and not classical Latin that these Romance languages developed.
Such similarities are not confined to the Romance languages; Jacob Grimm discovered a rule that links Germanic languages to their parent language; ‘p’ and ‘t’ in Proto-Indo-European change to ‘f’ and ‘th’ in Germanic languages This rule is one example of an early Germanic sound shift. A major but regulated change in the English language was The Great Vowel shift that took place between 1400 and 1600. The changes that took place are reflected today in the different forms of morphemes, which don’t take these phonological variations into account. Pronunciation of the word please has been affected by the vowel affected by the shift, yet pleasant has not. These differences which also affect the words crime and criminality as well as sign and signal, show that the second word of each pair still reflects the way in which they were pronounced in Middle English.Although little is known about the true origin of Proto-Indo-European and its forms can only be deduced, written evidence of Latin is relatively common and is shown to be a highly inflected language. However most modern European languages are not. Therefore a generalised language change that is common to these languages has arisen out of the necessity to show meaning.
In English, French and Spanish, amongst others, word order has become all-important to accurately convey meaning and prevent ambiguity, while German retains a higher degree of inflection and rigid word order rules. The use of prepositions are also crucial in these languages. In the case of the Romance languages the indefinite article (which did not need to exist in Latin) has had to have been adapted from unus (one.)Geography is a key factor in language change; Proto-Indo-European branched off into different language groups as the population spread out from its base somewhere in central Asia and settled in different parts of the world. The further individuals and even populations travel from the source of a language, the more likely it is for a new language develop that, in time, will differ greatly from its origins. Study of the Romance languages shows this clearly; Italian is the language spoken nearest to the roots of its parent language, Latin, and therefore all aspects of the language remain the most similar to it.
Geographical isolation can be an important factor in limiting changes in language as is the case in Iceland and Lithuania.The incorporation of inherited and borrowed words into a language can be put down to the proximity of neighbouring countries and the inevitable contact they have with one another resulting in mutual influence on their lexicons. When mathematical advances were made in the Arabic speaking world, words for crucial terms such as algebra (al-jabr) simply didn’t exist in the Spanish lexicon, so the term was simply borrowed.
An indirect borrowing of the word gebra from Arabic occurred when English speakers took on the word after encountering the usage of it amongst Spanish speakers. However the adoption of syntactic systems is rare, due to the fact the systems that languages of neighbouring countries have in place are likely to be entirely sufficient and that reform would take hundreds of years to complete. Borrowing will only usually occur out of necessity. The predictability of loan words is also regular.
When a word doesn’t not exist in one language, it can be taken from the language of the country where the word originates. This can depend on the necessity for usage of the word as opposed to geographical proximity, for example the word kimono has been taken from Japanese and moccasin was borrowed from Native American languages.In recent years Americanisation has affected many languages. Quite simply America’s global dominance, with regards to the economy and commercialisation, has lead to the infiltration of words such as hamburger and more recently the internet into most European languages, to the dismay of the language Academies. However these lexical items are integrated within the grammatical system of each language, obeying the usual rules.Morphological language change has often resulted from a change in the phonological rules of a language. This has been the case over the past 1,000 years for most Indo-European languages. Only Lithuanian and Russian retain case endings of nouns in a way that is presumed to be similar to Indo-European.
Steven Pinker estimates that 1/5 of all English verbs have come from nouns.2 This can be recognised in synchronic as well as diachronic linguistics. An older noun to verb change is shop (C14th) producing to shop in the 18th century. More recent additions include to host, to trial and to access. This pattern is stable and as the semantics of certain nouns change the likelihood of a corresponding verb being created will increase.Changes that occur due to historical developments can be unpredictable and difficult to subject to linguistic analysis. The development of Old English to Middle English was heavily influenced as a result of the Norman Conquest. Dominance of a foreign speaking political power can change the lexicon in this instance it primarily concerned words involved in law, administration, religion and culture; government, judge, royal and society are words of French origin that replaced perfectly adequate Saxon words.
Spelling was also altered during this 300 year period, as French scribes would note down English words as they sounded to them. Along with these lexical changes, a morphological change to English gradually took place as the two languages clashed. Gender systems for example existed in different forms in both French and English, but both tended to be dropped. This produced a version of English that was more modern and simplified. Languages can outlive the people who introduced them. However no clear explanation exists for one outlasting the other. Latin outlasted the Gauls in France but had little lasting impact in England.