what lies ahead?

Language Change

Test Your Vowel Power

When we read the works of Shakespeare or other authors from centuries past, we are often struck by the peculiar ring of their language. It is undeniably English, yet quite removed from the English we speak today. Clearly, the language has changed in the 400 hundred plus years since Shakespeare’s day. Less obvious is the fact that English continues to change. Like all living languages, English is continually changing as new words, pronunciations and grammatical structures arise and eventually supplement or replace old ones.

In American English, pronunciation is the most active arena for language change. Researchers have identified dozens of pronunciation changes underway in various parts of the country. To the casual observer it might be surprising to discover that different changes are happening within different regions. Surprising because this counters a common assumption that Americans are growing more similar in their speech as a result of greater mobility, easier communication and increased access to the mass media.

While it is true that some pronunciations associated with particular areas or dialects have been lost to larger trends, (for example, the speech of formerly isolated communities such as Ocracoke Island, N.C., is losing some of it uniqueness), new pronunciation trends are also rising up, and continue to contribute to the diversity in American speech. Learn More!

Vowel Power Exercise courtesy of Dr. William Labov.

Sponsored by:

National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett


Rosalind P.

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Corporation of New York