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words that shouldn't be?

Sez Who?

Experts weigh in on the American penchant for creating new words and  expressions.  Are we lowering our standards? Can we control language change? The answers may surprise you.

The Truth About Change

Language & Society

Americans are Ruining English

Campus Talk

The Power of Slang

Slayer Slang

Born in the USA

Like, Quote Me

Hip Hop Nation


robert macneil and jesse sheidlower, nyc public library

The Oxford English Dictionary

Wired Words

World Wide Web of Words

What, like, makes language change?  Experts conclude change occurs  differently than we may think.

For example, twenty-five years ago, speakers who used like,  as in,  "She's like, 'Don't leave the house!' " were largely confined to Southern California and strongly associated with a stereotypical Valley Girl way of speaking. Today, the specialized use of like to introduce a quote (what linguists call the "quotative like") has spread throughout the English-speaking world. The rapid, expansive spread of "quotative like" among speakers under the age of 40 is truly exceptional. It also raises important questions about the nature of language change.

The common myth in American society is that the English language is now following a single path of change under the irrepressible, homogenizing influence of mass media. However, the truth is that language is far too resourceful and social structure far too complicated to follow any single path.

Language Changes Subtly...Women Often Lead the Way

The truth about language change may be different from the popular conception. People often assume that change begins with the upper class, modeling language for other social groups to follow. In fact, most language change starts subtly and unconsciously among middle-class speakers and spreads to other classes - and women often lead the way. Pressure to change comes both from within language itself and from its role in society. Because language is a highly patterned code for communication, people collectively pressure it to change in ways that preserve its patterning or enhance its communicative efficiency. At the same time, we use language as a social behavior, to solidify or separate ourselves into different social groups. Learn more!

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

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
Foundation

Ford
Foundation

Rosalind P.
Walter

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Carnegie
Corporation of New York