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Guide to Linguistic Theories, Research and Concepts | Language Change

Beth Kemp | Monday October 03, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Language Change & Variation, An Introduction to Language Change & Variation, Linguistics Theory & Study, Linguistic Theory, Using Theory


This topic is concerned with changes to the English Language over time.  In different specifications, students are asked to compare and analyse texts from different periods, to trace the usage of a word or phrase, and/or to discuss how and why language changes, and how people react to those changes.

Studying change is therefore concerned with three main questions:

  • How has the English language changed over its history?

This is largely an AO1 concern, dealing with the particulars of usage in terms of lexis, semantics, grammar and (possibly) phonology.  Students may be exploring broad systemic changes (e.g. in the grammatical system) and/or they may be expected to identify different types of word formation or meaning change.

  • Why does language change?

This area requires some knowledge of theories and concepts, as well as a broad appreciation of the sweep of history.  A lot of this material is likely to be AO3 knowledge, concerned with the context of the usage, but the understanding of theory can also come in here and be rewarded under AO2.

  • What attitudes are displayed to change?

This is also an AO2/AO3 crossover area, and students are likely to be expected to be able to talk about the main approaches people have towards changes in language, and the probable contexts for those opinions.

Broad Concepts for the Study of Language Change


This has been the cause of considerable change to the English language.  The crucial thing is that students understand standardisation as a process, taking place over centuries, rather than something which happened at a fixed time.  Progress in both printing and education has an important role to play here as well as specific events such as the publication of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary.

Students are likely to be expected to understand the thorny nature of the concept of ‘standard’, and perhaps to discuss it in relation to the idea of prescriptivism.  This is an aspect which may...

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