Archive for Tag: language change

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 6

More Trends in the Language

Richard Firsten

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

Well, here we are at the end of my series on observations I’ve made about changes that I see happening in English. Some of them will probably become permanent and end up being taught as either the grammatically correct forms or acceptable alternatives to traditional forms. A few, in fact, are already considered acceptable alternatives in some dictionaries and grammar books. Perhaps I should have titled this “The Heads-Up Series” since my goal has been to give you, our intrepid English teachers, a heads-up on what you may be teaching in the not-too-distant future. At any rate, let’s take a look at a few more changes I’ve observed.

·        Lay and Lie

Okay, my hardliners, in case you’re not aware of it, these days it’s considered acceptable to use either  lay or lie as the intransitive verb meaning to be in a horizontal or reclined position. The traditional distinction between the two, with lay being transitive (When I set the table, I lay a napkin on top of each dinner plate) and lie being intransitive (They got sunburned because they were lying on the beach too long) is a thing of the past, for all intents and purposes. So you can lay a napkin on a plate and lay on the beach to sunbathe. It’s interesting, though, that this change is a one-way street; it doesn’t work in reverse. You won’t hear people say A mason lies bricks or chickens lie eggs, will you?

·        The Illogic of Less

I’m sure that everybody has heard all sorts of native English speakers say phrases like less calories and less accidents. Traditionally, of course, we’re supposed to use less with uncountable nouns (and adverbs, too, for that matter). As for countable nouns, we should say fewer calories and fewer accidents. Well, more and more I hear and read phrases in which less is used with countable nouns instead of fewer.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 5

More Items in English that May Stick. Only Time will Tell.

Richard Firsten

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

In Part 4 of this series, I presented some quirky things that are happening in English these days, things which I have a hunch may become standard parts of the language or accepted alternative forms in the language as time goes by simply because they’re so commonly spoken, heard, and read by educated native users of English. These quirky things may just be aberrations, but if they’re not, we English teachers may have to accept that they will very likely be taught at some point in the future. Here are some more of these oddities that perhaps won’t be considered so odd down the road.

  • An interesting observation I’ve made is that even though they’re referring to time, many native speakers use where – which signifies a location, of course – instead of using when, which signifies a time. To me it’s a very odd occurrence, and I can’t figure out why it’s so common. Here are a number of examples:
  • There was a moment where I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own.
  • There were instances where she just seemed to drift off into a daydream
  • Did there come a time where you believed he had done it?
  • It happened about ten years ago where I found myself wondering why …
  • One test is called a hand drop. It’s where a neurologist takes the patient’s hand and …
  • I’m lucky to be in a time where more people champion human rights than ever before.

In each and every example above, it’s clear that when is the appropriate word to use since it deals with time as do all the words preceding where in these sentences. I don’t know if this use of where will ever be considered okay, but that doesn’t mean it won’t continue to be commonly heard.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 4 of 6

Items in English that May Stick. Only Time will Tell.

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist 

There are lots of really quirky things going on in English these days, and I have a hunch that some of them will become standard parts of the language as time goes by simply because they’re so commonly heard and read. So when will we be teaching them? That’s an interesting question. I wonder what your take on this is.

At any rate, here are just a few examples I’ve noted over quite some time. And remember that all of these examples come from educated native speakers:

  • Change in Stative Verbs

Many stative verbs, which are traditionally used only in the simple forms of the tenses and aspects, are now being used in the progressive form more and more often, perhaps signaling a significant change in this area of grammar:

  • It’s close to the end of the game, so for sure they’re not wanting their opponents to get any more points.
  • We weren’t believing any of what he was claiming.
  • The kids are loving their new board game. Look how into it they are.
  • She’s having to look for a second job now to make ends meet.
  • What they’re needing is more money for a down payment.
  • I guess I just wasn’t understanding where you were going with that story.
  • Where did he go? I’m not seeing him.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 3 of 6

Silly and Illogical – but still Commonly Used – Bits and Pieces

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

 In Part 2 we took a look at some things in English which, although considered ungrammatical by conservative language users, have nevertheless become commonly used features nowadays. At least they aren’t silly or illogical in a common-sense way of looking at things.

Now, however, let’s take a little time to check out some elements of English that really are silly or illogical if you step back and think about them objectively, even though they, too, have become standard features in the language. Here are examples of things that educated speakers say and write.

  • They say they’ll try and get here before sunset.
    I know you try and save some money every month for your kid’s college fund.

Try and is a very commonly used phrase that goes way, way back to who knows how long ago. But if you dissect it, you can see on different levels why it’s really very silly and illogical. In the two examples I’ve cited, they’ll try and get here and you try and save money, my question is, try WHAT? If it’s “getting here,” shouldn’t the speaker just say they’ll try to get here or they’ll try getting here? And in the other case, shouldn’t the speaker just say he or she knows that the other person tries to save or tries saving some money every month? In these versions I’ve suggested, we clearly see what those people will try: “to get here” and “to save some money.” But that try and get here and try and save money really throw me for a loop. It seems that they’re trying to accomplish two things, with the first of those things simply not mentioned.. For me it just doesn’t work, it’s illogical, it’s silly – but for many, many native speakers, it’s fine. Go figure.

To add to this silliness, can you use this phrase try and with he, she,or it?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 2

More Bits and Pieces Already Accepted in the Language

Richard Firsten

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

  • The following have already made a niche for themselves in the language, and if you go by what descriptivists say, they’re considered acceptable in informal language:

There’s been endless books written about the Titanic.
Where’s the bargains in this flea market?
Here’s the files you asked for.
There was lots of lights we could see coming out of the woods.
There’s been some problems with starting the business.

The problem is that now it seems just about everybody uses these five in every kind of situation, informal or formal. In fact, at this rate, I won’t be surprised if there are, there were, there have been; where are; and here are just about disappear altogether from usage.  

  • We told him to never do that again.
    I’ve told them to always use the back door for deliveries.
    People getting divorced always have motives to not like their spouses.

The traditional rule for the three sentences above, based in large degree on the dictates of Bishop Robert Lowth in 18th century England, has been that you should never split an infinitive, and this rule was upheld for the most part in educated speech a generation ago. You were only supposed to say . . .

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 1

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

Now that I’m retired from teaching ESOL, I have the luxury to sit back and observe things at my leisure. Having been in the field of ESOL for the better part of four decades, one thing I like to observe and muse about is how many items in English are now accepted or may one day be accepted as standard language that weren’t “back in the day,” as they now say. I’d like to share some of my observations with you and ruminate a bit about a few of them. I’m going to have some fun pointing out why some items don’t seem logical and why others seem totally unnecessary to me. But the long and short of it is that these items are commonly used by native speakers every single day, and that’s what I think needs discussing.

Almost all the examples I’ll be giving come directly from educated native speakers, which is what I find most interesting, that educated speakers are saying what they’re saying. It used to be that many of these utterances were considered uneducated or nonstandard, even substandard – but oh, how times have changed!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Survey Review: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

I want to thank all of you who took the time and put in the effort to respond to my little survey. I really appreciate the help you gave me and the insights that I received from looking over your acceptances or rejections of certain items and your comments on things. By adding them to responses I’d gotten from others, some very interesting observations and conclusions emerged.

Let’s review the 15 items listed in the survey. I hope it’ll be interesting for you to compare what you decided to change or let stand as is and see what my thinking is about each item on the list. I’m sure you noticed that I deliberately placed the same kind of discrete point in different environments to see if you’d perceive a difference in accepting or rejecting it depending on where you came across it. That was very telling. In what follows, you’ll see that I’ve highlighted “grammatical issues” in red and put any changes I felt necessary in blue within brackets.

1. You never know what psychopaths look like. They can look like you or I [me].

It’s a standard rule of grammar that a noun phrase or personal pronoun following a preposition or verb is considered the object of that preposition

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Survey: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

I’ve written a couple of pieces for “Teacher Talk” dealing with my observations on how more and more educated English speakers seem to be using the language these days. For the most part, I avoided judging what I listed; I just wanted to point things out and have you think seriously about whether or not the discrete points I focused on should be taught or at least mentioned to students at the appropriate level and time.

What I’d like to do now is offer a little survey to find out what you guys think about 15 items I’m going to list. Please read over each of the following sentences that are reproduced verbatim from what I observed educated English speakers saying on numerous occasions. Then decide whether each sentence sounds acceptable to you or unacceptable. (I know you’ll be honest!☺) Of course you can add any thoughts you have about each sentence or a particular part of each sentence. Your thoughts will be most welcome!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Language as a Reflection of Cultural Shifts, Part 1

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

A culture doesn’t remain stagnant. No matter how much a people may try to keep it from changing, their culture will inevitably change as time goes by. Even the ancient Egyptians, who passionately believed in the concept of ma’at, that the universe should remain stagnant and that their ways of doing things should never change, couldn’t stop that natural evolution from happening. Witness changes in their architecture, in their religion, and yes, in their language over the three millennia that their civilization lasted.

Being that cultural shifts are inevitable, we can see how English is reflecting some of these shifts. We don’t even need to be objective witnesses at a distance to recognize when these cultural shifts affect the language; we can be right in the midst of all the action. In fact, in just my lifetime I’ve noticed some rather interesting changes which seem to have become acceptable now, even though some of them weren’t acceptable when I was much younger. I’m not here to judge what’s going on, just to report on it, but this is the kind of thing that you as ELT professionals may choose to mention in order to teach language in the most accurate way possible.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sneaked vs. Snuck: What Ngram Tells Us

By Betty Azar
Author, Azar Grammar Series
betty@azargrammar.com

I have just discovered an online tool that I think will be fun and useful for all of us who are fascinated by English language usage. It is Google Labs Ngram Viewer, released by Google in December, 2010.

The Ngram Viewer graphs usage frequency from 1800 to 2000, based on the corpus of millions of books that Google has thus far scanned.

The first word I looked up was snuck. Through my years of writing textbooks, I debated whether to include snuck in an advanced-level reference chart of irregular

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