e.g. the –able rule that has been added to English since the OE period. Owing to the influx of a large number of –able words from French into English, English speakers were (and still are) able to extract a productive rule from these words. Words such as doable and washable have been formed by adding –able to the Germanic roots do and wash .
- The meaning/semantic representation of words do not always remain constant from one stage of the language to the next. They may change, by becoming broader (extensions) or narrower (reductions), or by shifting.
“ The linguistic signals we unwittingly transmit about ourselves every moment of or waking days are highly distinctive and discriminating. More than anything else, language shows we “belong”, providing the most natural badge or symbol of public and private identity”. (David Crystal)
However, it is common to use language to establish or indicate one’s identity and the identity of others.
e.g. ethnic, national, and social identity are inextricably linked to our use of language. The easiest way to be affiliated with a certain group is to pattern the linguistic cues of that group and one of the easiest ways to preserve a sense of “where you are from” is to retain the language of your ethnic group or society.
The use of one or the other, signals the speaker’s association with a particular gender.
More obliquely, identity may be signaled by making use of linguistic characteristics that society associates with particular groups. E.g. the use of the quotative like is associated with younger speakers. Or using be to mark habitual action as in I always be late for school is associated with Afro-American English.
Signaling identity through language can have various consequences. There are many stereotypes that accompany ideas of identity, so your language use may cause listeners to form ideas about you, your personality, your abilities etc.
E.g. In 1999 John Baugh (et. al) did a study that showed discrimination by landlords based on the perceived ethnicity of a potential renter, as determined through a telephone conversation. Baugh who was fluent in Standard American English, African-American English, and Chicano English called various landlords who had advertised housing for rent.
In housing districts that were largely Euro-European, when he spoke using either the African-American or the Chicano English dialects, he was often told that the housing was unavailable – and then, using the standard American English dialect within 30 minutes of the other calls, he was told that it was.