Factors of Language Change
Generally it is believed that most of the languages of Europe and India are the
descendents of an ancient parent language which existed 4000 years ago. The name, traces,
or the historical record of that language is no more available now. Modern Researchers
identify it with the name of the “Indo-European Language”. Many Questions pop in every
mind that is interested in solving this mystery of language change:
1. How does language changes?
2. when this change appears?
3. Is it a constructive or destructive process?
4. Can language change be gauged?
The purpose of this work is not to search for the answers to all these Questions. Herein we
have tried to collect the examples of how scholars succeeded in studying subtle changes in
i. Sociolinguistic Factors.
ii. Psycholinguistic Factors
iii. Therapeutic Factors
iv. Chain Reaction Factors
i. Syntactic Aspects of Language
ii. Morphological Aspects
iii. Phonetic Aspects
This work is based on a Secondary or Academic Research . Only Qualitative Data
will be collected and arranged. The aim of the work is to prepare a mini catalogue of the
achievements attained until now.
Depending on my background knowledge of linguistics and its Method of Research I
‘Even the subtlest change in language can e gauged.’
i. This work is not restricted to the study of changes in a specific language. It is a
general overview of the changes taking/en place in different languages of the world.
ii. The changes will be described diachronically. Synchronic variations is not the topic
of this work.
iii. This work is not restricted the study of only one feature-change. All the
components may be discussed if we felt it necessary.
iv. Countless causes of language change can be pointed out .here we are concerned
with only those which are proven after Research, not those based on speculations.
Data Collection And Literature Review:
Language change can be studied under Four broad categories:
i. Sociolinguistic Factors
ii. Psycholinguistic Factors
iii. Therapeutic factors
iv. Chain Reaction factors
Sociolinguistic causes of change can be studied under three heads:
i. Fashion And Random Fluctuations
ii. Foreign Influence
iii. Social Need
Every speaker tries to articulate the exact pronunciation of every word and
segment. But naturally, no two utterances can be exactly alike. However, minor gaps
between different articulations of the same sound remain imperceptible to human ears. The
major differences are often successfully gauged. But since the listeners are more attentive
to the message only, they hardly give feedback about the deviated pronunciation.
Therefore, the speaker remains unaware of his pronunciation difference with the prototype
sound. This gradual shift from the prototype pronunciation is not effected by a few persons
only. In fact every speaker contributes to this massive change in the pronunciation system.
Thus, when the drift becomes marked enough, we realize the change has taken place.
Out of the variety of deviated pronunciations (of one or more segments) one or the
other is preferred to by the majority of the speakers. This preferred pronunciation emerges
as a Fashion and qualifies the status of a new prototype sound. Just as there can be no
logical and predictable reasons behind the trends in garment fashions, Fashions of
pronunciation are also arbitrary and whimsical. But whatever they are, they leave little
choice to the people.
Random Fluctuations and Fashions are not the sufficiently powerful factors to account for
all changes in the language system. A few changes also occur because of the influence of
foreign languages. The impact of foreign languages can be studied under the following
When the immigrants, or the conquered subjects learn a new language, the features
of their L 1 are carried over to their L 2. These new learners hand over these imperfections
to the next generation. In this way the imperfections become the part of the code and often
a new dialect emerges, such as Black’s English. This is one of the major contributing
factors in the change of English language because this language is adopted by a great
number of immigrants.
Sometimes the descendents of the above mentioned immigrants pour extra efforts
to eradicate their imperfection. But they fall to overcorrection and exaggerate the corrected
feature, in this manner they produce another set of new features which add up to the basic
stock of the code:
National Borders And Multilingualism:
When political boundaries also coincide with linguistic boundaries, people living
along the border on both sides borrow vocabulary from each other’s language.
But a very strange phenomenon was observed in Kupwar village of India, 200 miles
south-east of Bombay. In this village of 30000, three languages are spoken : Kannada,
Urdu and Marathi. The later two belong to the Indo-European family while the former to
the Dravidian family. These three languages have been native to this neighborhood for last
six centuries. Because of social pressure, people have not borrowed the vocabulary items
form other languages. But strangely enough, their sentence structures have approached
very close o each other. As a result the grammar of all the three languages is different from
their respective prototype grammars. A sentence ‘I cut some greens and brought them’ is
spoken in the abovementioned language in the same number of words arranged in the same
order. It would be spoken like this:
* ‘Leaves a few having cut taking I came’.
A similar syntactic harmony was observed in Tanzania between Ma’a and one of
the Bantu languages. Ma’a belongs to Cushitic family which follow SOV structure (Lions
meat eat) under the influence of Bantu Language, now Ma’a sentence structure has
emerged as SVO (Lions eat meat).
In Sociolinguistics ‘Borrowing’ refers to ‘copying’. It has four important
i. Borrowing of Easily Detachable Elements:
Such elements can easily be picked out of their parent language without carrying over
any additional properties along with them. For example, the names of the food items like
pizza, pudding, burger etc are much used in Urdu language also.
ii. Borrowing After Modification:
A few items are borrowed after a little modification in them in order to make them
adjustable in the new language. For example,
English borrowed Urdu
iii. Borrowing of the compatible Items:
Some times a dominant structure of a language is borrowed. The borrowed structure
is not new to the borrowing language either, though only in limited use. Since the room
for compatibility is already present, the new structure gets easily assimilated in the
borrowing language e.g. French language unusually places Adj after the noun like:
Un visage blanc
The face white.
But the people living close to the border of Germany usually place the Adjective in the
pre modifying slot. This change occurred because in French language the structure
readily existed but in a very few expressions like
‘le petit garcon’
(a small boy)
‘ la jollyie femme
(the pretty woman)
iv. Minimal Adjustment:
Two neighboring languages usually influence each other. But this influence is not
established in a day. The mutual borrowing takes place only in small dozes. One doze
paves the way for a series of more dozes. But no ‘big leap’ ever occurs in the borrowing
Need And Function:
To fulfill its needs, a language sometimes coin new words by the processes of blending,
compounding, acronym formation, clippings, abbreviations etc.
The other example of change in function because of a need is the use of
double/repeated negative especially in Black’s English. According to Traditional Grammar,
the use of double negative in a sentence is incorrect. But the sentence ‘it ain’t no cat can’t
get in no coop.’ is a negative one. Its repeated use of negative is accounted for on the basis
of the ‘need for Emphasis’.
In civilized societies polite and indirect assertions are preferred to rude and straight
forward demands. This need of politeness carries out changes in the choice of vocabulary,
shape of the sentence structure, and in the type of intonation pattern. For example, compare
the two sentences given below:
a) Prompt payment would be appreciated.
b) We order you to pay immediately.
Dropping Off Consonants:
Generally, languages follow C-V-C-V sequence. Mostly the consonants sounds in
the end are followed by vowel sounds. In French language an interesting phenomenon took
place. If a vowel is followed by a nasalised consonants like in the final position the
property of nasalization is transferred to the preceding vowel. When the vowel becomes
nasalised, the following nasal consonants becomes only surplus. That’s how the final
position nasal consonants disappeared from French language.
Generally, the voiceless stops are pronounced weakly in the final position. In
French, Chinese and Maori languages p,t,k sounds are lost from the final position. In
Chinese language, first they were replaced by a glottal stop and latter the glottal stop was
also lost. In the Cockney and Glaswegian dialects of English kand t, but less after p are
replaced by a glottal stop. The possibility is that after some time the glottal stop will also be
Linking Sounds Together:
During the flow of speech, a few obtrusive sound combinations are simplified and
changed into an easier single sound. This process is observed at both the word and the
stress level. At word lever ‘hand bag’ is the example which is usually articulated as
. The bilabial effect of bsound creeps back and delete d sound and convert nasal n into a
At sentence level, ‘would you’ is pronounced as . Instead of clicking
the tongue at the alveolar ridge, and at the hard palate, once each, only one click is
performed that is on the Alveolar ridge and the other one is skipped. As for the stability of
such change, Assimilation at word level becomes permanent, but at sentence level it is
Instead of changing the sound, sometimes it is dropped altogether. The purpose is
to maintain the flow of speech. Example of elision within a word is sandwich
, the loss of d sound.
Now watch the loss of d at the sentence level:
‘George bang(ed) the drum hard as he march(ed) through the town.’
Consonant-vowel sequence is found in all languages. Though it does not follow
with accuracy yet the trends of languages change suggest that the languages are moving
towards that end.
Other Natural Tendencies:
At individual level sometimes, is heard between and l or combinations.
At an earlier stage, this combination was not intervened by sound in Greek language as
amrotia (ambrosia) , and bramael (brambel). The inference may be drawn that + l and
+ combinations may be disjoined by an intrusive sound.
The ‘fambly-like phenomenon are observable in other combination too. For
example, + t combinations are intervened by an intrusive p. Therefore, this potential
change may appear in future as:
dreampt, somepthing, hamster, etc.
Another phenomenon is the intrusion of in combinations. Therefore, the
potential possibilities are the following spelling:
Printce, tintsel, mintser, etc…
Fium and miuk
One of the perception difficulties is the hearing of the dark . Owing to this
difficulty, in some varieties of English ‘film’ is pronounced as ‘fium; and ‘milk’ as ‘miuk’.
In this example, combination seems to be moving towards the and
There is a worldwide tendency that vowels are articulated at a slightly higher pitch
before voiceless consonants than before the voiced one. Some languages like Chinese,
exaggerated the former style. As a result they are transformed into the tone languages now.
They differentiate the words fromone another by the variation of pitch.
Bu’er and le’er:
In a few environments, the voice quality of and d sounds become
indistinguishable e.g. letter and d . As a result the cockney dialect of London
replaces these stops with glottal stop. Hence the word letter is pronounced le’er and butter
In fourteenth century, a change began to appear in Swedish language. It was the
omission of /d/ in the final position e.g. in the words like ved, hund, blad, etc. the final /d/
sound was dropped. But in the twentieth century this sound was restored probably because
of the increased literacy:
Similarly, in America, there was a tendency to skip one consonant if the final
cluster contained two e.g. kept, crept, swept, began to be pronounced as kep, crep, swep
tec. But if the presence of the final consonant marks tense, then normally the final
consonant is not dropped e.g. stepped, heaped, are pronounced as /stept/ -/heapt/.
Natural Development in Syntax:
There is an evidence that the universal mental tendencies go side by side the
physical ones. An example, is a very similar syntactic change in a few languages: the
ancient Greek, and a few Niger-Congo languages.
There was a tendency in both of the languages that the object used to be placed next
to verb as:
Henry proposed Petronella ou Sunday..
Henry proposed on Sunday Petronella.
In English language, a tendency is found when the object goes far away from its
verb, the subject repeats e.g. ‘Petronella is the kind of girl whom when he had arrived in
the woods with the primrose blooming and the girds singing Henry felt impelled to propose
Originally both Greek and Kru languages followed the structure similar to the
above mentioned one:
The scepter which was studded with golden nails he threw down. (Greek)
The rice which the child bought he did not eat (Kru)
These structures changed in to:
i. The scepter he threw down which was srudded wih golden nails.
ii. The rice he did not eat, which the child bought.
This change effected a shift from SOV chain to SVO chain.
This section will discuss the preservation tendencies of language. How it trims
outgrowths and shaves off irregularities.
The underlying principle is that the efficiency of our memory can be enhanced limitlessly if
the data is systematically organized. Since human language consists of limited number of
patterns whose rearrangements produce a variety of meanings. If these patterns break
down, they bring in stress on memory. To counter this difficulty, self-regulating devices of
language become active and restore the broken patterns. This Restoration of the broken
patterns is termed as therapeutic change.
Neatening the Sound Patterns:
The phonemes of English are generally paired into two classes: voiced and
voiceless. The voiced phonemes are: /b/- /d/-/g/. the voiceless are /p/ /k/ /t/ etc.
The place of Articulation of each member of a pair is the same. They differ from
each other only in the presence and absence of the vocal vibration..
In the 18th C, English Fricatives existed in this pattern:
Voiceless: /f/ /
There was no partner for and /h/ sounds. At that time, a therapeutic process
began was provided with a voiced partner . The reasons were two: (i) First /j/ sound
was inserted after /z/ sound e.g. pleasure which was first pronounced as /plez / now began
to be pronounced as /plezj /. The combination of /z/ and /j/ sounds produced / / sound (ii)
the / / sound was also borrowed from the French words like baige, garage etc. As for the
/h/ sound, since no partner could be devised for it, it is tending to disappear from English
language e.g. in many words of RP it is not pronounced now. For example, ghost,
exhibit / etc.
The treatment of /r/ and /h/ sounds is an example of how language creates
regularities and remove irregularities as a result of an innate process.
In the above example, consonant patterning was studied in voice quality. Here we
shall study the patterning of the vowels of the same height. For example, / and .
In New York Labov conducted this study in 1972. According to the findings of this
study certain diphthongs were changing their sounds. was expanding into .A
slower change was also noted. It was the movement from / to . A change in the back
vowel combination / also brought a similar change in its counterpart front vowel . It
is an example of how language maintains correlation between its different patterns, and
how neatness and harmony are effected.
Tidying Up The Morphemes:
Generally two principles stay behind every pattern change.
1. Principle of Isomorphism:
One form should mark one type of change, one type of ending should express one
aspect of meaning e.g. tense or plural should be expressed by one type of inflection or
2. The rules of alteration in the from of words should be systematic and easily detectable.
Under the influence of the same rules many of the irregular nouns have become
regular plurals e.g. housen houses, suna sons, media medium, syllabi syllabuses etc.
Similarly, a few nouns which were singular with ending lost this sound to bestow
prominent singularity on the lexeme e.g. peas pea.
Smoothing Out the Syntax:
Sometimes people’s subconscious expectations help to smooth the syntactic
structure. For example, before 1000 AD impersonal verbs used to be preceded by the
objects in the manner:
Him chaunst in to meet upon the way faithless Sarazin….
It chaunst him to meet…
In around 1000 AD two changes appeared
i) Inflections after N disappeared (which indicated the subject or object case)
ii) SVO chain came into use.
Actually (i) became the cause of (ii). The last accusative inflection from Nouns might have
turned the preceding obj. into a subj as
Achilles chansed to sle philes.
Here Achilles was meant to be obj, but it passed as subject. In this way a neatening was
effected in the syntax of English.
French language is known for the use of double negative without making the
sentence negative. For example,
Je ne sais pas
I don’t know.
In the above sentence ‘ne’ and ‘pas’ are negative items. ‘Pas’ is the emphatic negative.
Now a change has occurred. ‘Pas’ is considered a regular negative and sometime ‘ne’ is
Je sais pas
I do not know.
In this way the syntax maintains both the negation and the emphasis. Moreover, the
confusing item is also dropped. The neatening process is, thus, performed.
Chain Reaction Changes:
Sometimes a therapeutic change triggers off a set of wholesale shifts in which the
various linguistic items appear to play a game of musical chain.
This law describes a series of consonant change from Indo-European to English
Second Vowel Shift:
A great shift in the English Vowel in the 15th C. As a result all the long vowels
changed places. This process was completed in 200 years.
Great Vowel Shift:
Mid English Early Mod. English Mod English
/ ------------ ------------ /
/ ------------ ------------ /
------------ ------------ /
The Question arises why this shift occurred. The answer has been suggested with
the help of two theoretical chains:
(i) Drag Chain
(ii) Push Chain
It is a chain process in which one vowel slips off its place. Some other vowel fill up
this gap, and a chain process begins.
Examples: In German language a Drag Chain was formed in this manner.
In this process, a vowel begins to slip forward imperceptibly, driving the next one
further ahead. This act of pushing on continues in a chain. The example of this chain is
present in the late Middle Chinese language which began in 18th C. There is a strong
evidence available that the change took place in this sequence.
In view of the above Data the hypothesis is proved that language changes can be studied
however subtle and imperceptible they are.
1. Aitchison, Jean (1991) Language Change: Progress or Decay. Cambridge
2. Matthews . P.H. (2005) Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. OUP
3. Yule, George (1977) The Study of Language.
4. Crystal, David (1994) Encyclopaedia of Language.
5. Lyon, Jhon