How is English changing?

How is English changing?

All students want to be taught the most relevant and up-to-date language. Due to the development of English as a Lingua Franca, advances in technology, an increasing number of non-native English speakers, and many other factors, English is constantly changing. In the previous article, we have already talked about what is corpora. Today we will talk about various aspects of contemporary English, look at some examples of how English has changed over the last 20 years and will provide examples from different corpora.

So how is English changing?

  1. Some words get new meanings

Have a look at different videos with the phrase “I’m goodhere. What are the meanings of this phrase nowadays? The researches of the CEC state that “I’m good” is often used now in the meaning “I’m fine” and “No, thank you” (and the usage in these meanings has dramatically increased in recent years).

A term that has spread in the #MeToo movement is toxic masculinity’ (“a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance”). In 2018, the word ‘toxic’ (causing you a lot of harm and unhappiness over a long period of time) got the Word of the Year title. Drawn from our corpus, the top ‘toxic’ collocates for the year are the following: chemicals, waste, substances, humans, relationship, culture, environment, partners.

The words “literally” used to mean “using the real or original meaning of a word or phrase” now it’s more often uttered (especially by young people) to emphasize what you are saying. The CEC claims nowadays in 38% of cases “literally” is used as “in original meaning” and in 62% cases to emphasise something (for the last 20 years, the use of the second meaning has increased 9 times)

2. Changes in vocabulary lists

“Verbing” or using nouns as verbs is often used now, as it’s shorter, more dynamic and popular. For example, the words “post” used to be just a verb for a long time, now it is often used as a noun. You can even say “I’ve been trousering for 24 hours” meaning that you’ve been wearing the same trousers for some period of time.  

3. New dictionary

New words constantly appear. What words were added into dictionaries in 2018? Merriam-Webster and OED include the following 2018 words: TL;DR, hangry, facepalm, bingeable, predictive, Latinx. Let’s look at the word “Latinx”, it means a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).

Source: Oberlin College Facebook page of Spanish House

In addition, more and more political-, religious- and gender-neutral words enter English. For example, in the last few years in the UK (especially in academic papers) religiously-neutral terms such as BCE and CE are used. What do you think BCE and CE mean? CE stands for “common (or current) era”, while BCE stands for “before the common (or current) era”.

Nowadays in the UK the prefix ‘pre-’ can be added before almost any verb or noun. For instance, ‘Do you want to grab a pre-beer before the party?’

Newest additions also spotlight more inclusive and empowered identity and cultural terms that have gained traction in recent years. ‘Aromantic’, for example, points to our expanding vocabulary around gender and sexuality, and describes “a person who is free from a romantic attraction to anyone or free from the desire for romantic love”.

Stan” is officially a thing now. Do you want to know other 2019 new words added to Merriam-Webster dictionary? Go here.

4. Non-standard Grammar

The term ‘nonstandard’ was introduced by linguists and lexicographers to describe usages and language varieties that had previously been labeled with terms such as illiterate. Such forms as ‘ain’, ‘If I was you’, ‘there is people’, ‘she don’t’, ‘less bags’ are grammatically not correct, but they are so widespread, that speakers have to accept them. David Crystal states that nowadays even native speakers often overuse ‘of’ after prepositions (e.g. ‘outside of the cinema’, ‘inside of the house’) and that the word ‘whom’ is slowly dying out.

Non-standard grammar is very of the moment, teachers should be aware of the concept so that they can scaffold their learners.  Note that the use of nonstandard forms is not necessarily restricted to the communities with which they are associated in the public mind. Many educated speakers freely use such forms such to set a popular or informal tone.

Don’t be behind the times! Teach contemporary English!


Мария Цедрик

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