Language change across the lifespan

Language change across the lifespan

When I was asked if I could write a blog post, my first thought was “Well, I could do.” And I immediately did an internal double-take, as I had uttered something which, for me, should not be a possible English sentence. My North American English ear ought to reject this sort of orphaned “do” (“I could do”, “I will do”, “I should have done”, where North Americans would just leave it out), which struck me as some sort of diseased outgrowth when I first heard it in Britain some years ago. (For more information, see here.) After many years in the UK I believe I have retained my native pronunciation and native vocabulary — though sometimes just to be polite I stand “in a queue” rather than “on line” (as one does where I come from) — so why should my syntax change, of all things? It’s like I’ve kept up surface appearances (sound and words) but undergone some internal metamorphosis in my syntactic structures. Scary.

I’m certainly not alone in being a dialect contact situation, and watching my own language change in response to that. Is the way that it happened to me part of some general pattern? Or are other people affected differently, say, changing their pronunciation while jealously maintaining their syntax?

One thought on “Language change across the lifespan

  1. Thanks Matthew, a very nice and thought-provoking entry!

    I think change happens at all levels, why should the syntax be less prone to adapt, really? I also believe that different people are permeable at different degrees to change in all aspects of life and this also affects language. Then there is age…, there is always age… After living in Mexico for ten years after having moved there from Spain, my Spanish -my native and I am starting to believe my only true language- has changed a lot. Returning to Europe and living in a non-Spanish speaking country (France), I have noticed that my accent has become a little bit more like Peninsular Spanish, but my constructional syntax, certain uses of diminutives and augmentatives and much of the idiomatic expressions are distinctively Mexican, well… at least to me…. And this precisely is what I believe is nice and interesting about all this: that we’re still able to realize what is what, and what thing should go where.

    Of course we cannot speak or write simultaneously producing online the outcome of two dialects, it would add to our weirdness as speakers, and we are already quiet “distinctive” for lack of a better word…, but we certainly can experience the inner line of thoughts informing us about possible alternatives. The same happens to me when I speak in English, I am constantly monitoring what I say against how I should have really said it (writing allows for a bit of time to change things…). If people heard my constant metalinguistic thoughts when I’m speaking in English, they would believe I am mad.

    So in the end, it’s perhaps not so much about change but about acquiring more stuff in the way. While richer people normally stand out… (that use of “while” I learned from you!), I could only wish that as for this subject goes, the saying “in the world of the blind the one eyed man is king” would be true. It sadly isn’t!

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