Can language change be controlled?
WHY DO LANGUAGES CHANGE?
The use of languages is not constant, in some cases the meaning of words can change over time depending on how we use them, which is not the same from one generation to the next.
This affects many areas such as sound changes, lexical, semantic and syntactic changes. The causes of these changes are random and can come from external or internal social factors, i.e. it concerns the direct structure of the language in the minds of the speakers.
Some words are even disappearing, this concerns words that are used in high level writing more commonly called sustained and are less used in speech.
It depends on the perspectives of the speakers, whether or not they are inclined to change will determine how quickly their language can evolve. Conversely, if people are more adept at stability the language will change more slowly.
As long as people use a language it will be subject to constant change because just as society and individuals change the categorization of what we know about the world changes.
EVOLUTION/ CHANGE OF MENTALITY
Languages can also evolve as some people find that words or expressions are no longer appropriate — for example, years ago many of today’s “racist” terms were tolerated and accepted. This is no longer the case because the lexicon has undergone changes, and this also applies to terms that are now referred to as sexist. Many countries are questioning the use of male job names and are inclined to change these terms in favour of words that are more neutral and include both men and women.
In some countries also the name Mademoiselle no longer exists because it has been used for sexist and degrading purposes too often.
The possibility of not identifying yourself with a specific gender in administrative forms, you can now choose not to communicate your sexual identity or tick the “other” box if the feminine and masculine do not define you.
Years ago it would have been difficult to accept this kind of situation because people’s minds were less open to cultural and gender differences.
The rise of the internet has also created a new lexicon that needs to be integrated into the language as it is now part of daily linguistic exchanges.
WHO DECIDES THESE CHANGES?
Most languages have so-called “official” institutions that are responsible for setting a standard for an official language version.
In France, for example, it is the Académie Française which governs the different types of words and expressions that govern the French language under the protection of the president. These changes and various decisions concerning the laws are published in the “Journal Officiel”.
In Iceland on the other hand, the rulers are against language changes, they want to preserve the roots of Old Norse which formed the Icelandic language. Today almost the entire population is able to decipher ancient texts from the Middle Ages into Old Norse thanks to this preservation.
IS IT DANGEROUS?
According to research and studies it can be bad as well as good, because changing the language could be misleading. Especially when used in politics it can be confusing and not allow the population to know the full extent of the situation, e.g. by using euphemisms such as “pacification” instead of murder, we can see here the dangers of changing the language.
Change may be beneficial to some extent but not always, metaphors such as “collateral damage” should not exist when we should think about it, should we change languages or leave them as such.
Sometimes change is necessary because some words do not exist in other languages and in order to understand each other we need to find equivalents as close as possible.
Among dictators language is used to manipulate the crowds, it is true that these people do not openly say that they will kill innocent people, they put an idea in place with precise words to indoctrinate the crowds in their ideals.
This is why sometimes the use of language can be very dangerous as it can lead to situations of extreme seriousness.
It is true that there are advantages and disadvantages to changing a language, so should we take the example of Iceland and keep our languages as they are, or should we make them evolve as we evolve?
It is difficult to answer this question because it is true that the idea of being able to read any text from any era about our country in our own language is interesting but is it really useful? Should we try to understand the past when we do not understand our present?
Wanting to keep our roots as a country is very important and essential, secularism can be a kind of brake on this national identity.
Mentalities change, people change, so it is desirable that our languages change with us because we do not use them in the same way anymore.
This does not mean that we will lose our national identity because we should not take every change seriously either, being able to identify which terms are now an attack on a group of people and should not be used.
The most important point is that we must always be aware of the changes in the language of our country so that we can understand all the variations and not be surprised by new terms that have replaced the ones we knew.
Governments and institutions should be stricter with regard to language changes, there should be a committee in each country that would vote on and approve each change. The people should have the right to take such a vote if they wish.
If you have already thought about this subject and have a particular opinion on the issue of language changes you can open your mind to new horizons by talking to people who don’t have the same opinion as you do.
Written by: Lisa Lambert