May 28, 2021


Credit: Mayur Kakade / Getty Images

*This piece was originally published on October 4th, 2019*

It seems that every time a dictionary publishes a new update, people flock to social media to talk about it. Whether they’re responding to the addition of the word “fam” or the dad jokethey always return to the question of what consequences these additions will have and if they will spell disaster for the English language.

Turns out, the “updation” (new to the Oxford English Dictionary as of last year) of language isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And it’s been going on for as long as language has existed. Katherine Connor Martin, head of U.S. Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, explains why the creation of new words is natural, and tells us how the ways we communicate have been speeding up the evolution of language.

Three Takeaways:

  • Proper English isn’t on the decline, no matter what your grandmother says, according to Connor Martin. Changes in language reflect cultural and generational shifts. However, as access to radio, TV, and the internet has become more widespread, the extent of these changes are documented in ways that would have been impossible in the past. As a result, many react by creating a sense of right and wrong around certain words, something Connor Martin calls “moralizing” language.
  • Podcasts, Twitter, and even the enormous spike in reality TV are responsible for colloquial spoken language being promoted more than formal written English. This, Connor Martin says, is allowing our language to change more rapidly than ever before, and for those changes to be widely noticed.
  • African-American English has become a large driver of change in American English, says Connor Martin. According to her, hip hop, Black Twitter, and other parts of African-American culture have become enormously influential, culturally and socially, and have caused a change in the language we use, especially among younger people.

More reading:

  • Want to learn more about the rise of “red” and “blue” states? Check out Vox’s article on it here.
  • Read this article from the BBC to learn more about the history and reasoning behind the singular “they.”
  • Women are sometimes criticized for their use of upspeak and vocal fry. However, their male counterparts who engage in the same behaviors often escape scrutiny. NPR’s Fresh Air explores the issue of policing women's speech here.

language, innovation hub, Culture, katherine connor martin, slang, english

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