We have communicated in unique ways since the beginning of time. However, our language is constantly changing. Here’s an interesting look at the way language has changed in the 21st century.
Loanwords (that is, the adoption of words from foreign languages into a particular language) are by no means a recent phenomenon. However, the rise of multiculturalism and globalism has accelerated the variety of loanwords coming in to the English language. Many may not even know of the origins of older loanwords (e.g. ‘cruise’ from Dutch, ‘academy’ from Greek, ‘giraffe’ from Arabic). Similarly, more and more loanwords continue to become commonplace as people share their cultures and languages with each other.
2. Feedback and Advice
Whether in academic or vocational contexts, or even when giving professional advice; it is now more favourable to focus on the positive aspects of a message or evaluation rather than over-emphasising negative aspects. For example, a trainer or teacher would usually describe positive aspects of a student’s performance first before discussing ‘areas for improvement’. We have become more conscious of the need to acknowledge others’ efforts and perspectives, and to word advice and evaluations accordingly. This kind of communication is perhaps also important to ensure that motivation, self-esteem and self-worth is not affected negatively by criticisms. Positive communication is also important in ensuring accessibility of information and advice.
3. Person-first Language
Instead of putting a condition or disability first when describing someone, it is more acceptable to put the person first. For example, ‘person with dyslexia’ instead of ‘a dyslexic person’. This shows that you are seeing the individual as a person first, before attributing a disability or condition to him or her. There have been significant changes in the way we use language to describe disabilities and differences. Words like ‘retarded’ have become obsolete and are deemed to be impolite. Instead we use language which is more respectful, specific and accurate.
4. Americanisation of English
‘Labeled’ or ‘labelled’? ‘Organize’ or ‘organise’? The first word in each of these sets reflects American spelling. While Australia has always followed British spelling conventions, the increased availability of American books and online information has resulted in greater use of American spelling, and confusion in some about correct spelling. It is not uncommon for both American and British spelling to be accepted as long as consistency is maintained.
Technology is perhaps the best example of how language evolves over time. Often, terms like ‘Skype’ and ‘tweet’ are seen as everyday words today when they did not exist or were not used the same way 20 years ago. Moreover, abbreviations and acronyms (e.g. ‘btw’ for ‘by the way’, ‘LOL’ for ‘laughing out loud’) are prevalent in social media and texting. Shorthand communication (‘textspeak’) has resulted in some being concerned that younger generations would forgo formal language, however, most educators would attest to the fact that formal instruction of language ensures that children still understand and appreciate the need for the use of formal language in formal communication contexts. ‘Textspeak’ is therefore limited to informal social communication. It remains to be seen if informal language would eventually spill over into formal communication, however, we already know that change in language is inevitable.