Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 11 November 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



  • We seek your support to meet the expenses relating to the formatting of articles and books, maintaining and running the journal through hosting, correrspondences, etc.Please write to the Editor in his e-mail address to find out how you can support this journal.
  • Also please use the AMAZON link to buy your books. Even the smallest contribution will go a long way in supporting this journal. Thank you. Thirumalai, Editor.

In Association with




  • E-mail your articles and book-length reports in Microsoft Word to
  • Contributors from South Asia may send their articles to
    B. Mallikarjun,
    Central Institute of Indian Languages,
    Mysore 570006, India
  • Your articles and booklength reports should be written following the MLA, LSA, or IJDL Stylesheet.
  • The Editorial Board has the right to accept, reject, or suggest modifications to the articles submitted for publication, and to make suitable stylistic adjustments. High quality, academic integrity, ethics and morals are expected from the authors and discussants.

Copyright © 2007
M. S. Thirumalai


A Survey of Factors Contributing to Language Change in English
With Special Reference to Lexical Change

Haja Mohideen Bin Mohamed Ali, Ph.D.
Shamimah Mohideen, M.HSc.


The purpose of this paper is to create awareness among language users of the need to be current with our knowledge of lexis. Older and contemporary dictionaries as well as popular reading materials were used to investigate lexical change. It was found that certain lexical items had acquired additional meaning. Some were gradually being replaced with others. There was variation between varieties of English. Some were becoming old-fashioned in the modern context. Words which were considered formal are also being used casually. Certain vocabulary items were unpredictable in meaning. It was also found that there were many euphemistic, non-sexist and new coinages.

Language users, be they educators, students, journalists or concerned members of the public need to be aware of ongoing lexical change for their academic and professional development.

The language change described here is primarily with reference to Standard British English. References to other native varieties spoken by first language speakers of English and certain non-native varieties will be made where relevant. A brief mention of related changes in Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa Malaysia (BM), the major and national language spoken in Malaysia, will also be made, by way of comparison.


Language change, lexical change, contemporary developments

1.0 Introduction

Human languages which are actively being used experience language change over the years. They are "never uniform entities; they can be observed to vary geographically and socially, and according to the situational contexts in which they are used… this homogeneity of language is of crucial importance" (Milroy, 1992, p.1). William Dwight Whitney insists that change is one of the fundamental properties of language (cited in Nerlich, 1990). Linguistic change is not confined to particular languages or generations. It is a fact which is universally acknowledged (Schend, 200l, p. 5). With regard to English it is changing all the time whether we are aware of the change or not. New words have been constantly coming into use, "and not only new words, but also new pronunciations and even new grammatical forms. At the same time, old words, old forms, and old pronunciations are gradually dropping out of use" (Trask, 1996, p. 1). Changes have been observed in the areas of orthography, morphology, phonology, lexis, semantics and syntax.

The stages of British English (BE) may be classified into three divisions as follows:

1. The Old English (OE) stage (449- 1066) with which the epic poem Beowulf is often associated. It is unintelligible except for those who can decipher Old English. 2. The Middle English (ME) stage (1066- 1500) with which Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is often linked. Chaucer's language may be understood with a lot of effort on the part of the reader. 3. The Modern English (ModE) period, beginning from 1500 until the present time. The works of Shakespeare herald this period (Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams, 2003, p. 500).

A few lines from the popular literary works representing the three stages will give us some insight into the changes that had been taking place over many years. The following lines from the prologue of the Summoner's Tale of Chaucer and its modern English translation illustrate:

Lines from Chaucer

This frere bosteth that he knoweth helle,
And God it woot, that it is litel wonder;
Freres and feendes been but lyte asunder.

This friar boasts that he knows hell,
And God knows that it is little wonder;
Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.

Shakespeare is considered to have penned his works in an earlier form of Modern English. The following is an extract from The seven ages of man in the play As You Like It.

………………………. And then the lover
Sighing like furnace. With a woful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth.

The Shakespearean text is less incomprehensible. Let us briefly discuss some of the items in the extract which deals with two of the seven ages of man, namely the lover and the soldier. Variation is observed in the spelling of 'woful', the modern spelling of which is 'woeful'. In his language, 'oaths' are 'swear words', not 'a formal promise' (Longman, 2003, p. 1128) as we understand it today. It is originally from Old English /a:th/ and later /oth/ from Middle English (American Heritage Dictionary, hereafter abbreviated to AHD, 1996, p.1245).. A 'pard' is today's priest. A 'mistress' in Shakespeare's language was a sweetheart, not a woman who is maintained by a man for sexual gratification which is a popular meaning today.

American English (AE) too has a similar language history comprising three periods: 1) The Colonial Period (1607- 1776), involving the English colonization of the Americas. During this period a distinctive AE was said to be gestating, 2) The National Period (1776- 1898) which saw the colonization of their country coming to an end through the War of Independence. Nationalistic Americans felt they needed an English which was separate and distinctive of Americans, and 3) The International Period (1898 until the present) during which the US has played an increasingly influential role internationally in economics, education, the entertainment industry, politics and popular culture. Consequently AE usage has become prevalent and popular (mhtml:file://J:/AMERICAN ENGLISH Oxford Reference Online.mht).

Nerlich (1990) asserts that the "forces of change are of individual and social nature, given that language is a means of communication and a social institution" (p.100). He emphasizes that individual speakers' will has an important role to play in language change. Although linguistic variation is initiated by the individual, "only certain variations are selected by society, become usage, and change the language" (p. 94).

Let us briefly deal with some of the changes in the various components of language before we look at lexical change in more detail.

1.1 Spelling Change

Spelling has shown variation throughout the ages. The word 'hell' was spelt as 'helle' in Middle English, and 'old' as 'eald' in Old English (AHD). In the 1611 Bible (Authorized Version or King James Bible), readers are informed that God "formed euery beast of the field, and euery foule of the aire" (Genesis 2. 19). We can safely assume the current spelling to be 'every' for 'euery', 'fowl' for 'foule' and 'air' for 'aire' (

American English spelling is prevalent in many international publications which are circulated widely. And this may be one of the reasons for others to introduce American English spelling. Besides, this spelling variety is appealing in the sense that it is economical, by dropping the in words such as honor, color, flavor, gynecology and ax for British English spelling axe .Microsoft Word regards non-American English spelling as erroneous by underlining such spellings in red which writers may find irritating, and thus the pull towards the spelling acceptable to the computer program. The ruling party in Australia spells its name as the Labor Party, and not as the Labour Party as in the UK. In Canadian English there is much variability in spelling, due to the writers divided loyalties to Britain and the USA (Melchers and Shaw, 2003, p.14).

In Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa Malaysia (the Malay language spoken in Malaysia, hereafter BM), spelling changes have taken place over many years. The earlier and current spelling of some words is given as an illustration: bahwa - bahawa (that), deri- dari (from), kesah- kisah (story), sungei -sungai (river), chepat- cepat (quick), puteh- putih (white), hadhir- hadir (to be present) and shariah- syariah (Islamic law). Some words are spelt in two slightly different ways, for example, hajah and hajjah (a woman who has performed the hajj pilgrimage) and setan and syaitan (the devil).

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

A Study of Auxiliaries in the Old and the Middle Tamil | Content Analysis of "Disability Communication" in the Daily Newspaper DNA (Daily News Analysis) - A Short-term Study Report | Authority: What Is It? | The Trading Community in Early Tamil Society Up To 900 AD | The Use of Setswana as a Medium of Instruction, A Core Subject and A National Language: Is It Not A Negation Of Affirmative Action? A Study of Botswana Linguistic Situation | The Auxiliary Verb POO in Tamil and Telugu | A Study of Idiomatic Expressions in Lurish and Persian | A Survey of Factors Contributing to Language Change in English With Special Reference to Lexical Change | Sarojini Naidu as a Nature Poet | HOME PAGE of November 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Haja Mohideen Bin Mohamed Ali, Ph.D.
Department of English Language and Literature
International Islamic University Malaysia
P.O. Box 10
50728 Kuala Lumpur

Shamimah Mohideen, M.A.
Center for Foundation Studies
International Islamic University Malaysia

  • Send your articles
    as an attachment
    to your e-mail to
  • Please ensure that your name, academic degrees, institutional affiliation and institutional address, and your e-mail address are all given in the first page of your article. Also include a declaration that your article or work submitted for publication in LANGUAGE IN INDIA is an original work by you and that you have duly acknolwedged the work or works of others you either cited or used in writing your articles, etc. Remember that by maintaining academic integrity we not only do the right thing but also help the growth, development and recognition of Indian scholarship.