Quote of the Day: On the flexibility of the English language

You might not think it, but even things associated with the seemingly monolithic structure that is academia are subject to change. For example, I’ve recently been writing an essay on the twentieth century transformation of the nature of historical sources and the ways in which they can be used; a series of changes which have had a profound impact on the subject and are still ongoing.

And it’s not just the language we use to describe such cultural concepts that is transforming. The language we use on a day-to-day basis is changing and mutating too. While reading an article on the necessity (or otherwise) of some traditional grammar rules on The Independent’s website, I came across this quote from the journalist and author Oliver Kamm:

The English language is not static, nor are its boundaries clear. Nor is it a language tied to the British Isles. English is a river. Its content is always changing and it has many tributaries. Its characteristics include impermanence. Indeed, there can be no single definition of the English language.

Historians frequently go on about their beloved concepts of continuity and change – indeed, the one, ever continuing, fundamentally important aspect of British culture, landscape and language that tends to be overlooked or even sometimes sneered at is its non-static nature. Kamm’s words bring this innate movement and flexibility into sharp relief, reflecting the ever-changing nature of the English language.

Every generation brings new words, new phrases, new ways of using the language to the table, and this has been going on for centuries – just look, for instance, at the enormous impact of William Shakespeare’s creative vocabulary, or the beautifully influential language used by the original editors of the King James Bible. These innovations may take some time to work their way into common usage, but English is a compulsively, inherently magpie language that pinches things from a huge variety of cultures and dialects worldwide; absorbing them into a new and textured whole.

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