We all want children to be literate. Ideally, we’d like them to enjoy a broad vocabulary. There is, however, a problem. We’re inclined to use the vocabulary we have been accustomed to using for years, especially when we’re writing. Our children, though, have a more dynamic vocabulary! Words enter it and become widely used with remarkable speed, but then some of those words simply die, passing like yesterday’s fashions. And more than the wholly new words, they change the meaning of existing words, often inverting the meanings. It’s a complex world!
What, then, can we do? Well, to start with, we have to accept that the dynamic vocabulary exists, evolving faster than ever before. We have to be prepared to use it. At the same time, we have to ensure that we observe the use of good grammar, and also avoid the linguistic errors which have crept into common usage. It’s a balancing act. The use of the dynamic, I would suggest, should be confined to narrative, unless you’re writing in the first person. Also, we would be wise to be careful to use only those new words which have survival potential. If we use every new word, we risk our work being outmoded before it’s even published!
Language is never entirely static. the difference now is the speed of change. In truth, the dynamic value of evolution has been increasing for a considerable time. It began to speed up with the Industrial Revolution, as new technologies came into existence, demanding new words. Then, in the first three decades of the Twentieth Century, more new words began to appear from elsewhere, as the USA started to have a greater impact on language, introducing words coined to describe a rapidly changing society’s activities. Prohibition, in particular, introduced many such words, from the criminal fraternity. ‘Talking pictures’ also helped disseminate words that were definitely ‘Americanisms’. With the advent of the Second World War, another surge occurred,with a host of words coming from the military and from trying to cope with the new forms of warfare. After that, advertising invented many new words which were adopted and eventually made their way into the dictionary. Now, our language is influenced by science (particularly new science), advertising, new technology and a strong, vibrant youth culture.
Oddly, poor literacy is probably responsible for the youth culture’s impact on language. As vocabularies have shrunk amongst young people, the need to express themselves has led them to invent words. We’ve all been confronted with moments when we couldn’t find words to express our feelings. The young overcome the problem by making up new words to suit, often in the lyrics of songs. In fact, the music business is such that the rapid spread of new words becomes understandable.
Who knows? Perhaps if efforts to improve literacy are successful, we may see a decline in the rapid changes in language. With larger vocabularies to work with, the young may have less impact on the evolutionary rate of language.