A Whole New Vocabulary

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.

~ Steve

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About Steve

An author since the age of 13 years, writing again dominates my activities. My "Imagineer-ing" blog is my primary site. Also: Beginner knitter since November 2010. Favourite knitting techniques: cable and lace. Beginner cross stitcher. Beginner jewellery maker. With the promotion of self publication and all the other work that has been going on here, Dad decided around 2am this morning (22/11/2013) that it was time to begin his next adventure. He was seen off earlier the previous evening by myself, my brother, my sister in law, and my sister, as well as his wife (our mum), and an enigmatic being known only as A Lorraine. After this time of story telling, laughing, crying, joking and mickey taking, we saw how tired both mum and dad were, and we decided to leave them under the (sometimes) gentle care of The Lorraine. When Dad found the timetable for his travels, he let Mum know gently, which woke her from her drowsing, then, with the same gentleness he showed in this universe, he boarded his favourite mode of transport, the Interdimensional Steam Train, and set off with a smile and a wave. For those of us closest, that smile was a reminder that his pain has ended, and the wave, an indicator that he will pop in to all those that knew him, from time to time. Usually at the most inconvenient and in opportune moments he can. While we are sad that he is no longer here, we are happy he now has no pain, and is experiencing more extraordinary things that his writers mind will be frantically weaving into a new story. Posted by Son Damien

4 thoughts on “A Whole New Vocabulary

  1. There are a lot of reasons for weak vocabularies not the least being low literacy rates worldwide. I function now with a much smaller vocabulary than I did when I graduated from high school because I had to simplify it in order to be understood in the province of Quebec. There is no doubt in my mind that vocabulary is a use or lose it tool – I have to say too that some of the new words are very interesting and I would not want them to be discounted for the sake of holding on to the past (only).

    • Hi 🙂 To be honest, I think my vocabulary actually larger now than ever before, but I’ve never been willing to compromise on using it 😉 I think some language ‘purists’ object to the new words because their roots are not clearly in the classic ‘old’ languages, like Latin and ancient Greek. Personally, I find the etymology interesting, whatever it might be! 🙂

  2. this was an effin brill post. I mean relly gr8!
    I am on such a mission to try to instill some decent standard of communication within my children. I do think for a time they will ignore me, but hopefully as with all of us some of what I say will stick!

    • LOL!
      I know exactly what you mean 😀 In our case, it was a matter of trying to preserve the vocabulary we gave our kids – against the weight of new words they collided with every day 😉 sadly, it wasn’t entirely successful – but fortunately, they now have a good foundation vocabulary with a nice, shiny dynamic topping 🙂

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