Language Change – punctuation


Punctuation usage hasn’t changed. It’s evolved. To say something has changed, to me, is to infer that there was one set way in the first place. Some examples of punctuation developing are:

  • Prepositions shouldn’t end a sentence – possibly one of the more famous examples. Possibly one of the ones no-one really understands why as we do it all the time and it doesn’t sound ‘wrong’ in the slightest.
  • Subjunctive – If I were you – many also use ‘if I was you’. In my dialect, many people still use the subjunctive.
  • Tag questions – ‘Innit?’ now more of an acceptable way to ask a tag question, due to influences from different cultures in London and surrounding areas. It was also given a platform through Ali-G. It’s the first time I, and many people I know, heard it.
  • Apostrophes – many companies now omit apostrophes from their branding. Some big brands are still holding on. It’s stupid really but I like them. Well done Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s. Unfortunately I cringe every time I open my Barclays Bank statement. A possible reason why they’re going out of fashion a little could be because of its irregular and ‘incorrect’ usage in forming plurals. I’ve had learners who will spell one plural without and apostrophe, and another with one. People are unsure, and feel that most of the time it doesn’t impede meaning. Peter Viney has an interesting post on his blog that’s worth a read. I’ve been guilty of doing that activity where the apostrophes change the meaning of the text because I was trying to prove a point. I think it actually gave little to the learners though.
  • Hyphens – As words are accepted as common compound words, they seem to lose their hyphens. Again, silly maybe, but as a Functional Skills Coordinator, the lack of a hyphen makes me uncomfortable. Read this amusing Oxford Dictionaries blog post, highlighting when the hyphen is needed, and an Oxford Dictionaries fact page where you can refresh your knowledge.  Also, take a look at the Oxford Dictionaries usage guide for dashes which I use in a lot of my writing to separate my ideas for typographical reasons, and sometimes to make a point to someone!E.g. Yes, if you could that would be great – see instructions I sent last week – and let me know when it’s done. Thanks.
  • Hash (tag) –  I look like I’m working for Oxford Dictionaries, but their little usage guides, like this one on hash (tags), have been helpful! Twitter has changed our language forever. If only we could get apostrophes to catch on and multiply (correctly)!
  • @ – Again, take a look at Oxford Dictionaries’ info on the @ symbol, but computers have completely changed how we use punctuation, along with the underscore which was introduced (I’ve heard) for typewriting when you wanted something underlined, and in computer programming when you can’t put a space.
  • *insert any emotion, thought or instruction here* – E.g. I phoned IT and asked them how to turn my computer off *shame*.

Exclamation marks – In one of my assignments, I looked at the different uses of exclamation marks (to show shock, excitement, happiness, excitability, questions, anger, and possibly gender). They’re used especially online, but they have been leaked to paper-based writing too. I’ve seen it in my learners’ work and I’m assuming the acceptance in technology has reinforced their use overall. We’re all familiar with the fact that using more than one exclamation mark just means you’re really *insert adjective form of nouns in brackets above!* XYZ. Take a look at Stuart Jeffries’/Jeffries’s account in The Guardian. You can also put exclamation marks in brackets now to show you don’t value something, or you’re noting something about someone else’s character – unsaid, but an attribute known to both reader and writer, either positive or negative. For example:

He’ isn’t very pleased that I’ve spent a lot of time doing this(!)
Meaning: He should have done it himself/he’s lazy/what’s his problem?/I accept no blame.

Should the initial capital after a forward slash have a capital if it’s a complete sentence? Should you use the forward slash with complete sentences at all? I don’t consistently capitalise (!) after using a hyphen either.

  • Question marks – Similar to the exclamation mark, typing multiple question marks now mean you’re really confused, or you’re saying someone’s a little bit stupid. It’s amazing how character is shown through punctuation now.E.g. You put the potatoes in the freezer???Meaning – You’re stupid and now I’m going to have to waste 20 minutes going to the Tesco Metro/Express for more potatoes. Obviously they’ll be out of spuds and I’ll be even more angry at you.
  • Question marks and exclamation marks – Of course if using multiple exclamation marks or question marks weren’t enough for you, cue the mixture. Adds even more emphasis.E.g. You put the cat in the freezer??!!?!?!Meaning – Our relationship might actually be over. ??!?!, or a different combination of the same symbols also gives the feeling of an expletive coming your way.
  • Ellipsis… Stuart Jeffries also comments on ellipsis. I ellipses too! Used when you don’t finish a sentence, again, it implies the reader can finish your sentence because what you’re speaking about is truth (often used when talking about people!)E.g. He isn’t very pleased…(because he’s a xyz/because he never is/because he…you get the idea)Personally, I use it to involve my reader. Conversations feel a lot more personal when you use ellipsis. Especially good for flirting…


We had a conversation in class about bullet points, and as far as anyone was aware, there were no definitive rules for bullet points. A lot of current usage points to modelling and imitation – much in the same way you learn particular writing and layout conventions.

I love the ways in which punctuation is used now. I spent much of my teenage years on MSN Messenger, where I learnt how to have personal, hormone-ridden conversations with friends about how proud I was of them for something completely insignificant, and how true friendships last forever, and how *insert crush name here* looked at me weird and what did it mean?! Ahhh. People have got really good at expression online, even with ‘poor’ literacy skills. Just because you have a problem spelling, doesn’t mean you haven’t picked up important nuances of punctuation usage.

This is especially important when working with learners in terms of not assuming anything. We’ve all seen the old DfES Initial Assessment, which asks learners to insert punctuation into a sentence on a memo or something equally bizarre like, ‘we are all aware of last months meeting’. Maybe if we changed the context to something our learners were likely encounter, we’d see a truer picture.

Off to think of ways I could get real examples of learner’s informal conversations…

Language change – lexical changes


Old English and Old French

Today we looked at language change and possible reasons for this. Interestingly, the Skills for Life Quality Initiative states that ‘words that have one syllable generally come from Old English and many words that have more than one syllable come from French, for example:dead comes from Old English, deceased comes from French.’ There is an accompanying activity which asks you to consider lexical features of register in English, however its just as useful when thinking in terms of etymology and lexical influence and change.

Latin and Greek influences

Latin and Greek prefixes include:

tele- to or at a distance (Greek) e.g. television, teleport
syn- acting or considered together (Greek) e.g. syndicate, synchronise
circa- approximately  (Latin) e.g. circa 1990…
per- through/all over (Latin) e.g. permeate, perforate


As new things are invented, products and appliances go our of fashion and new words are needed to name things in society, nouns are created. From my experience, nouns make up the bulk of language change and it is noticeable to most, including learners. They include: clipping (when a word has been shortened), acronyms (when the initial letters are used to form a new word), abbreviations (when the initial letters of a phrase are said aloud to shorten a word), and compunds (when 2 words come together to make a new word). Some examples are:

  • technology e.g. computer, iPhone, MMS, blog, epithets such as milf, yolo, lmfao, idk, lol, DM
  • TV – channel, remote control, HDMI
  • medicine and science – HIV, smear, scan
  • employment – TOIL
  • culture – dude/dudette, chillax, muggle, sudoku, photozine
  • food – potato, foreign fruits etc as culture here widens so does ‘native’ language

A version of this activity could be used in class with learners and can


  • to text (past simple/participle ‘texted’?)
  • Lasered


  • have your cake and eat it
  • bright as a button, pmsl
  • compare ‘you’re English, aren’t you?, ‘You’re English, innit?’

Regional lexical changes

  • boss
  • jackbit
  • mint
  • sick
  • ostracism for using these terms or being excluded from usage

Ostracism – from errors in grammar e.g. split infinitives, ending sentences with a preposition e.g. ‘a preposition is a bad word to end a sentence with’. based grammar on Latin, influx of rules from other languages

Telescopic blends


How words are introduced
It is interesting how where grammar used to be rather prescriptive in terms of how words were catalogued and included in the dictionary, it is now more descriptive. The OED look at usage and variants of spelling and meaning. What’s particularly interesting is that with the introduction of the internet, no longer does someone have to wait for the new volume of the OED, but words can be added daily as and when appropriate with the click of a button. I have noticed that even in my lifetime as soon as a new word enters to the width of mass media, if I realise I’m not sure what it means, the entry is usually able to be found on the internet through reputable sources relatively quickly. This means language is far more accessible than ever before and ultimately responsive to the society in which it is used.

We then did an activity which helped us to focus on any changes, and it could also be adapted for class use by taking a gapped text, replacing words with even newer words.

In classes, it is important to recognise that we need to limit the use of jargon in the classroom. in subjects such as IT and literacy, students can be introduced to multiple new words in the same session. We must recognise that creating a glossary, and doing some wok around word meanings in all subject is sometimes necessary, regardless of the level which is being taught and learnt. Even in pur sessions at college, I have been provided with, and researched so many terms which are integral to demonstrating my understanding of literacy for assessment purposes, and have created a glossary in order for me to be able to quickly check the meaning of the terms.

These, of course, could be examples of jargon, a point which Steven Poole discusses in The Guardian Blog, along with Tim Chatfield’s top 10 words that the internet has given to English.

Things to try in class

  • Nouns activity – with a simple chart, post its or mind map, ask learners to work on their own, in pairs or in small groups to think of words which have been invented in their lifetime.
  • text with underlined words which could be replaced with newer words.
  • encourage learners to create glossaries and put things in their own words to help them in future (study skills)

Lexical features of formal or informal registers in English


The Skills for Life Quality Initiative suggest that ‘Words that have one syllable generally come from Old English and many
words that have more than one syllable come from French, for example: dead comes from Old English,deceased comes from French’.

They suggest completing the following activity, thinking about what the more formal variation of the word is.

Old English French
look at
come back

How might you use or adapt the previous activity to inform your learners about use of appropriate vocabulary when using language formally?

It’s interesting if you can give learners a general one-line guide that more formal words have more syllables. That fact alone is quite motivating. Quick tips are often encouraging to learners, and teachers! I think the activity could work in small E3+ groups, or as part of a synonym activity.

How could you adapt or develop the previous activity to expand and develop your learners’ vocabulary?

I could use the activity to develop learners’ ability to use different genres. For example maybe we’re focusing on an informal genre, we could try to take the same text and make it formal by just changing the vocabulary. You could similarly use a text written by them, and use antonyms to change the meaning again. This could increase learners’ awareness of vocabulary choices. I sometimes think ‘how the hell am I going to teach vocabulary’, but this could be a quick activity, or more in-depth one depending on the learner, context and purpose. I’m going to add this to my list of things to try out in sessions in future.

English as a global language


The historical spread of English as a global language – colonisation and the British Empire

Knowles (1997, p.139) reports that ‘by the nineteenth century, English had become the language of a world empire, and it was beginning to be influenced by its worldwide context’. Famously, it was said that the sun would never set on The British Empire , informing us of the magnitude and power it had. Along with power came language spread and change. English was spread by native settlers to America, Australia and New Zealand with its growth attributed to by ‘three discernible main patterns. In the first case, English was transplanted by native speakers; in the second it was introduced as an official language alongside existing national languages; and in the third case, it interacted in complex ways with native languages’ (Knowles, 1997, p.140).

English had become more superior than other native languages and this led to ‘a decline in respect for other languages’, contributing further to English’s success (Knowles, 1997, p.140). Trade languages formed where English was not adopted in the form of pidgins and creoles. Knowles (1997, p.140) discusses that the ‘use of ‘broken’ English…encouraged the view that there were some human beings who did not have a proper language at all’ and that ‘such a view has political implications which go far beyond language, and was to prove influential in England itself’. The growth in use in China and India, and that fact that it is used by people in all walks of life ensure that it continues to grow, and that standard will be subject to change in future.

Word origins

See Lexical changes for more word origins.

We completed activity 2.1.2  and discussed etymology with each other. Our task was to look at the words and make educated guesses about their origins. There were many we got right, including ‘alcohol’ in Arabic, ‘bagel’ whose origins are in Yiddish, and ’boutique’ which derives from French. There were many we didn’t know though such as ‘anorak’ and ‘cot’.

It was evident that these words had some socio-cultural significance; a word usually isn’t adopted into a language without need. So we started to think about why we had loaned these words into English. Without researching, you can make all kinds of assumptions why. The British Empire is the first that springs to mind with the above examples. We know that French has influenced English greatly, and you can imagine the aristocracy (I’m taking a guess that’s a French loan-word too) needed an expensive shop to go to where lower classes didn’t shop in order to maintain their prestige, and before long we introduced ’boutique’. English spread to America and Europe, which have large Jewish communities. Again, you can take an educated guess that when we went there and took over half their land, we probably sampled a few of their delicacies, and so the bagel was introduced into English.

Other languages around the world have also been ‘infiltrated’ by English. Many scientific, economical, cultural and medical advances are made by people whose main language of profession is English, meaning many words have been loaned into other languages. I have an ESOL learner who speaks minimal English, but when I use gestures in class, precedes to shout ‘OMG’. It makes me smile and cringe every time.

The role of the US in English

America has dominated films and music. They have been at the forefront of advances in these areas as well as with advertising. Some of the most famous brands are American including Coca Cola and Microsoft. Many inventions such as technological inventions are made in America too including production lines that have gone on to change the world as we knew it.

SfLQI suggest the following examples of divergence of British and American English
● Pronunciation and stress, e.g. tomato [t∂meit∂u] aluminium [alu:min∂m – and see below: the US spelling is also different].
● Spelling conventions: programme (program), centre (center), aluminium (aluminum).
● Grammar, e.g. gotten for Br got.
● Lexis, e.g. fall for Br autumn,railroad for railway,streetcar for tram, pants for trousers,cellphone for mobile,automobile for car,gasoline for petrol,purse for handbag.
● New terminology: Congress,backwoodsman,prairie,popcorn, sweetcorn,tapioca.
● Same words – new meanings, e.g. purse = handbag.
● Idiomatic expressions, e.g. to bury the hatchet.

What did you learn? 

I learnt a little more about the spread of English as a global language. This again is a concise and brief account for my own purposes to help in writing my assignment. It’s something that I will again come back to when I have further time to research. I did however appreciate that etymology often shows some kind social reason for lexical introductions into a language. I learnt that English either became a main language, or was adopted as the second official language in many countries due to mass-migration from Britain, ensuring its global domination.

How will you apply it? Practical implications? Resources made/changed? For assignment? Meet with? Find out more about? By ___ in my teaching.

I’ll apply it when writing my assignment. Some key facts will help to frame my ideas, and help me to focus my research if I need to make a specific point. It would be interesting to read more about etymology in future, and perhaps conduct a lesson on it too.


Knowles, G. (1997) A Cultural History of the English Language. London: Edward Arnold. pp. 139–140.
Crystal, D. (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. p. 113.

Web Sources

The Skills for Life Quality Improvement materials are useful for future reference.

Historical changes in the English language


Some historical changes in the English language

Stockwell & Minkova (2001, p9. 20-26) use the analogy of languages being similar to family trees where there are parents, children, cousins etc. They all closely relate, and new languages can be seen to be added as the ‘family’ or language evolves over time. They suggest that ‘English vocabulary today reveals layers of words that correspond to its family history’ and note that English is an Indo-European language ‘which derives from the geographical range over which these languages were spoken before some of them spread to the New World: roughly from India to Iceland (p.20).

Knowles (2001, p.3) explains ‘English has been subjected to a pattern of continuous small-scale change interrupted by major Language and social change 3 events which have brought about dramatic and sudden change. It is these major discontinuities that enable us to divide the history of the language into convenient ‘periods’.’ These 3 periods are Old English, Middle English and Modern English.

Changes evolved over time and it is the accumulation of these that have defined our language today. The following activity can be found in the Skills for Life Quality Initiative resources. I have genuinely made my suggestions first, then added the SfLQI suggestions at the end of each section to complete my notes.

I. Invasion or war

Angles, Saxons & Jutes (Anglo-Saxons) conquered England and English replaced the Celtic language
Normal Conquest – After, French became language of English aristocracy/Latin as written language

Suggestion from SfLQI – new words introduced from other countries

II. Trade and commerce

Industrial revolution
War – geographical re-location, people ‘mixing’
Colonisation, integration, immigration, emigration and economical changes resulted from this

SfLQI – new words created to describe trade and commercial activities

III. Technology
Caxton’s introduction of printing in 1470s
Scholars started to write in English and Latin words borrowed into English
Industrial revolution
Marketing and broadcasting

SfLQI – the printing press, spelling of words.

IV. Social change

French spoken/Latin written by aristocracy, English used by lower classes
Mid-14th C, English replaced French, but heavily borrowed French words
Literary figures increased spread of language
Jonathan Swift proposed fixing English – scholars decided what’s in and out – only some could read
Fixed pronunciation – only some could access education, so most people were left out
Fashions, trends
Norms/values and acceptance
Rise of technology promotes social change and integration
Class systems and social mobility from increased and decreased opportunities

SfLQI – how major social upheavals brought about changes, e.g. in the time of Cromwell language became simpler to echo the Puritan view of life.

V. Power or politics

The Bible printed in 1611 – religion has been associated with power and politics in British history. Socially, only some could read meaning it was inaccessible to most. As The Empire grew, so did the language.
Fixing pronunciation form of power as only higher classes could afford education. Knowles (1997, p.4) explains ‘A shift of power does not of itself bring about language change, and is mediated by intellectual change, in that shifts of power can affect the basic assumptions people make about their language.’ He continues that scholars’ deliberately tried to change written language from Latin to English, and there was a shift from aristocracy to the middle classes.

SfLQI – how the monarchy, bureaucrats, aristocracy or ruling classes wanted to preserve power and use language to make social distinctions between people.

Knowles (1997, p.3) continues ‘English vocabulary, expressions and idioms come from a wide range of sources, mainly Latin, French and Germanic, but also Hindi, Hungarian and native American and Australian languages. English pronunciation is largely Anglo-Saxon, but also in part Danish and French. English grammar is basically Germanic, but it has been modified by French and Latin.’

What did you learn? 

I learnt that there is no single thing that has made our language the way it is today. The spread and changes in language can’t always be identified in a linear way – it’s an accumulation of events such as trade events, war, social, political and cultural changes which result in subtle changes over time.

How will you apply it? Practical implications? Resources made/changed? For assignment? Meet with? Find out more about? By ___ in my teaching.

We have an assignment on language development, and I think that this will underpin a little of the context for me when I write my assignments. It was difficult to report on this as none of this is mine, but recycled facts. I just tried to give myself a brief outline in my research for future reference. I’d like to research this in more depth in future though.


Knowles, G. (1997) A Cultural History of the English Language. London: Edward Arnold. pp. 1–6 (1.1 and 1.2)

Stockwell, R. and Minkova, D. (2001) English Words, History and Structure. Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–26.

Web Sources

The Skills for Life Quality Improvement course documents are useful for future reference.

Accent, dialect and idiolect


Today we looked at:

  • Define accent, dialect, idiolect and SE
  • Describe how context affects use of SE (covered in SE post)

Accent – Oxford Dictionaries defines accent as ‘A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particularcountry, area, or social class:’

Dialect – Oxford Dictionaries defines dialect as ‘A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group

Idiolect – Oxford Dictionaries define idiolect as ‘The speech habits peculiar to a particular person’.

Standard English – Oxford Dictionaries define Standard English as ‘The form of the English language widely accepted as the usual correct form’.

What are the most important things you have learned from this session? (include any comments about yourself as a learner)

I was familiar with the terms before the course, so for me this is an opportunity for me to brush up on my knowledge.

Next steps? 

I’d like to research the effects of the Liverpool accent and dialect on literacy teaching.