Discuss language as a living and growing organism and illustrate your answer with examples of recent development in the grammar of modern English.
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Oh, I have observed quite a few semi-evolutions of the English language in my experience of teaching high school. I remember simply staring at one of my colleagues as she got on a soap box about the word "disrespect." She spent the day lecturing her classes about how disrespect "is a noun and only a noun." She intended to detract points from a student's final grade if he/she claimed "to disrespect" someone (i.e. use the word as a verb). The irony is, now disrespect can be found as a noun and a verb in the dictionary: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disrespect
On the grammar side of things, I am starting to find a change in the way publishing companies are allowing the use of 's in the case of a double subject. For example, consider the differences here:
Leia and Annie's friend.
Leia's and Annie's friend.
In standard English, the first sentence refers to two people: a girl named Leia and a girl who is a friend of Annie. The second sentence refers to one person: the friend of both Leia and Annie. It is becoming more and more accepted to use the two interchangeably. (I'm going to go on the record here that, this being my pet peeve, I feel like stepping onto a soapbox like the teacher in the first paragraph, but I am going to refrain.) In fact, I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with my young daughter, and I actually dog-eared the page that had this error. It left me wondering whether there was a difference here between British and American English or whether Standard Written English had, in fact, changed.
Either way, evolution is still in progress!
Another example of the evolution of grammar and punctuation is the comma used within a list. The official rule of commas would say that there needs to be a comma after each item in a list including the one before the and/or/nor etc. at the end of the list. Perhaps as influenced by journalistic writing, that last comma has become "optional." The old example would show: James, Lisa, and Steve are shopping. The new example: James, Lisa and Steve are shopping. I am an old-school snob who likes to see that last comma. I think it makes clear that there are three distinct units, not that Lisa and Steve are one unit and James is the other. Another example: My favorite salad includes apples, strawberries, cheddar cheese, and ranch dressing. Four ingredients, not a mysterious creation called cheddar-ranch dressing.
Grammar and punctuation are a constantly moving target. For example, whether or not a word is hyphenated can change over time. Some words that used to be hyphenated aren't any more. There are other ways that's acceptable in writing changes. For example, it used to be considered improper to use the word like instead of as a few decades ago, and now using as is common even in formal writing. My favorite example is ending a sentence in a preposition. What would we do that for? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) I disagree with some evolutions, but I guess I am a grammar purist. My favorite pet people is the use of they and their as a neural pronoun. They is plural! However English lacks a neutral pronoun and saying he/she and his/hers is no cumbersome that I can understand why they/their for an anonymous male or female has basically entered acceptability.
I would agree that language is a fluid and adaptable thing. I don't think prescriptive grammar "proper" or "formal" grammar changes much. However, informal grammar does. Look at how word usage has evolved over time. Hot used to mean sweaty or sexually excited, and now students use it indiscriminately to mean someone who is extremely attractive. New societal or cultural acquisitions such as text messaging bring new words such as texting and sexting into the common word bank.
Languages and their grammar do change over time. Generally, common usages change in ways that offend those who believe in prescriptive grammar. However, grammar rules often change to reflect the changes in common usage.
For example, by strict rules of grammar, it is improper to split an infitive. However, people constantly split infinitives today "His goal is to constantly improve" does not sound wrong to a common speaker of American English. The same goes for the idea that it is wrong to end a sentence in a preposition. People who try to strictly adhere (split infinitive there) to this sound pompous and unnatural. These are examples of English grammar changing, at least in common usage.
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