Why does language change? Give (minimum) five reasons.

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Slang is a major contributor to changing languages. The word "cool" used to only refer to temperature but, thanks to youth culture, it now means that something is good. Slang words fall in and out of favor with each generation. Many phrases used by young people in the 1920 s...

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Slang is a major contributor to changing languages. The word "cool" used to only refer to temperature but, thanks to youth culture, it now means that something is good. Slang words fall in and out of favor with each generation. Many phrases used by young people in the 1920 s would be unrecognizable to youth today.

Technology is another example of a factor that can change language. The word "Google" is now a noun (a website) and a verb (to research something). Many words, such as "computer," are similar in several languages. Youth talking about video games can be understood all over the world as the name of the games and gaming systems often do not change over languages.

Language can change with exposure to new languages. In English, "kindergarten" comes from Germany. The English language was radically changed by its exposure to Latin brought by the Roman Empire. Many European languages owe their roots to the Latin brought by Rome.

Language can also change based on immigration. American English is a variant of British English. Australian English is different from both of these. As colonists become settled in an area, they have different words, and as the area develops its own dictionaries and literature, these words become mainstream in that culture.

Language can also change based on political events. The word "genocide" did not exist during the early 1800s, though genocides were certainly taking place beforehand. The Assassins used to be an Islamic sect operating in the Middle East. The word "assassin" is now used to describe the murderer of a famous or important person.

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There are many reasons languages change, and most languages change dramatically over the course of their existence. Consider Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales from the Middle Ages. At the time, it was written in English, but today we refer to the language as "Middle English"—text that is almost indecipherable to modern English speakers.

First of all, language changes because new lexical items are added. Over time, new words are added to the language because each new generation comes up with new things to say as they are exposed to new technologies and new phenomena. As the younger people who use these words then grow into adults, these words then become more normalized (e.g., "on fleek" and "go ham").

Related to this, as technology changes, new words are added to describe these things, especially in relation to science and medicine, as they rapidly change and improve.

Additionally, exposure to other languages has a profound effect on language change. Most languages change because contact with other languages allows words from those languages to enter into the lexicon.

Furthermore, there is language change within different regions. Southern American vernacular is different from Northern American vernacular, because these communities develop their own colloquialisms and perpetuate them in specific regions. Furthermore, similar to foreign languages, these regional words can be shared if there is enough contact with another region.

Lastly, it is important to note that words and phrases fade out of prominence. Over time, people stop using some phrases, and they simply fall out of the lexicon.

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Language changes because of people's exposure to other languages. English, for example, has added words from all over the world.  This goes back to the various conquering of the British Isles, by the Scandinavians, by the Romans, and by the Normans.  And we have been adding words from other languages ever since.

Languages change because people move. When they do so, they experience new experiences, see new flora and fauna, and the longer they are away from their original people, the more the language tends to change.

Language changes because of science and technology. We need new words to describe the things we discover and invent.  Hebrew is a good example, an ancient language used only for religious ritual until the founding of the state of Israel.  There were no coffeemakers or computers in the Bible.

Language changes because of youth.  Young people want to express themselves in their own "language," a way of being separate from the older generation, which is what much slang is for.  Eventually, some of this slang enters the mainstream language, at which point our youth have to invent new slang.

Language changes because of politics.  The terms used in the political arena frame issues in ways that are meant to poison the well.  New terms and expressions arise, some quite interesting, some quite distasteful, but we have gone from "atom bombs" to weapons of mass destruction.  Orwell commented on this in a rather famous essay in 1946.  I have included a link to the essay below.

There are other reasons, some having to do with "drift" in consonants and our general tendency to laziness, always looking for an easier and faster way to say something.  Sometimes new words are simply erroneously heard, for example the word "nickname," which experts have theorized comes from the term "an eke name," a combination of words which kind of slid together over time.  Sometimes words change completely in meaning, such as the word "awful," which used to mean "full of awe."  This is likely to have happened because something terrible can fill one with awe.  There are other reasons, which have filled books, but I hope this is a good start.

 

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