Everything in this universe is perpetually in a state of change, a fact commented on by philosophers and poets through the changes. Language, like everything else, joins in this flux.
English is a rich language spoken all over the world by natives and non-natives alike. As such, it is in a constant change of evolution. English continues to alter and develop with hundreds of new words arriving every year. Generation by generation, pronunciations evolve, new words are borrowed and invented, the meaning of old words drifts, and morphology develops or decays.
The English language has changed momentously over the last 1000 years and would appear odd as given to a speaker of Modern English who reads or hears an Old English being read for the first time. In fact, if the reader was not told that it was English, he or she might not be able to identify it as a form of English.
Look at the following passage in Old English and try to read it:
Do you recognize it? If not, try this one:
Perhaps you recogniZe it now. Look at the next one:
You have just seen a long evolution of the English language. The first is Old English and the extract is taken from the Bible and is part of the Lord’s Prayer. The second passage is from the Wyclif Bible (1348) and it is written in what is called Middle English. The third is from the King James Authorized Bible. You have no difficulty with that extract because it is written in Modern English.
Languages change for a variety of reasons. According to research, the needs of speakers drive language change. New technologies, industries, products, and experiences simply require new words. Plastic, cell phones, and the Internet did not exist in Shakespeare’s time, for example. By using new and emerging terms, we all drive language change. Moreover, the unique way that individuals speak also fuels language change. The vocabulary and phrases people use depend on where they live, their age, education level, social status, and other factors. Through our interactions, we pick up new words and sayings and integrate them into our speech. Teens and young adults for example, often use different words and phrases. Some of them spread through the population and slowly change the language.
English, clearly, is alive and thriving, and it continues to change in ways that were never thought possible. Language will never stop changing; it will continue to respond to the needs of the people who use it. Therefore, the next time you hear a new phrase that grates on your ears, remember that like everything else in nature, the English language is a work in progress.