The evolution of a word
Posted: 12 March 2019 06:37 PM   [ Ignore ]
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It’s amazing to me how a word can change so dramatically, and sometimes rather quickly. Is there a graph, story, or good description available relating to how the evolution of a word takes place? I would like to include both pronunciation, spelling, and the average time it might take for the evolution to settle in.

I understand how pronunciation can change much more than I do spelling. Who determines the changes in spelling, and how quickly are those changes accepted generally?

[ Edited: 12 March 2019 06:40 PM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 13 March 2019 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There’s no single pattern or timeline. It varies a lot.

As for who determines what is an accepted spelling, it’s the consensus of professional editors. When a spelling variant starts appearing in a significant percentage of the published uses, then dictionaries will start to include it. This may be changing with the internet and the easy accessibility of non-edited material. It may be that non-edited material is starting to play a role.

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Posted: 13 March 2019 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I didn’t think there would be an easy answer. What I would really like to see is a line history. Example: pick an Old English word that has had several changes through time and still exists but is almost unrecognizable. Start with what the spelling was in Old English and show the changes we know of up to Middle English, and finally today’s English in a line graph. Is there any way of knowing that, or am I asking for the impossible?

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Posted: 14 March 2019 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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You could do it, but it would tell you little about the language in general. You’d have very different graphs for each word. And the bigger changes would be in meaning.

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Posted: 14 March 2019 06:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Not to mention the facts that:

(a) many words in Old and Middle English had regional dialect forms which coexisted for centuries until finally one form managed to establish itself as the standard word, whereupon the others were downgraded to ‘dialect’ status and often died out completely as a result.

(b) the notion that every English word had only one correct spelling is only a couple of centuries old. Many highly educated medieval and Tudor men were quite capable of spelling a word (or even their own names) two or more different ways in the same document.

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Posted: 14 March 2019 06:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks, Dave and Syntinen Laulu. Guess I’m dreaming too big.

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Posted: 14 March 2019 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Compare it biological evolution. Common perception of how a word develops is like this.

When it actuality, it really looks more like this.

(The second image is actually of Ebola, not humans, but I couldn’t find a good cladistic diagram of homonims in short order.)

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Posted: 14 March 2019 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Thanks, Dave and Syntinen Laulu. Guess I’m dreaming too big.

Eyehawk, this link might interest you on language change.

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-language-change-1691096

It seems to be an extremely diverse and intricate phenomenon.

“For centuries people have speculated about the causes of language change. The problem is not one of thinking up possible causes, but of deciding which to take seriously…
“Even when we have eliminated the ‘lunatic fringe’ theories, we are left with an enormous number of possible causes to take into consideration. Part of the problem is that there are several different causative factors at work, not only in language as a whole but also in any one change…

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Posted: 19 March 2019 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Facinating and complicated stuff, Logophile. I thought I was asking for the moon, but decided to take a stab at it anyway. I realize that different words come to us from different places and through different routes, but was hoping there might be a graphic simplification of that trip that someone might have come up with. It is just the artist in me that likes visual simplicity where possible.

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Posted: 19 March 2019 07:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I love graphics that show how and when changes happen historically. I hope that somebody someday will take the time to come up with a way to show the evolution of a word graphically. It could be a timeline graph or something like a family tree. Some way that could work for a good number of words. I believe it could happen.

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Posted: 19 March 2019 11:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave Wilton - 14 March 2019 06:52 AM

but I couldn’t find a good cladistic diagram of homonims in short order.)

Was this deliberate?  Either way, a witty crossover from linguistics to biology.  :-)

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Posted: 20 March 2019 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Nope. A typo.

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Posted: 20 March 2019 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I love graphics that show how and when changes happen historically. I hope that somebody someday will take the time to come up with a way to show the evolution of a word graphically. It could be a timeline graph or something like a family tree. Some way that could work for a good number of words. I believe it could happen.

Well, just as the development of language families is very often depicted as family trees, I imagine it would be perfectly straightforward for anyone who was any good drawing up genealogical trees to create one showing the evolution of a single word with its cognates, variant forms and changes in pronunciation; the timeline element could be supplied quite easily by contemporary entries being on the same horizontal level. It would be a lot of work, though, more trouble than it would be worth anyone’s while to do unless the word were either crucially important in some way or was being used as a paradigm to illustrate some general principle of language development.

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Posted: 21 March 2019 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Yes, that was what I was thinking. The displah would not have to show a lot of words. Just examples of two or three of words that took completely different paths. It would only be done to show the wonder of the process. Nothing more.

It could be as simple as a tree or as complicated as a spider web.

[ Edited: 21 March 2019 06:10 AM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 21 March 2019 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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SL It would be a lot of work, though, more trouble than it would be worth anyone’s while to do unless ...

Even then, it would not be worth it.

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