Thursday, August 16, 2012

Changing Language, One Word and Construct at a Time

Back in my teenage years when my development was in its most intense phase I read a ton of Anthony Burgess books, such as the famous A Clockwork Orange, and developed an interest in linguistics as a result. I never actually pursued the interest seriously, but Burgess' influence still sticks today, so I do think about language subjects occasionally on my own terms, however I can.

Here's a question that's been bothering me for years: How is a normal human to do his part in changing the language he speaks? How can any one individual man coin new terms, new constructions, new grammar, and all that and actually be an influence?

However tiny, it really does bother me, because one way Burgess has definitely influenced me is that I often feel free to make up my own words and whatnot with the guiding rule that they be understable within the context of their sentence or paragraph.

Examples! "Befriendable." I wrote that in my last post, but it's not an actual word accepted in the dictionary. Yet, it's totally understandable! It's a way of transforming "befriend" into an adjective!

Or how about using "nightmare" as a verb? I like doing that because it contribute to concision. Instead of writing, "I had a nightmare," you can say "I nightmared,"

The list can go on and on, and throughout my life I'm sure to, er, revolutionize language as much as possible in my own way. Again, if the meaning of the word or the construction used is clear, then what's the problem? I bold and italicize that in dismay!


The dismay stems from those people who are strict to the teachings of grammar books and dictionaries, and won't accept as proper anything outside of them or in contradiction. "Befriendable" not in the dictionary? Not a valid word, they'd say! Using "nightmare" as a verb? Ungrammatical, they'd scream.

But shouldn't the only concerns in proper communication be clarity and concision? The inventions above, really, contribute to both, yet probably would get marked down by an English teacher in high school.

I wonder what I as a single man can do because the reality of the matter is that language is going to change, and it's going to change somehow. It's so odd: How can the strict grammar and dictionary adherents be so against witnessing people coin new words and invent new constructions while accepting past teachings? Someone sometime in the past had to invent it before it was included into a dictionary or grammar book, before it got accepted into human language in general. It's not as if dictionary and grammar book writers dictated language all by themselves purely through their books.

The strict adherents run into an absurd fallacy. For instance, for those dictionary people who claim that any word not listed in the dictionary is not an valid word run into the conclusion, via reductio ad absurdum, that human language itself is composed entirely of invalid words, because human language has existed long before dictionaries, therefore no dictionaries existed back then to validate used terminology. Humans coined words and made grammar long before any "official" grammar or dictionary book was printed to condone it.

Why such strictness bothers me is because I believe it to be an artificial restraint on the growth of language. Always using clarity and concision as guiding principles, how many new words are given up upon that could contribute new meaning and understanding, and how many constructions that could speed communication are denied birth? Simply, by allowing language to flourish under rational principles, individuals could be enriching it everyday. We'd have more words, concision, style, all that.

I guess on an individual level all I can do -- or anyone can do -- is defend their individual contributions when addressed, and otherwise engage in them freely without restraint. Unless you need to be "officially" proper to please someone high up, such as on a school board, there's really nothing denying new changes to language, except caving into the annoyances of the strict pricks. It's to them that I wonder how I can defend any changes. Hm, just point out their fallacies and explicate my communication principles?

At the very least, don't hate on me, reader, when I use "nightmare" as a verb!

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