How We Whip Up New Words: From Cronuts to Googling

8415177424_23f8097bac_h

DoremiGirl/Flickr

Language is anything but stagnant, as people make up new words daily. It would be totally unreasonable to expect true fluency to be possible via any stationary source of information.

Neither books nor software alone move language–people do. In all cultures, native speakers, enjoy the exclusive privilege of understanding the true personality and fun idiosyncrasies of their language. The sources of new vocabulary and how it affects the way we communicate illustrate how exciting language can be.

New Things, New Words

As new things are created and discovered, new words need to be invented to describe them. Some words are completely original, like Arduino. Arduino is the new, low cost, and easy-to-use microprocessor that makes coding and electronics accessible to anyone. By virtue of its pervasiveness, it is already a well-known term amongst anyone remotely interested in electronics.

Other young words for new items are not completely original, instead merging two separate items into one new definition. Cronuts, the recent dessert craze invented by chef Dominique Ansel, combines the words croissant and donut. The cronut is essentially a croissant pastry fried and shaped like a donut. So, the merged word describes the mixed dessert well.

Popularization of Slang

Slang is always prevalent among young people, but the creation and spread of sites like urbandictionary.com offer a totally new medium through which to popularize new words on a global level and at a faster rate.

Urbandictionary allows users to not just add words and definitions, but also to vote on which definitions are or should be considered the most accurate. The site is both amusing and informative when seeking to understand words that have not yet found their way into formal dictionaries.

SMS Language

When technological advances revolutionized the way people communicate with each other, many celebrated the increase in efficiency. Emailing from a computer is faster and more convenient than mailing a letter. Texting from a phone is faster and more convenient than using a computer to email.

An additional layer to these increases in efficiency saw the rise to prominence of many new abbreviations. Many of these words, once strictly relegated to the online world, are increasingly understood and used in speech. Terms like “lol,” “lmao,” or “omg,” are frequently effective tools for communication, even when spoken aloud.

Many websites like Webopedia are now truly useful for documenting the constantly evolving manner in which people communicate on the internet.

Lingua Franca

Micheal Erard’s article on Wired, ‘How English is Developing into a Language We Might Not Even Understand’, explores how English’s status as a lingua franca provides space for non-native speakers to impact the language. In populations where a majority of individuals are still working towards fluency, communities repeat and reinforce pronunciation, vocabulary, or grammar errors regularly enough to create new norms for the lingua franca over time.

Eventually, any changes can be folded into the wider society’s lexicon and are adopted as part of standardized language.

It is estimated that by 2020, native English speakers will constitute only 15 percent of the estimated 2 billion people learning and speaking the language. After years of cultural exchange with the West, the Chinese developed a particularly colourful reputation for a unique way of speaking English, sometimes called Chinglish.

Teams of experts scoured the streets of Beijing for 18 months, attempting to destroy all traces of technically incorrect English signs before the 2008 Summer Olympics. About 300 million Chinese people, a number roughly equivalent to the total population of the entire United States, read and write English.

The majority of these learners do not have regular access to the kind of quality practice with native speakers, and, slowly but surely, the collective understanding of English adopts increasingly Chinese characteristics.

Colloquial Language

Colloquial language is another great source of new words. “Refrigerator” soon evolved into the more conveniently brief, “fridge.” “Motor car” gave birth to the “car” and “brassiere” is just about always referred to as “bra.” Informal language pervades conversations to such an extent that these words become the standard. Ultimately, the lexicon recognizes them as valid and legitimate in their own right.

Colloquial language can often be regionally based and geographically mapped. “Wheeling” is a Canadian term for flirting that is well known throughout that country but virtually unheard of in most parts of the United States.

Brand Names Become Words

Some brands have become so representative for products that their name becomes the new name of the item. Many English speakers might ask for a “Bic,” instead of a pen. Most anyone understands that when someone else is “Googling” something, he or she is searching for information online, regardless of the actual search engine in use.

It is fascinating and, sometimes, even challenging to engage with how quickly and dramatically language evolves. The way in which we communicate with each other is constantly racing to keep up with a fast-paced world and our need to talk about it.

At Listen & Learn our tutors are always abreast of the latest language changes, so you can speak like a native. Contact Us for more information on whichever new language you’d like to get started on.