Verbal Evolution: The More You Say a Word, the Less Likely It Will Change

By Robert C Cowen Columnist | The Christian Science Monitor, October 25, 2007 | Go to article overview

Verbal Evolution: The More You Say a Word, the Less Likely It Will Change


Robert C Cowen Columnist, The Christian Science Monitor


As languages evolve, they tend to lose irregular forms of words. Oddball past tenses of irregular verbs morph into the regular form. In English, that means forming the past tense by appending "ed" to the root word as in "finish/finished." Linguists suspect that the more frequently an irregular form is used within a language community, the more resistant it is to such evolutionary change.

Two research teams, working independently, have used extensive statistical analysis to show that resistance to change does indeed correlate with the frequency of a word's usage. In fact, this seems to be a general rule governing the evolution of language.

You can see this rule at work in English today. "Forecast" is an irregular verb whose present and past tenses are the same - "forecast/forecast." It's used less frequently in spoken and written English than a high-usage irregular verb such as "say/said." But listen carefully to TV meteorologists and you'll hear some of them talking about what was "forecasted" yesterday. "Forecasted" is even showing up in some scientific papers. "Say/said" is here to stay. But "forecast/ forecast" is morphing into "forecast/forecasted."

Mathematician Erez Lieberman at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues have studied the emergence of this rule in English over the past 1,200 years. They explained last month in Nature how they have tracked inflectional changes to 177 irregular verbs in Old-English (Beowulf's English) through Middle English (Chaucer's English) to Modern English.

By Chaucer's time, 145 of those old irregular forms remained and 98 of them are still with us today. (English speakers today might enjoy knowing that they are using some of the same irregular verbs that Beowulf and Chaucer spoke.)

Yet the rule that less-used irregular forms evolve into regular forms faster than much-used forms stands out in their analysis. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Verbal Evolution: The More You Say a Word, the Less Likely It Will Change
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.