Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics

By Suzanne Romaine | Go to book overview

5
Linguistic Change in Social Perspective

As I was writing this book in Sweden, an interesting case of linguistic change came to my attention. It seems that young people in Sweden have begun using the word nörd (from American English nerd) to refer to someone who is stupid. There is also an adjectival form nördig 'nerdy'. This new usage has been commented on by the newspapers and the radio, and some of my Swedish colleagues began noticing it over the summer of 1991. After some discussion, my colleagues and I concluded that nerd probably crossed the Atlantic to Sweden via the American film Revenge of the Nerds, which was translated in Swedish as Nördarna kommer ('The nerds are coming'). Some young people have apparently also picked up the word through visiting the United States. It has now been noticed in Denmark too. The influence and prestige of American pop culture on youth everywhere has no doubt been responsible for the introduction of a number of new English words into other languages. The possibilities for change of this type are indeed enormous nowadays, considering how much more mobile most people are, and how much exposure people get to speech norms outside their immediate community through mass media. In this chapter I will examine some of the mechanisms of linguistic change and its social motivations.


Dialectology and language change

Linguists have long been interested in language change. In the nineteenth century the discipline of linguistics was understood in a historical sense and the main preoccupations of the field were to study the development of languages. Since its beginnings in the nineteenth century historical investigations of dialects have made contributions of both theory and methods to the study of language change. This work, which sees the spread of linguistic forms

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