Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our Evolving Language

The English language can be more accepting of change than many others, given that its speakers are on all continents and many use it as a second language and may draw on their first language to create new words.  Technology has brought many new terms in the last few decades.  Sounds did not used to bite, and chips were in a bowl in the U.S. and served fried in England.

We have grown to expect language evolution in a way our ancestors did not.  Without rapid communication and easy travel, words tended to retain their usage.  I was reminded of the fluidity of our language when substitute teaching this week.  I generally don't work with elementary school students, but it was the week before spring break and teachers planned a couple extra days of vacation.  As I lined up a group of fifth graders to leave for the day, I instructed them to put their knapsacks on and wait quietly.  (Did I mention I'm an optimist?)

One little girl looked at me as only a ten-year old can and asked, "What's a knapsack?"

"You know," I replied.  "What you keep your books in."

This brought giggles from several kids.  "You mean our back packs." 

Can you imagine if I had called it what we did when I was ten -- a book bag?  Heaven forbid language should be so literal.

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