In the third chapter of the textbook, we read about physical isolation and language change. Van Herk shed some light on some types of linguistic isolation and he touched upon the idea that usually when immigrants revisit their home counties, they find that the spoken language has changed slightly – or even significantly – from how it was when they lived there. Reading that chapter made me think about my own experience. In fact, even though I have been away from my homeland for a relatively short period of time (2 years and a half), I cannot recognise some aspects of language now commonly used in my home country.
This is true mainly when it comes to everyday and casual language. It happens that I cannot easily understand what some of the expressions used on social media mean. I keep asking my family “What do you mean by that? Why are we talking about that in this situation”. In fact, the significant political and economical instability of the country in recent years has influenced the way language is used by people, especially on social media. For example, the technical names of different weapons, that people have become familiar with because of the armed conflicts, are now being used as adjectives. These new words are especially common when people are telling jokes or making fun of someone or something. In most of the cases the new meaning is based on a salient current events.
Last weekend I met with a friend, who is also from my home country, who had just come back from a visit there. She was amazed at how much life has changed. What caught my attention most was what she said about the unbelievable rapid changes of the everyday spoken and slang language. She said her family even teased her about her speech, saying it sounded very old fashioned and out of date. She said that like me she found it challenging to understand the new slang and jokes made by people around her.
I was considering the role of language teachers in these kinds of situations of dramatic change. What is the language teacher’s role in helping students master a shifting language? In a few years the new sayings today might again be out of date. Perhaps the answer is to encourage students to remain life-long learners, and to expect to have to keep up with changes.
I’m curious to know what you think. Have you noticed rapid language change in your lifetime? How do current events impact language, and are these changes transient or lasting? What is the effect of social media on language change? What effect does language change have on language teaching in general, and what are the best practices to cope with these changes?