EVOLUTION OF ENGLISH ------------------ John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2010 March 6 initial 2012 August 27 current
Introduction ---------- The English language, like any other vivid language engaged in by the general public, undergoes changes over time. This happened, as a prime example, to Latin. After the demise of Roman structure by about 500AD, the Latin language slowly altered, region by region in the former empire, into what we know call the Romance languages. English evolves, too. Here I give some of my own observations of the changes that occurred in English within my sphere of life centered on New York City. Mind that these changes are only my observations and I have no strong theory to explain them. For the most part these changes transpired since about 1990. I have no idea what relation this has to the millennium crossing.
Plurals of 'o' nouns ------------------ A word ending in 'o' adds 'es' for its plural: 'tomatoes', 'heroes', 'volcanoes'. For all other plurals, only 's' is added or there's an irregular plural form: 'mice', children', 'geese'. There were also Latin words that keep their Latin plurals: 'amoebae', 'indices', 'alumni'. This also applies to newly-created Latin words: 'consortia', 'planetaria', 'automata'. The dropping of the 'es' rule came quickly, it seemed to me. Add just the 's'. The holdouts are words that end with letters 's', 'x', 'z'. The 'es' is added for their plural and is an extra syllable: 'boxes', 'glasses', 'axes' (more than one ax), 'fuzzes'. An early example, from during the 1960s Civil Right period, is 'negroes' -> 'negros'. An other, probably when it was first shortened, is 'boros'. This started as 'borough -> 'boro'. I simply can not recall any instance of 'boroes' as the plural. I wrote an article about the tickertape parades in New York and found in the litterature both 'Canyon of Heroes' and 'Canyon of Heros'.
Plurals of 'f' words ------------------ Words ending in 'f' or 'fe' change the 'f' to 'v' and then add 'es/s': 'knife' -> 'knives', 'shelf' ->'shelves', 'thief' -> 'thieves'. I see now that the word is left alone and just the 's' is added: 'knifes', 'shelfs', 'thiefs'. These words are sounded with 'fs' or 'fz' at the end. 'knifes' is either 'KNIGHFs' or 'KNIGHFz'.
Reversion to Latin plurals ------------------------ A lot of Latin words were absorbed into English and form plurals by English rules. I see a trend to return these words to their Latin plurals: 'lacunas' -> 'lacunae', 'atriums' -> 'atria', 'focuses' -> 'foci'.. In this trend occasionally a wrong plural is applied because the original Latin word is mistaken. 'agenda' -> 'agendae' is wrong because 'agenda' is already the plural of 'agendum'. This trend is most prevalent for the first and second declension nouns. Nouns of other declension are mixed between English and Latin plurals, which ever they entered the 21st century with..
Shortened adverbs --------------- Adverbs are normally formed from words by adding 'ly'. Some words, add 'ally' to form the adverb. Now they simply add 'ly'. The extra syllable is skipped: 'tragically' -> 'tragicly'. More over, the missing syllable is not sounded: 'TRA-jih-klee' This happens even when the main word already ends in 'al'. 'Typical' in adverb form is 'typicly', not 'typically'.
New adverb form ------------- This is taken clara mente from Latin! The word 'mente' is preceded by the feminine adjective like 'clara'. The sense is that the action is performed 'by a clear mind' or 'clearly'. The adjective is feminine to agree with 'mente', a feminine noun. First/second declension adjectives end in 'a'; third, 'e'. A curious glitch is to use 'a' for all adjectives: 'forta mente', 'breva mente'. The correct forma sre 'forte mente', 'breve mente'.
3rd person singular ----------------- A new development, since 2000, is to skip the 's' or 'es' for the third person singular of verbs. In English a regular verb adds these letters and sounds in the 'he, she, it' form. For example: 'I eat', 'you (sg) eat', 'she eats', 'we eat', 'you (pl" eat' , 'they eat'. The verb is left alone, without the added chars, for all parts of the conjugation, at least in short phrases and sentences. In longer sentences the traditional form is maintained. Examples are 'he go out now', 'She still do that?', 'He speak out of turn', 'It work for a while, then stop'. The traditional form is maintained for irregular verbs, those that change form in several parts of the conjugation. Probably this is because there is no obvious normal form to apply.
Cursive writing ------------- Cursive, or longhand or script, writing is rapidly vanishing in the US. In fact, this penmanship is no longer explicitly taught in many schools. This may be a result of the widespread use of electronic media, which writes only in discrete individual letters with no attempt to join them in a flowing script. Ever more commonly the up & coming generation no longer uses script and even has trouble reading older material written in script. They do not recognize the characters in their joined style. Older people are tending to write in a mix of cursive and block, or to use many ligatures. Increasing they reserve cursive for their personal signatures or other distinctive marks. Because there is no steady copious influx of new cursive writing in society, the ability to read older material may continue to weaken Penmanship in block letters is also not well treated in many schools. The presumption is that school work is done by electronic devices where the chars are always perfectly formed by keypress. There is less need to stroke the letters on paper by pen. When asked to copy on paper a printed or typeset phrase, the pupil commonly treats the text as a picture to be mentally traced. He does not read the char and writes it anew in his own handwriting.
Possessive ''s' ------------- English forms the possessive, genitive, word by adding ''s' to it. The major exception is a word that ends in n 's' sound. In this case only the apostrophe is added and there is no change in the sound of the word: 'ladies'', 'stooges''. The other approach is to avoid a possessive and use a possessive phrase: 'chairs'' -> 'of the chairs'. I see now the ''s' added where formerly only ''' was added, but the ''s' is silent. The main and possessive word sound the same: 'ladies's', 'grass's', 'stairs's'. All seem to hold their main sounds: 'LAY-deez', 'GRASS', 'STAIRZ'. I do not hear 'LAY-dezz-z', 'GRASS-z', 'STAIRZ-z'.
Partitive genitive ---------------- A partitive genitive is a phrase where a segment of a larger set is extracted by a possessive clause: 'many of the workers'. This means a subset extracted from from the set of all workers. The meaning 'the workers's many' is nonsense. For most instances the plain adjective-noun is substituted: 'Many workers'. One particularly strong example is 'couple of houses' -> 'couple houses', analogous to 'few houses', 'many houses'. In some cases there may a slight distinction of intent, like an emphasis or special sense, altho it seems that more and more the adjective-noun phrase is used for all senses. The partitive genitive is not on the outs as such. It is still widely used and is thoroly accepted. It's merely that the portion of instances is shifting to the two-word phrase.
Double subject ------------ One of the more emphasized rules in grammar is to avoid the double subject: 'My aunt, she went to the City'. Say either 'My aunt went to the City' or 'She went to the City'. I'm coming across the double subject again! Not in a strong way but it's there. For some speakers I sense it's in a formulary manner for certain constructs, and not a general application. I sense it is used mostly with a complex subject: 'Bill, his mother, the other boys, they are waiting at the bus.'
Genderless words -------------- This trend rose from the Feminist period of the 1960s-1970s to replace male-based words with those with no gender connotation. We long had 'motorman' -> 'driver/operator', 'fireman' -> firefighter', 'chairman' -> 'chair', 'matron' -> 'steward'. Others are invented as the need comes up for new or expanded sectors of society. Where the very word is not itself male but was formerly applied only to men, it is applied to both sexes: 'chef', 'boss', 'clerk', 'technician'. In spite of this migration from male to genderless vocabulary, there are strange holdouts. In the aerospace industry phrases like 'manned spaceflight', 'sending men back to the Moon', 'manning a space station' are still pandemic. Even supposedly socially expanded space advocates spill out such words. Today we 'crew a base', 'have a staff meeting', 'manage human resources', 'deploy a team'. Gender words are employed only when positively necessary.
Regularization of perfect tense ----------------------------- This is a very recent effort from within the 21st century. It seems to have two paths. One is the complete replacement of an irregular perfect tense with one formed by a regular rule. The other is to keep the irregular perfect for the simple word but regularize it in compound words. One of the earlier instances was 'iit' -> 'lighted', in both the active and passive sense. 'He lighted the lamp', 'the lamp was lighted'. One class of new perfects are verbs that sound or spell like an other regular verb in the present tense, Their perfects slide to the regular perfect form like these other verbs: 'seeped, steeped', so 'creeped', 'sweeped'. 'Glided, sided', so 'slided'. Others are from perfects ending in 't'. They went to ending in 'ed': 'spilt -> 'spilled', 'spelt' -> 'spelled'. 'fremt' ->'dreamed', Some keep the 't' sound while having 'ed'. Oothers shift the sound to match the new spelling. Many irregular perfects shifted to regular forms: 'drove' -> 'drived', 'froze' -> 'freezed', 'bled' -> 'bleeded', 'sped' -> 'speeded'. There are many holdouts against this trend, maintaining their irregular perfects. Of them there are some that went regular in compounds. 'flew' but 'overflied', 'saw' but 'foreseed', 'wrote' but 'underwrited', 'took' but 'undertaked'.
Conjugation of 'to be'. -------------------- The verb 'to be' in most languages is about the most irregular of all verbs. Even in Latin its forms are hard to remember. English is little better. I see a trend, admittedly a slow one, of junking most of the irregular forms in the favor of a one single word 'be'. This is applied to all number, tense, and person! I see and hear 'we be on the way home', 'he be shopping at the mall', 'you be gone for the day?', 'Steve be home this evening'. There is NO effort to make regular conjugations. The one form 'be' serves for almost all applications. So far the principal instances are in spoken English but the 'be' form is creeping into written material.
'When/where' words ---------------- 'Where' combines with many other words: 'somewhere', 'whereever'. 'elsewhere'. I see a parallel construction with 'when': 'anywhen', 'elsewhen'. While there were already a couple 'when' combines, now for each 'where' combine there's one for 'when'. I'm guessing that this feature derives from the more widespread appreciation of a unified spacetime structure for the world. Traditionally there were the segregation of space and time.
Combined words ------------ English has a grabbag of combines among words that are commonly used together. Over time they fused into a unit that then became words for themselfs: 'insofar', 'furthermore', 'moreover', 'nonetheless', 'indeed'. There are now common instances where the combine is split into its components: 'in so far', 'further more', 'more over', 'none the less', 'in deed'. The reverse trend hasn't come yet, as far as i can tell. Separated words commonly associated still stay apart: 'by the way', 'on the whole', 'on account of'.
'a' versus 'e/i' endings ---------------------- Several word endings start with either 'a' or 'i/e': 'able/ible', 'ance/ence', 'ant/ent'. In traditional English instruction there was no good way to pick the correct ending. Each was learned by the instance. When recall fails, the wrong ending is applied. In some cases there were cockamamies rhymes or jingles to help remember which ending to apply. The effective rule is dead simple, yet hardly ever mentioned! If the main word is a Latin first conjugation or a nonLatin word, the 'a' ending is bolted on. For all other words, the 'i/e' ending applies. A problem may arise with certain French words which look Latin but carry a French sound or accent. Go and apply the dependible rule, even if the result differs from the normal by-the-instance rule.
Vanishing hyphens --------------- Many prefixes are separated from their main words by a hyphen 'sub-basement', 'super-heated', 'ultra-scary'. The weak rule was that if the main word and prefix are from different languages, the hyphen goes in. It's rare to see the hyphen now. Prefixes are bolted directly to the main word: 'extraclean', 'hyperstrong', 'dewater', 'retrofit'. This can at first cause a pause to sort out the sounds. Once recognized there is no problem there after.
Interior capitals --------------- When a prefix is attached to a proper noun, the capital letter is usually keeped: preChristmas show', 'exPresident Clinton', 'postSoviet era'. The capital does not shift to the front of the new word, nor is it erased to make a new word in all smalls.
Vanishing periods --------------- Abbreviations and initials have periods: 'U. S.', 'Mrs.', 'Main St.'. Just about all these periods are gone! In many cases they were squeezed out by the owner of the initials: 'IBM', 'NASA', 'LAPD', 'LIRR'. Others leaked out on their own: 'NYC', 'JFK', 'BYOB'. One intersting case is 'Ms'. When promulgated in the 1970s Feminist era, it had a period like 'Mr.' and 'Prof.'. 'Ms.' was never the abbreviation of a word! By 1980 the period went bye-bye.
't' and 's, sh' ------------- Early in the mutation of Latin into the Romance languages there was a swing from 't' sound in certain suffixes toward an 's' or 'sh' sound. In fact, in many cases the original letter 't' was replaced by 's' or 'c' to reflect the change in sound. This change endured for about 1,500 years since the end of the Roman Empire until the present era and is generally adopted in English. 'Station' is 'STAY-shunn', not 'STAY-tih-yonn'. 'spatial' is 'SPA-shal', not 'SPA-tih-yal'. I'm starting to hear the 't' again, weakly. This so far is in either newly formed Latin words or old words that are directly taken from Latin: 'consortium' is both 'konn-SORR-tih-yumm' and 'konn-SORR- shumm'. 'Ossetia' is 'o-SEH-tih-ya' and 'o=SEH-sha'. When a 't/s'sh' word is within a compound, the 't' sound is more likely: 'spatiometric' is 'spa-tih-oh-MEH-trik, not 'spa-shih-oh-MEH- trik'. Latin-based words within mainstream English, like 'station' and 'spatial', seem immune.
Word division ----------- Clerks and secretaries had a little yellow booklet 'Word division' that listed thousands of words split into their syllables. They looked up a word when getting to the end of a typewriter line to know where to insert the continuation hyphen and throw the next row of typing. This book is way out of print and likely will not be reissued. Prevalently in typeset material, the word runs into the right margin, minus a couple characters, and there the hyphen is inserted. There is little respect for syllables, regardless of the nature of the word. Instances like 'promi-se', 'acou-nting', 'governm-ent', 'penins- ula', 'offic-ial' are rift in printed matter today. What's all the more peculiar is that nowayears printed matter is generated by computerized word processing. It should be feasible to embed an intelligent word-division function. The flaw is most noticeable in Latin or latinized words because the syllables are clearly demarcated. In nonLatin words, the syllables often must be learned or guessed, whence the need for the booklet. A general rule for the Latin-based words is that first the prefixes and suffixes are split off. Then in the main word the syllables begin with a consonant and end with a vowel. Maultisyllable prefixes are treated like main words: 'ex-tra-or-di-na-ry', 'com-pre- hen-sion', 'ob-li-ga-to-ry', 'post-mor-tem'. A division any where else in these example is nonsense. One problem comes with a word with a double consonant or vowel. Are they sounded as two or as one?. Diphthongs and ligatures stay together within one syllable. To apply this rule, the word must be properly pronounced. For nonLatine words, things get hairy. The consonant-vowel approach is helpful but hardly infallable.
Punctuation within quotes ----------------------- The zero-tolerance rule was that punctuation at the end of a quote sentence must sit before the closing quote mark. This law, as it was, applied even when the punctuation did not relate to the quoted clause. The rule, I'm told, comes from the tyographic constraint of type slugs, something about the punctuation 'not fitting properly' in the chase (the tray that holds the slugs in place for the printing press) if placed outside the closing quote. I can't believe this, knowing a bit about typesetting with cold type. Slugs are placed any ehere what so ever within the text. By the turn of the millennium this rule is under displacement by a more rational scheme. The punctuation within the quote marks apply to the quoted clause AND additional punctuation may apply, OUTSIDE the quotes, to the entire sentence. The oblitteation of the quote-rule came with the prevasion of digital typesetting, which has no restrictions for the placement of characters in text. There is a char code for the open quote and one for the close quote and both, with all other chars, are treated exatly the same as a numerical stream going to the printer. In fact, many typestyles have NO proper quote marks. The single and double ticks are used for both open and close qotes. The char of the same code is used for both ends of the quoted text, making the quote-rule inapplicable. There could be TWO punctuation at the end of a quote sentence: 'Did you hear the man yell, "Stop or I'll shoot!"?' The bang mark is part of the quoted statement. The query mark applies to the entire sentence.
Metric system ----------- Oldstyle is still common but by the turn of the millennium every one I come across knows the basic metric units. It is long gone that the oldstyle equivalent must be added after the metric unit in any discourse, spoken or written. It actually is tacky, immature, and some audiences may feel insulted. I stopped citing oldstyle equivalents in writing or speaking when Halley's comet flew by in 1985-1986. Back then a few audiences carped but by about 1995 there were utterly no further serious complaints. The dominant cuse for the awareness, if not full fluency, of metrics is the increased global nature of society. We simply interact more with overseas cultures, all of which are metric. In technical, engineering, scientific fieldm metric is the one way to work. Because oldstyle units are no longer formally supported, their abbreviations vary widely. Most people seem to keep which ever ones they grew up with, with no feat of doing a mistake. Altho metric units have no plural, it's all right to say '15 meters' when using the full word. In symbols only a singular is allowed '15 m', not '15 ms'. The latter is '15 milliseconds,' which may be nonsense in context. The prefixes 'M, m' are commonly confused, with laughable results. 'M' is 'mega' for 'million'. 'm' is 'milli' for 'one thousandth'. The Latin 'u' is an acceptable substitute for Greek 'mu' for 'millionth'. The abbreviations of metric units have no periods by definition, not linguistic evolution. A vernacular metric system sprang up, some from military use, others fro interaction with the rest of the world. 'kilo' = kilogram, 'K' = kilometer, 'cent' = centimeter, 'cc' = cubic centimeter. These are not settled out as yet and i do hear variations. The metric prefixes are commonly applied to regular words. They mean either the actual factor or a general size: 'megashow' = a very large show, 'microoffice' - a very small business room, 'nanofunds' = way too little funding.
Folded dates ---------- In ages past the calendar date was written as 'month, day, year'. The low-order unit is between two units of higher order. Apart from this form being messy in calendar maths, it is prima facie illogical. With the approach of the millennium there was a steady swing to order the units as 'year, month, day' or 'day, month, year'. This is likely from enlarged interaction with oveseas cultures and computer- based calendar maths. . Trouble sets in when writing the short form with a '/'. The oldstyle method separated the units with a '/'. Now a dot or hyphen is used. The slash now flags the date as a folded one even if it is not, leading to mistakes in reading the date. The strategy is twofold. First, quit cold the use of the slash. Second, adopt one or the other order, NOT BOTH, in a one writing. An other good practice is to write the month as a Roman numeral: '11.VII' for '11 July'. '11-7' could also be November 7th.
24-hour clock ----------- Use of the 24-hour clock seems so far reserved for critical applications like timetables, schedules, programs where a confusion of AM and PM can be disastrous. Otherwise the AM/PM time is still acceptable providing that the 'AM,PM' is explicitly stated: 'Please be back here by 2PM'. 24-hour time is also called 'military time' after its employment in the armed services. Military veterans continue to use this scheme in their every day life, often mixed with AM/PM time. With more and more civilian applications thru industry and commerce, the term '24- hour time' is the more common. Feeling seems mixed to use two digits for hours less than 10: '9:25' or '09:25'. It's best to use two digits always. It flags the notation as a 24-hour time. '09:25' is a time in mid morning. The instant 00:00 is the midnight that BEGINS a day, not ends it. It can be 24:00 when time is counted forward from the previous day. Under AM/PM thee is still no general agreement about '12:00' whether AM or PM. Avoid to the fullest extent practical citing this instant. To cite a moment near midnight, say '11:59PM' or '12:01AM'. For a moment near noon, say '11:59AM' or '12:01PM'.
Conclusion -------- English is a living language. It's not, like some other tongues, overseed by an buro that intercepts deviations. While gammarians can, and do!, plead for 'correct' usage, it's tough to tell what is 'correct' or not. Formations once considered from a low-level of education are in routine use by learned folk. At least in New York there is a massive influence of foreign tongues that struggle to cope with English and end up smoothing it out without ill intent. Others, speaking native English catch on: even if subliminally.