New words come into being all the time, just as some old ones fall into misuse. The purists among us may well frown on these lexicographic changes to our language, but for a language to thrive it must evolve; if it didn’t then we would still all be speaking like Chaucer.
But how do these new words enter our language? Who invents these neologisms in the first place and how do they spread? It seems that in our current society social networks play a significant part on the whole process.
An American study has investigated the phenomenon by examining a total of 30 million tweets over an eighteen month period. Naturally what happens in the US doesn’t have a direct parallel in the UK, but there are similarities. During the study a number of new words came into existence and entered into everyday usage. One example is the word “bruh”. It is an extension of the word “bro”, itself a reduction of the word “brother”. Bruh originated amongst urban populations in the south east which had large numbers of African Americans, and it soon spread to California.
One all the Twitter data had been collected, a mathematical model was built that was able to analyse the spread of new wards from city to city. It became clear that most of the new words evolved in cities that have a population that includes a large proportion of African Americans.
In the days before Twitter, other studies have been able to examine the spread of words such as “cool” and “dude” which showed a similar pattern of originating amongst African Americans before spreading to the rest of the population. Words are far more likely to spread amongst cities that have populations of similar ethnicity and similar economies than they are amongst cities that are close geographically.
In times gone by words spread slowly and the main mechanism was travel. When people travelled to new areas they took their vocabulary with them, and when they returned they brought back new words. Printed media along with radio and TV accelerated the rate of language evolution. Digital TV allowed more TV channels to be broadcast, and many of these catered for specific ethnicities further, increasing the increasing the rate of new word adoption. But nowadays new words spread more rapidly than ever before, and the main mechanism is through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
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This is a guest post by Claire Chat a Londoner interested in technology in general as well as in the mobile and telecommunication industry. If you want Claire to write you specific content, you can find email her here or contact her on Twitter (Claire_Chat).