Learning a language is a life-long journey; it requires constant practise because a language is a living thing that changes and adapts to new situations like a person. Once you think you have understood the meaning of a word, that meaning might change. So you have to learn the new meaning. I have a lovely older student who has been using a textbook he has kept from the 1960s that uses short stories to introduce new vocabulary and grammar. It's an interesting method but one of the stories introduces a female character as 'a nice little thing'. This would NOT be appropriate today! This morning I saw the adjective 'awesome' in an exercise. In the nineties when I was a young woman this word was on the lips of all Americans but today it's a word your Dad might use to be 'down with the kids'!
So how do words change with time?
Otherwise known as generalization, broadening is when a word with a specific maening is extended to make it applicable in more contexts than it was previously used and means more than it previously did. This has happened in recent times when existing words have been used to describe new technologies makeing them more familiar, for example 'mouse' or 'tablet'.
Other examples are with the words 'business', 'cool' and 'dog'. 'Business' used to refer to the state of being busy but now refers to work and professional activity. 'Dog' was used to refer to a particularly powerful breed of dog but now has been extended to mean any kind of canine. 'Cool' originally described a style of jazz music. 'Companion' originally meant 'someone who eats with you' but now is 'someone who is with you'. Another similar example is 'holiday' which no longer refers to something only 'holy'.
If there is broadening, there is also narrowing or specialization where the process is exactly the opposite from a large to a specific meaning. This might happen with loan words from other languages add synonyms which each take on different shades of meaning. Litter originally meant 'bed', then went to 'bedding', 'animals on a bedding of straw' and finally 'things scattered about'. 'Girl' comes from Low German 'gor' meaning 'child' and in the past indicated either sex. 'Meat' (mete) used to mean food in general. 'Starve' comes from Old English 'stearfan' meaning 'to die'. In Old English 'wife' used to refer to any woman ( just like 'femme' in French means both 'wife' and 'woman'. 'Naughty' used to mean 'having nothing', 'nought', then 'good for nothing'.
Modern examples of amelioration are 'sick', 'bad' or 'wicked', all of which had a negative meaning in the past but have come to be synonymous of 'good' or 'cool' so the sense has changed from negative to positive. Amelioration often means giving a weaker, less negative meaning. For example, 'terribly' and 'awfully' are now synonyms for 'very'. This is happening today in the news when simple events are over-dramatized so a 'tragedy' may just be a sad event or story.
Our favourite adjective 'nice' has changed meaning incredibly. It used to mean 'foolish, silly' from the Latin 'nescius' 'ignorant', then 'timid', 'fastidious', 'delicate', 'precise' and 'agreeable'. Its staus as a one-stop adjective is even affirmed in Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey in 1803.
“I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?"
"Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”
Pejoration is to amelioration as broadening is to widening. So this is when a word gets worse. 'Silly' previously meant 'happy', 'blissful', 'fortunate' then 'blessed', then 'weak', 'insignificant' and 'foolish'.
It is understandable that words that relate to value or intelligence can often acquire negative connotations as 'cheap' is synonymous with 'low quality'. Someone who is 'clever' may be using their intelligence in a dishonest way. ('Crafty' originally linked with being skilled now means 'dishonestly clever'.
Often changes in meaning are associated with social status. 'Villain' originally referred to a medieval servant. 'Ambitious' came from 'ambitio' (going around) to now mean 'eager to win favour'.
So, next time you learn a new word beware! Its meaning may change so don't get too comfortable and always be curious! The history of a word can lead to greater understanding.
I am a hopeless romantic and I am also extremely nosey, I am curious about the details of other people's lives so I love classics that talk about the ins and outs and complex family and social relationships. My favourite novel is 'Wuthering Heights' after all. So a story about a bird striving to achieve perfection in flight might not immediately seem my cup of tea. However there are somes elements of 'John Livingston Seagull' that strike a chord with me.
"You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way".
My childhood was full of routine, week after week was structured by school, homework, clubs and friends. I sometimes felt that the weeks stretched unchangingly ahead of me. I am timid and still do suffer from shyness but I recognize that this stability gave me inner confidence in myself and my basic principals. My mother was a primary school teacher and as a teenager, everyone told me I should be a teacher too, like her. So I determined NOT to teach, not because I didn't want to be like my Mum, she is lovely, but because I wasn't going to do what other people said, I was going to do my own thing.
At the age of 17/18, in the last year of high school, I was given a book listing all university courses available to students in the UK. I had previously agreed with my best friend Amber that we would have gone to the same university so that we could both study history and live together, but flipping through the book the British Institute in Paris jumped out at me and I couldn't get it out of my head. I knew instantly that I had to go there. The entry in the book spoke only about gap year experiences but when I contacted the institute they told me that they were planning a new degree course for the following year and invited me to apply. I was very attached to my parents ( I cried when I went to Guide camp I missed my Mum so much! ) and certainly not so mature or independent but in the ignorance of my youth I was somehow sure that I could cope with living in a whole other country where I knew no one and was shy to speak! It was a very strong experience, everything was new, the five other students on my course and I were like guinea pigs. It was a very different scenario from my friends in the U.K. I had many wobbles in the first year but that summer I decided to stay in Paris for the summer, so sure was I still of my choice.
I have been blessed with a great imagination. As a child Amber and I used to spend hours exploring different lives and realities from the safety of our own homes. I loved languages even them, and I dreamt of marrying an Italian and having bi-lingual children with the elegant names I read in novels or saw in musicals like Anastasia or Francesca. Wait a minute, that's exactly what I did!
The other lesson that John Livingston Seagull teaches us is that our search for fulfilment is not complete until we share our knowledge with others. When I finished university I was unsure about what I should do. I thought back to my most fulfilling work experience and realised that it was when I worked for a language school in Paris. I didn't teach there but I helped the teachers with their administration. I also remembered that I had learnt a lot volunteering in a charity shop as a teenager. So I put two and two together and looked for opportunities to volunteer in the community where I was living in London at the time. I started volunteering with an adult education centre and I immediately felt an empathy with the students that were going through a similar experience that I had been through, experiencing difficulty in practical, every day situations. As a student in Paris it was my 'job' to learn French so I spent years trying out different methods of learning vocabulary and using it in conversation. So all the advice I give you about learning English is based on my personal experience of learning and teaching over the past 17 years.
Before my children were born I lived in Milan which is a great city but my students told me that because of work commitments there it was difficult to spend time with your children. I immediately felt that this was not right for me. Many people leave Sicily in search of work and return in the summer for holidays. But I have done the opposite, I live in Sicily and go to England on holiday! Because my family comes first for me. I live in a very simple way, but I prioritise what is most important for me.
What is your passion?
Who are you?
What is standing in your way or preventing you from being yourself?
I would love to read your comments below.
In Silas Marner, there is a clear difference in style between the language of the narrative and the locals' dialogue but sometimes it is not so easy to understand if a word is formal or informal, commonly used or not. It is not a question of being understood or not, it's about using an appropriate register, whether you are spaeking with friends or in a business meeting.
Here are my guidelines
1. Start with a most common word lists to get an idea.
The top hundred represent something like half of all words used. A native English speaking person knows between 10,000 to 20,000 words. You need to know 8,000-9,000 words to enjoy reading a book but 2,000 are enough to start.
2. Use a learners' dictionary like the Longman's Dictonary of Contemporary English or the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
The Longman's prints the 3000 most common English words in red in this dictionary. The Oxford uses abbreviation such as fml (formal) to indicate if a word is formal, or distinctly informal such as as slang. Other categories or 'usage labels' are obsolete, archaic, informal, colloquial, dialectal, non-standard, etc.
3. Latinate words are often more formal, Germanic equivalents are informal.
English is a Germanic language so the oldest words of this origin have the most familiar sound to natives. These words are generally short, in fact particulary in spoken English we still prefer very short words of maximum 4 or 5 letters. In Roman times, Latin was the written and spoken language of the law and in fact we still use Latin terms in law today. At the same time, through intermarriage with locals colloquial Latin terms also entered the language. The same thing happened with the Normans, adding many French words from the military, the law and every day life.
So speakers of Latinate languages must beware that a word that sounds more familiar to them may be unnatural or formal to the English ear, for example when they use commence rather than begin.
4. Does it have a very precise meaning?
Informal words are often vague- words like nice, things, good, bad can have many different shades of meaning according to the context. A word like delicious specifically means good in terms of taste. Remember that informal Language is used mainly in speaking while formal Language is used in wiriting. When writing you have more time to think about how you express yourself and so can choose words more carefully and precisely.
5 Look at the context.
If it is a word in an Academic paper it is probably formal or neutral. The formal register is for professional settings, like classrooms, the workplace, and interviews. Place isn’t the only determinant of register: factors like how long the people have known each other, their previous relationship, if any, and their purpose in speaking to each other affect how formal or informal the speech will be.
Can you rewrite these sentences in a formal style?
a) Man, I’m starving! I’m gonna get something to eat and then call you back.
b) We gotta get this done before we can go anywhere.
c) Lemme know if you need a hand with that.
d) You’re wrong! I paid twenty-five bucks for that!
Can you rewrite these sentences in an informal style?
e) I would prefer that you turn down the volume on your television.
f) According to an eye witness, the event occurred at approximately 3:00 in the afternoon.
g) The project is to be completed by the end of the week.
h) Would you be available to attend the gathering tomorrow?
Invent your own sentences and post them in the comments for others to translate. Think of your recent conversations, emails, and text messages for ideas.
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.