LINGUIST List 9.668

Thu May 7 1998

Disc: Recent Change in English

Editor for this issue: Julie Wilson <>


  1. Marie-Lucie Tarpent, changes in English

Message 1: changes in English

Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 18:49:37 -0400
From: Marie-Lucie Tarpent <Marie-Lucie.TarpentMSVU.Ca>
Subject: changes in English

Congratulations to Linda Formichelli for a great idea for a general 
article. But i think linguists might benefit by sharing views on 
this subject as well. As a non-native speaker living in North 
America for over 30 years, i have noticed some recent changes in 
Canadian English -- i suspect they started in the States earlier but 
i haven't read anything on these subjects (perhaps i don't read the 
right texts):

1. morphosyntax: 

a. in the last few (perhaps 5-6) years, i have been struck by the
sudden proliferation of compound verbs in English, eg "to fund raise,
to problem solve, to guest conduct", etc; usually these are written
as 2 words, and this may be ok for native English speakers but is
very confusing to learners of English (and i suspect, also for slow
readers). When i have seen examples like these mentioned by
linguists, usually the only comment is that they are not really
compound verbs because they derive from nominal expressions. I have
not read or heard any discussions about their rapidly increasing
frequency which is what i find remarkable. I have toyed with the
idea of starting a small research project on this but am too busy
with other things, and i don't have any graduate students who might
take it on--i think it would make a nice honours or MA thesis
subject. This proliferation of compound verbs seems to be linked to
a increased tendency towards compounding of nouns and adjectives, but
it is more noticeable because compound verbs used to be so few ("to
babysit" was almost the only one until a few years ago).

b. even more recently, "whomever" has come into fashion, most likely 
as a hypercorrection which is replacing "whoever" and even simply 
"who". The people who use "whomever" do not necessarily also use 
plain "whom" . I have noticed this usage many times in radio 
interviews (i don't watch much TV), and it seems to me it is more 
frequent with Americans than Canadians. 

2. phonology: 

a. at least in Canada, there seems to be a recent tendency to open
the vowel in words like medicine, Megan, etc; again, i have not
researched the conditioning systematically but it is not limited to
the m-initial words where i first noticed it. To me this 
pronunciation sounds rather "snotty". 

b. another phonological change which is older is the increasing
fronting of the vowel in words like "food". Texts for students of
French used to say that the vowel of words like "vous" was like that
in "you" while that of "tu" was much more difficult for English
speakers. But in fact the vowel of "food" is getting closer to that
of "tu" (ie it is getting more and more fronted) and it is very
difficult to teach English speakers to say the vowel of "vous". 

I would not be surprised if structural changes like these were more 
obvious to non-native than native English-speaking linguists.

Marie-Lucie Tarpent
Mount Saint Vincent University
Halifax, N.S. B3M 2J6 Canada
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