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Change and variation of English lexis

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Change and variation of English lexis

1. Introduction
The topic under discussion in this paper is about the lexical change and lexical variation. The change and vary of language never stops and it develops with the move of time and space (Zhichang, 2010, p.19 ). I will talk about the lexical change and variation in English lexis from three respects and I will discuss how the knowledge of lexical change and variation facilitates can be related to the learning and/or teaching of vocabulary.

2. Distinction between lexical change and variation
As explained by Zhichang (2010), lexical change is the process during which the vocabulary of a certain language changes over time and it is one type of language changes (p. 19). New words are always being created, while some words disappeared in the change of lexical. Many archaisms such as “trow”, “thou” and “hast” have become obsolete and they are replaced by new words. “Language variation refers to any distinguishable form of speech used by a speaker or group of speakers. (Wen-hua, 2008, p.49)” Lexical change is a diachronic change and lexical variation is more of a synchronic variation since it can be observed at any given time point. As Holmes(2001) said, language varies in three major ways which are interestingly interrelated—over time, in physical, and socially. Language change—variation over time—has its origins in spatial and social variation. (p. 205) Walt (n.d) claims that “One of the most fruitful areas for the application of language variation analysis is language change, given the fact that change necessarily involves variation.” Although all of the changes seem to contain variation, this doesn’t mean that all variations refer to the changes. This is also agreed by Johnson (1993), he points out that “Many terms that had undergone language change did not reveal patterned variation” (p. 256) Language change inevitably leads to variation, and variation within a speech community often leads to social valuation of particular features as “good” or “bad”. “Good” variants are typically believed to be characterized by logical superiority or venerability, or both; “bad” variants must then be illogical and/or recent inventions by the vulgar. (Sarah. n.d)

3. Causes of lexical change
The reasons for the change of lexical are various and complex. “Many of the vocabulary changes that were documented in the present study were clearly related to cultural changes involving technology, the economy, education, and information.”(Johnson, 1993, p.301) All of these factors affect each other and cause the same outcome overall. However, two factors which are economy and language contact make the greatest contribution to the lexical change (Zhichang, 2010, p.20). In order to communicate as conveniently as possible, speakers tend to make their utterances efficient and effective. For instance, going to—gonna,with examples of both vowel reduction [ʊ] —[ə] and elision [nt] —[n], [oʊ.ɪ] — [ʌ]. Besides, language contact is a common reason which causes lexical change. Raymond (2010) states “language contact refers to the borrowing of words from foreign languages”(p. 41). The significant of lexical change is the large-scale importation of words from Latin, French and other languages into English in the 16th and 17th centuries (Wikipage, 2012). What’s more, social status is one important factor to language change. Holmes(2010) said that”…a linguistic change may enter a speech community through any social group, but that different types of change are associated with different groups.” However, the development of science also leads to the creation of many new words, such as “facebook”, “google” and “iphone”. In a word, lexical is changing for variety reasons all the time.

4. Types of lexical variation
This section focuses on the types of lexical variation. Holmes (2001) states “People often use a language to signal their membership of particular groups and to construct different aspects of their social identity. Social status, gender, age, ethnicity and the kinds of social networks people belong to turn out to be import and dimensions of identity in many communities.”(p.127). There are no two people can speak in the same language. In addition, three methods that are applied to systematically distinguish the various lexical variations will be talked about in the following section. “First, there is the fact that words may mean several things. Second, the same kind of referent may be named by various semantically distinct lexical categories. Third, the same kind of referent may be named by various words, which may or may not differ from a semantic point of view; this type of variation, then, encompasses the previous one.”(Dirk. n.d.p.79)

Then, the lexical variation can be divided into two major types: regional variations and socio-cultural variations. Regional variations which also are called geographical variations are varieties of a language spoken in a geographical area. The differences of pronunciation and vocabulary are most aware of, while the grammatical differences are relatively covert (Holmes, 2001, p.129). On the other hand, socio-cultural variations consist of three parts including race variations, age variations and gender variations (Zhichang, 2010, p.20). For example, Ronald (n.d.) said, Ebonics is the most distinguished phenomenon in race-related variation, it is also known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE). For the age-related variation, it is well-known that people in their childhood tend to follow an immensely different pattern from the ones they would choose when they enter adulthood. “Current slang is the linguistic prerogative of young people and generally sounds odd in the mouth of an older person.”(Holmes, 2008, p.174)

5. Conclusion
All in all, lexical change and variation is an important part in vocabulary learning. The knowledge of it can help us to understand the meaning of words better. When learning, students can use the knowledge of lexical change and variation to consolidate the words that they have learnt. As teachers, they need to consider how to integrate the knowledge of lexical change and variation into their vocabulary teaching, because only teach the meaning of words is not enough for students.

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