Bad Language by Lars-Gunnar Andersson and Peter Trudgill (p.47)
Two theories are suggested for a person’s acquisition of a new word. Here is my summary:
Flu Theory: We pick up the word used by others and start using it right away, like cathing a flu virus from another person.
Ripe Apple Theory: Upon hearing a new word, we go through a lengthy process of considering and evaluating it and reach a decision to use it, like waiting for an apple to ripe.
Andersson and Trudgill continue with their analysis of ‘the role of attitudes and free will in language change.’ They acknowledge that both theories are somewhat true and this role plays a bigger part in language acquisition for adults than for children. That’s why we oftern say kids absorb everything they observe including language.
My Theory: Stone Inscription Theory
As a teacher of ESL, I thought of my students learning and memorizing new English vocabulary. I also thought of my own experience of learnign foreign languages. I rather liken the process to inscribing on a stone. When you hear a new word a couple of times, it merely makes a scratch on the stone (storage files in your brain). As you hear and see the word more and more, the inscription becomes deeper and deeper. Finally it sticks in your head so you can remember and retrieve it later.
Like all the other studies of human brain activities, finding out how a brain works in inquiring a new word is difficult. However, contemplating different theories about it may help deepen our understanding of it.
Lars-gunnar Andersson and Peter Trudgill pose three questions in the Introduction of Bad Language. (p.6)
Are people’s vocabularies smaller today than before?
Is English changing faster today than it did before?
Is English getting better or worse?
These are my takes on the questions.
Looking at the data we can access on Corpus of Contemporary American English website, it might be actually possible to measure the scale of vocabularies used by people in today’s world and compare it to that of other eras in the past. The somewhat moral question that can follow is whether the smaller vocabulary is bad. It can be bad if the smaller vocabulary directly limits the way people express their thoughts and feelings. However, before the avent of internet, there was no emojies, right? (Whether emojies are part of language is a separate question.) Can a person feel the difference in their expression with different amount of vocabularies they own and use? If a person can’t feel the mere difference, does it even matter?
This also seems to be measurable. One way might be looking at the rate of words being added to the lexicon and being faded out of it.
This is THE question that I was drilled with in my Introduction to Linguistics class. The answer is ‘neither.’ Mainly because we can not define how a language is good or bad. In the modern linguistics, the study of language is done descriptively rather than prescriptively. Linguists observe and describe the way a language is used by native speakers. They do not judge or evaluate whether it is used in a good or bad way. However, we are not all linguists, and there are plenty of people who judge a language and/or its speakers.
My added questions would be these:
What is the motivation behind judging a language and its speaker? Merely to keep a status quo?
Is there a way for us to stop these judgements? Maybe through teaching linguistics in schools K-12?
Right before the winter break, I’ve settled on a topic to research.
My advisor and I already had gone through a handful of potential topics including perceptions on various English accents and euphemism of tabooed words. Among the topics, I found that recently-formed Korean slang was rarely studied. It ranked second on my interest level next to the euphemism one. The latter topic required more of socio-linguistic knowledge and an professor who can mentor me in that field. Both were non-existent. So there it was: the topic of my first research project in linguistics–formation of contemporary Korean slang.
The plan was collecting data over the winter break. It would be better if it’s organized in a spreadsheet and transcribed with IPA. We would see how far it gets.
Then it happened in Brooke’s office during my final visit to her to wrap up the semester. She is my friend and mentor in the department. Bad Language. The title of the book caught my eyes, and I inquired about it immediately. “You can borrow it,” she said. “Really?” I said, “I’m just about to research bad language.” I flipped through it and decided to take it with me to read over the break. ‘Ha! ha! There ARE linguists who study bad language!’ I felt like I just found a comrade. ‘I will follow your track, Andersson and Trudgill. I will take advantage of your sharing of knowledge in this matter and take it further, in Korean.’ The book couldn’t have shown up at any better moment!