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Author Topic: Evolution or sin?  (Read 3472 times)

Offline fuu

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Evolution or sin?
« on: August 25, 2009, 06:42:48 AM »
The  topic I am about to bring up is a rather contentious one that has been on my mind quite a bit lately.                                                                      
What is your personal opinion on the misuse of common words? 'Random' is certainly the perfect example here. Over the part three years or so, the aforesaid word has taken on a different definition, namely spontaneity /strangeness. Some view this as sacrilege, others view it as natural evolution, claiming that prevalent usage of the word (incorrectly) will eventually cause it to sprout an alternative meaning. Is this nature's natural course or is this further proof that decadence of the English language is drawing nigh?              

ps: this was written on my mobile so forgive me for the atrocious paragraphing.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2009, 07:57:49 AM by Shadowmage »

Offline Shadowmage

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Re: Evolution or sin?
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2009, 08:12:58 AM »
I wouldn't say that a language is truly becoming "decadent" until massive rifts in comprehension occur.  Most of the time the context of an argument is clear so it's not too hard to figure out which definition of a word is being employed (unless someone is using doublespeak).   

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Offline Akira

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Re: Evolution or sin?
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2009, 09:17:27 AM »
Words that change meaning evolve. There's no linguistic decadence here. It's not just English, every language in the world gains and loses words as time goes on.

Language is done by consensus. Ultimately, what sets language apart from all other forms of communication (art, etc; non-verbal language is also language) is that language is inherently abstract. If you take apart a word and break it down to its most basic phonemes, it becomes meaningless. Therefore, the meaning in language is imbedded within the combination of inherently meaningless sound patterns. That being said, we can attribute whatever form of meaning we wish to a word. What we know as the "definition" of a word is simply its most accepted meaning. Thus, if the vast majority of people attribute a second meaning to a word, then it beomes a second accepted definition. Look at words like "gay," which have taken a completely different second meaning from the first.
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Offline fuu

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Re: Evolution or sin?
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2009, 10:03:56 AM »
 Contention 1 : As far as I know, the word "gay" has just one alternative definition; homosexual. The word "random" however has become this vile, amorphous blob that teens in particular use to compensate for their lack of creativity in choosing words or due to sheer laziness . Won't it reach a point where they begin to view such words as the panacea to their lexical capacity? I'm sure the insidious effects to their ability to articulate would be aplenty.                                                                                         Contention 2 : As far as I know, the colloquial definition of "random" has yet to be assimilated into the Oxford dictionary. [/pretentious]

I'd like to thank you guys for your time because this has been on my mind for ****ing ages lol. I even had an argument of sorts with a teacher over it <_<
« Last Edit: August 25, 2009, 04:36:55 PM by Akira »

Offline Akira

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Re: Evolution or sin?
« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2009, 03:25:17 PM »
I don't know what you mean by "vile, amorphous blob." Your argument is severely hampered by your lack of a definition. The meaning that I (and most people) attribute to the word "random" is "without aim, direction, purpose, goal." This definition is in sync with the "amorphous blob" that you allude to in your post; looking at how teenagers use the word "random":

*Naked man streaks past.*
"That was random."

This makes perfect sense in my brain; contexuality is key to the interpretation of language. In this context, I can understand that the speaker is referring to the seemingly pointless action of a naked man streaking past his eyes; this is simply an extrapolation from the dictionary definition of the word.

I did say that "gay" only had two meanings. Compare the two meanings of the word "gay" as opposed to your proposed nebula of definitions for "random." The two meanings of the word "gay" are mutually exclusive. This is a case where a word adopts two unique meanings. In your case, with the word "random", what you view as a degredation of the English language is simply human inference and contextualization at work.

Linguistic degredation, as a concept, does not exist. Languages do not "degrade", they evolve; not in the sense that a language becomes more and more complex, more perfect or more advanced as time goes on; but simply that it change. What you (perhaps) lament as human sloth is simply a shift in linguistic preference. It can neither be stopped nor is it undesirable. One can talk about degredation on an aesthetic level; for example, one can argue that Latin is a more beautiful, more pleasing language than its successors (the vernacular Romance languages, such as French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) but one can not claim that any one of those languages is a degredation of Latin. They are simply regional variations that, through the course of centuries of use, evolved their own linguistic identity.

Same goes for English. Our vocabulary has changed dramatically within the past four hundred or five hundred years; we can't call that linguistic degredation. Words that you claim are "nebulous" or "vague" have always existed, and are rarely misunderstood in context. Placeholder words have been around ever since the pronoun was first concieved as a concept. We use placeholding nouns all the time; words like "thing", "guy", even "shit". Placeholder adjectives exist as well: look at "good" and "bad." There's no reason why the word "random" can't be given new meaning, especially when its "new meaning" is simply a contexualized extrapolation from the dictionary definition. Languages change and will continue to change, but since language is simply our phonetic rendering of concepts, as long as the basic concepts behind language remains the same, it will continue to change and adapt. If languages truly devolved and degraded over time, all human speech past, say, the first century AD would have been rendered meaningless.
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Offline Kurier

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Re: Evolution or sin?
« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2009, 04:33:09 PM »
From the anthropological perspective, the argument that puts forth the claim that language can decay is an ethnocentric one. It makes claim that there exists a root language that is more pure, proper, correct, etc. than the languages that have "decayed" from it.

I've always been an opponent of the belief in "proper" speaking. For one, its employment has left a lot of individuals suffering from a negative self image due to the way they speak (whether it be a lisp or someone in the city saying "Y'all" instead of "you all"). For two, "proper" speaking, as mentioned above, elevates a group above another as a "superior" speaking group or judges of what is "right" and what is "wrong."

Give kids a break. They may not use "random" like you, but it doesn't mean they don't have a valid use for it. I'd be careful too about basing your stance on proper usage on the Oxford English Dictionary, a good portion of those words were first defined by a mentally disturbed murderer wasting away in a mental hospital (true story, look it up).
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Offline sevenzig

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Re: Evolution or sin?
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2009, 12:42:18 PM »
Ebonics.

/thread.
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