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TWTS: The language it is a-changin'

We're not exactly sure what effect the internet and other changes in technology are having on English. It could be that changes in the language are speeding up.

What we do know is that English is spreading around the world in a way we've never seen before. In the process, it's coming into contact with languages all over the world.

As we've seen in the past, language contact is one of the things that can speed up language change.

When we think of changes in English, often we think about all of the vocabulary that's been borrowed in from Latin, Spanish, German, etc. However, English has also seen some big grammatical changes over the past millennium.

If you speak or study a language like French or Spanish, you know that all nouns carry gender. Nouns in English used to do the same. Every single noun was either masculine, feminine, or neuter. 

Now, nearly all inanimate nouns in English are "it" – with a few exceptions such as boats which are sometimes to referred to as "she." All animate nouns are "he," "she," or "they" but not "it."

Nouns in English also use to have case. In other words, a noun would have different ending if it was the subject of a sentence, the indirect object, the direct object, or a possessor.

Sounds complicated, right? To hear why a case system can actually be beneficial to a language, listen to the audio above.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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