Stop Resisting Changes in English
Proponents of grammatical prescriptions who believe that the rules must be followed; Descriptivists believe that correct grammar is what works — they love to appeal to logic. If “he didn’t give a damn,” then he would n’t give a damn – you have to say “he can’t!” This is the rock we cling to against the rising wave, literally-so-figuratively-now. Well, maybe it’s time to loosen that grip, because the evolutionary forces of language don’t care.
New research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that chance is a more powerful component of the evolution of the English language than previously thought. (The results may not necessarily be extrapolated to other languages - as one researcher told The Guardian , “English is weird.”)
For a long time, linguists believed that language was subject to evolutionary selection, just like species. When a language has more than one way to say something or a variable spelling, the “most suitable” wins, with native speakers for the most part choosing for ease, speed and regularity. But new research shows that these optimizing forces don’t always win.
By tracing the past tense spelling of 36 verbs – which were found to have at least two spellings, such as throw / throw and spill / spill – the researchers were able to see part of how the English language developed from 1810 to the present. And they saw that there was no point in it. One form was actively selected for six out of 36 verbs. And for four of these six, the chosen form of the past tense is incorrect , which is clearly not suitable from a grammatical point of view.
The researchers expected that selective pressure would guide language toward regularity, making the language easier to remember (and more logical!). But no, they saw “Dove” instead of “dived”, at least in American English; “Woke up” instead of “woke up”. There may be other logical factors driving this evolution – researchers suggest, for example, that “dove” is preferred because it follows a similar sounding and similar pattern of “drove.”
The logic is there, if deeper. Can anyone say the same about where “literally” goes?
No, really. It will make me feel so much better if I find out.