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Poll: Have you seen changes in accepted usage of your mother tongue in the last 20 years?
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 03:16
Feb 11, 2009

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Have you seen changes in accepted usage of your mother tongue in the last 20 years?".

This poll was originally submitted by John Cutler

View the poll here

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Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:16
French to English
"Accepted".... Feb 11, 2009

.... would seem to be the key word in this one.
My own opinion is that in order to attempt to please as many people as possible as often as possible, ceteris paribus a translation probably needs to be written as "conventionally" as possible.
Hence, for example, while I think using the 3rd person plural to denote a single individual of unknown sex (in English) is fine and gaining acceptance, I am aware a lot of people don't share that view, so I avoid it.

Obviously new vocab enters the language all the time - I guess that counts as "usage" but I really took the question to mean "grammar" in the loosest possible sense.


Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:16
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Spanish and Panhispanic Language Policy Feb 11, 2009

In recent years, the approach of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has been towards a "Panhispanic Language Policy" Although this is very much debated, in short it pretends to state that every Spanish-speaking country has a correct usage of language of its own. Unity in diversity is the slogan. That is: we South Americans don't "have to speak like in Spain" anymore; a polycentric approach.

See as well: 4th Congress of the Spanish Language, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, March 2007:

Long live linguistic diversity!

[Edited at 2009-02-11 12:15 GMT]


English to French
+ ...
and how..... ! Feb 11, 2009

I could write screeds on this subject but I will try to contain myself!
In the last two and more decades, the English language has changed considerably. Not only, in officialese, has it been increasingly tainted by "eurospeak" but the standard of spoken language in the streets has also taken a nosedive. OK, I am about to come over as a real old fogey but I don't care. Even in the so-called better examples of the UK press, you see the use of 'if I was you' as opposed to the "if I were you' that the proofreaders would have insisted on not so long ago. 'Between you and I" (Note: it should be "me") seems to be blithely accepted these days. I put it down to the fact that children no longer have grammar (or anything much else, for that matter) drummed into them any more.

As to 'eurospeak', some examples are the use of "intervention" which used to mean "a policy of intervening in the affairs of other countries interposition: the act or fact of interposing one thing between or among others", etc. and now is also used to refer to the remarks made by a delegate at a meeting (In response to the intervention of Mr. X...). Another one is "at the initiative of" somebody where we used to say "at the instigation of", a direct crib from French.

In the reverse direction, the French have started to use several of those words that we were always taught were "faux amis" in what used to be considered incorrect ways: realisation (English) is at times translated as "réalisation" (horror of horrors) and you find "désappointé" where "déçu" used to be the norm..

Even sentence structure is affected....
Part of the slide downhill I blame on poor translators/interpreters, who apply a word for word approach and take the easy way out. OK, we've all done it, especially interpreting in meetings, as a way of cutting corners and saving time but the end result is there.

We can now have the debate on the purpose of language (to communicate) and the fact that all this doesn't matter but the question was about changes in language as she is spoke.....


Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Delicious debate Feb 11, 2009

...I can see this is going to be. Thank you John!

Have enjoyed reading what is up so far and done a lot of vehement nodding.

Since I have been teaching as well as translating for the last 20 years, the idea of what is acceptable grammatically is quite easy to chart. Plenty of changes there. But, and purely as a minor example, the change that most BUGS me lies in the fact that it used not to be acceptable to say didn't used to. Just a little bee in my bonnet.

I wonder whether people think the changes are overall for the better or not, grammarwise? I'm definitely not happy with the above example, despite the fact that it makes life so much easier for the language learner, but I'm OK with regard to "there is" + plurals, increasing flexibility on comparative adjective formation etc, verdict still out on split infinitives (sorry Fowler, all these years on) and joyful about leaving prepositions happily dangling at the end of sentences (ask me sometime to tell you the joke about "Can you tell me where the library is at?" if you don't already know it....).

Looking forward to carrying on reading the posts here.


Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:16
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
usage of or usage in? Feb 11, 2009

I'm not sure I understand the question: accepted usage of your mother tongue (which to me would mean how/where it's acceptable to use one's mother tongue) , or accepted usage(s) in your mother tongue (whether it's acceptable to use certain grammatical constructions, etc.)?

Those pesky prepositions.

Since other respondents are taking it to mean the latter, I'll add my US$0.02:

(a) yes, of course

and the question behind the question:

It's about time!

For one thing, I support treating and understanding languages as living entities, and I view change as inevitable and healthy.

But in addition, English "rules" of usage are rife with no-no's invented during the Age of Reason--no doubt one aspect of the positivist/scientificist thrust of the period--that did not even reflect actual usage at the time. Many of these were adapted, awkwardly and unnecessarily, from Latin (rules such as splitting infinitives and not ending sentences with prepositions). These rules were prescribed in order to "improve" English, so that it could achieve a status on par with that enjoyed by French and Latin at the time. Many have about as much basis in reality as the rule about not wearing white after Labor Day--invented poppycock to demarcate the "ins" from the "outs."

So, in some ways, it's not so much that usage is changing--it's that the guardians of the rules are slowly coming to accept English as she has always been spoke.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:16
Member (2007)
+ ...
Do we really need Language Academies? Feb 11, 2009

Fabio Descalzi wrote:

... the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language ...

I think perhaps this is one of the major differences between English and other European languages. I know the French equivalent has tried to force the French language to remain frozen in its "correct" form, so that my French students (of English) are always apologising for not speaking it correctly. That's OK if they're uneducated illiterates and do slaughter the language, but they're not - they apologise for using the expressions that one hears absolutely everywhere (such as "je vais faire ...). It's perfectly everyday spoken French, but against the Académie Française dictates, so it's wrong.

Who dictates what is right and what is wrong in English? Really, it's down to us - native speakers. Those who have studied the language in depth may disagree and argue about correct and incorrect English, but the grammar books and the dictionaries accept the changes once they are really well established. My father was incensed when I became an English teacher and showed him the grammar books. He's very much "old school" and refuses to accept a lot of what I teach eg "can I have an ice-cream?" rather than "may I have an ice-cream?". But the grammar books have changed a lot during my 12 years' experience and are constantly changing.

I wince sometimes, particularly when American grammar becomes accepted usage (sorry, cousins from over the pond, but I'll NEVER accept "I'm good" even if my own daughter does use iticon_wink.gif), but I'm proud that English is democratic - governed by the people - and as it's a living language it's bound to change.

Anyone read Chaucer lately? Would you really have wanted to freeze the language like that?


Lydia Foster  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes, and it just makes our job harder Feb 11, 2009

My native language is English so I guess I'm just speaking about English usage but what I find annoying is that there is no fixed body that dictates correct English usage.

It's a case of everyone for themselves which means that there's no one set rule regarding syntaxis, spelling, etc. and it all depends on the style book or local that you use... for example, the appearance of "localization" and "organization" in British English, when organisation or localisation can be used.

What's more, I can't help to agree with Polyglot45, since English is now being the main lingua franca, there is now talk of an "International English" where rules are made to be broken and adapted to the non-native's (and even native speakers I'm ashamed to say) will. We're certainly heading towards a Humpty-Dumpty situation..

When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."

From personal experience, I only started to learn about English grammar when I was learning a foreign language as it was never taught as a subject nor introduced in class past primary school. Learning literature is essential but a good grammatical basis is essential to decifer meaning and style.

Many complain about the Institutes governing Spanish or French usage being too reluctant to change and not in keeping with the times, but at least the rules are usually fairly clear, which certainly makes our jobs as translators a lot easier!


Marcelo Silveyra
United States
Local time: 03:16
Member (2007)
German to English
+ ...
I ain't seen no changes.... Feb 11, 2009

save for the use of "their" instead of "his/her," the never-ending search for politically correct terms meant to address "ethnic" populations in the US, the increasingly widespread practice of addressing people by their first name even in business situations (then again, I'm in California), the use of "dude" moving from old (make that really old) cowboy usage to pretty much any informal context among young (and not so young) people, IT terminology invading pretty much every area of business out there, etc. ad nauseam. But I'm sure you knew that already!

As for Spanish, I wouldn't call it accepted usage, but the language used by young teenagers these days in Mexico is really bizarre - sure, we've always had some English influence from the braceros (way back in the day) that remains popular to this day (the use of words such as "carnal," "troca," etc - particularly in the north of Mexico), but the change is really big now, no doubt due to the influence of video games and the Internet, among other things. You could trace the slang we used as kids in Mexico all the way back to movies such as "Nosotros los pobres" (1948), but the new stuff is actually new - calques such as "duds" (dudes) are becoming more and more common, and it'll be interesting to see where it goes.

As for the language academy's a hard decision, you really only get to choose between A) ivory tower scholars and B) a linguistic ochlocracy. Scary indeed.

[Edited at 2009-02-12 09:25 GMT]


Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:16
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Tons of changes Feb 11, 2009

We're finally letting go of a lot of artificial rules (that were never part of English till the 18th or 19th century), which were largely about imposing Latin structures on English: not splitting infinitives, not ending sentences with a preposition, etc. None of those rules produces anything resembling natural English and I'm awfully glad to see them fading, though they're still in flux and I sometimes follow them, depending on the client and the general tone of the text.

Some traditional distinctions are in the process of disappearing: "like" versus "as," for instance; I think that particular distinction will be gone entirely in a few decades.

The English subjunctive has been dying a slow, lingering death for over half a century.

There have been other shifts as well. The use of the possessive apostrophe has changed: I can't quite get used to writing "Thomas's car" instead of "Thomas' car." But I've finally reached the point where I instinctively leave only one blank space between sentences instead of two.


Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:16
French to English
I'm bad Feb 11, 2009

Sheila Wilson wrote:
I wince sometimes, particularly when American grammar becomes accepted usage (sorry, cousins from over the pond, but I'll NEVER accept "I'm good"

I said that today, to decline the shop assistant's polite enquiry as to my requirements in terms of additional plastic bags.
I suppose a man in his 40s should know bettericon_smile.gif

There's not much wrong with the "grammar" of "I'm good", though, is there? You may not approve of its meaning, or the use made of it, or consider it an inappropriate or as meaningless a response to a query about bags as "my hedgehog prefers nutmeg", but the grammar is surely flawless?

[Edited at 2009-02-12 00:19 GMT]


neilmac  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes, lots Feb 11, 2009

... especially in spoken English. Tabloid/dialectical coinages like "wags" and "chavs" are particularly rife... oh, and "hoodies", which didn't exist 30 years ago.
I don't have much to add to what's aready been said, except that I don't avoid the use of they/their for the singular.

[Edited at 2009-02-11 19:41 GMT]


DianeGM  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:16
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Curiouser and curiouser ..... Feb 11, 2009

I'm constantly curious about all the American-ese and Euro-bureau-ese I come across in everywhere in English texts/conversations. Some such usage can still raise an eyebrow or a giggle for me, I met "flavourful" in a UK English adaption of US English lately and chewed it for a while - couldn't swallow it.

Now I find myself wondering if my own English is too conservative or if I'm a linguistic protectionist .....

On that note, for third person singular I'm still using "one" rather than 'they" - is my English dated ?

Curious, because in Greek, I'm much more accepting of endless Anglicising of terms in all walks of linguistic life (except medicine), risking inevitable obsolescence of perfect Greek terms.

On another note, the discussion seems largely based around English, does that mean English is actually changing far more rapidly than other languages ?


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 04:16
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Gone from first to second language Feb 11, 2009

My first language, Dutch, has changed so much and I have been away so long, that it has now become my second language.

New technology including IT, the adoption of more and more English terms (even when Dutch words are available), adaptation of the culture to new immigrants (rather than the other way around), a complete overhaul of the education system, not to mention several spelling changes, have made it pretty much impossible for me to translate into Dutch. I am not familiar enough with today's vernacular anymore and when I do try it, it takes me twice as long.

That is one of the reasons why I have a real problem with the concept of "native" language but that is a whole other topic...


Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Has anybody else outgrown more than 2 computer science dicos? Feb 11, 2009


PS: Oh, that's now Information Technologyicon_lol.gif

[Edited at 2009-02-11 23:34 GMT]

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