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Language change and use

When one reads about language change, and how Latin evolved into its many children over time, it is difficult to see how this is still happening today. The English we speak is essentially the same that was spoken two hundred years ago, and it may seem like little has changed in the language since then. However, change is taking place, and as Spanish speakers have had increasing contact with English speakers in the southwestern United States, loanwords have been exchanged between the two tongues. Words like tortilla and jalape帽o have entered the English language because we had no words of our own to describe these things.

Of particular interest to me, however, are those words which are borrowed from Spanish, but in the process change meaning. Take for instance the words sombrero, salsa, and queso. In Spanish these words mean “hat,” “sauce,” and “cheese,” respectively. However, in English they have acquired more specialised meanings: “Mexican hat,” “hot sauce,” and “spicy cheese.”

Our language is actively changing. There are some aspects of the speech from my grandparents’ generation which are no longer used, and there are new ways of speaking which that generation never knew. That’s what makes language so charming—it is not a code, set in stone and immutable. It is a living, fluctuating organism, which changes through the ages and allows its speakers to use this change to their advantage. One who is skilled in the English language can use it to speak with words that sound refined, or more casual. He can use English to speak in archaic terms, or he can use the latest slang. He can speak precisely, or in a vague manner. He can also use the speech of different regions, although this may cause confusion or ridicule if not executed in a convincing or prudent manner.

Language is a rich thing, a thing full of meaning and power, deserving our attention and study. God made language for us, and thus we should manage it well, just as with all the other things He has entrusted us with.

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