"Welcome to About Words, a blog from Cambridge Dictionaries Online. We publish posts discussing different features of the English language, as well as dictionary entries for words and phrases that are new to English or that have new meanings. We hope you enjoy the blog, and that you’ll post your own comments and vote on the new words. Keep checking back here over the weeks for a fascinating range of posts."
Dopo le abbondanti nevicate di questi giorni, nelle prime pagine dei quotidiani di ieri e di oggi mi sarei aspettata titoli ad effetto sul maltempo e invece la parola scelta quasi ovunque è gelo, senza alcuna esagerazione.
If you do a Google search for the term “isn’t a word” and throw in the term “grammar” to sift out the silliness, you’ll get a lot of hits. Most of them are people saying that some word isn’t a word. Or that some other person said that some word isn’t a word. “Impactful,” “irregardless,” “snuck” and so on — they simply don’t qualify, people say, and anyone who uses them is making a terrible mistake.
Every year, new words get added to dictionaries around the world, while other words slip from our lexicon. A recent study looked at the rate at which languages pick up or lose vocabulary. The researchers found that, similar to biological evolution, languages evolve at different speeds depending on the size of the population that speaks them. To tease out the relationship between population size and evolution, the researchers--a group of linguists and evolutionary biologists from the Australia National University--compared 20 different Polynesian languages. Polynesian languages are ideal because they're relatively new; Polynesia was settled relatively recently in human history. The languages diversified quickly across different islands, and the relationships between the languages have been thoroughly studied in the past. This way, the researchers could compare languages with different population sizes and see where the vocabularies differ. The team compared pairs of languages that share a recent common ancestor. These are called “sister” languages. By seeing how much each sister language changed since the two island populations separated, the researchers found that languages with larger populations gained new vocabulary faster than smaller languages. At the same time, languages with smaller populations tended to lose vocabulary faster than those with a larger population. These changes occurred more often than the scientists predicted would happen by chance alone. The results are similar to biological evolution, where smaller populations lose genetic diversity rapidly, while larger populations have more opportunities to develop new mutations that generate more diversity. The findings are just the first step for the researchers: Biologist Lindell Bromham, one of the paper's authors, tells Popular Science that “Until we can analyze other language groups, we can’t be sure whether the patterns we have seen are a general feature of language evolution or peculiar to the Polynesian language group.” The study was published February 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One could argue that slang words like ‘hangry,’ ‘defriend’ and ‘adorkable’ fill crucial meaning gaps in the English language, even if they don't appear in the dictionary. After all, who actually decides which words make it into those pages? Language historian Anne Curzan gives a charming look at the humans behind dictionaries, and the choices they make.
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