Language Change, Solecism & Barbarism

I’ve talked a bit  at great length in the past about my love of the English language. But there is a language that is perhaps nearer and dearer to my heart. It’s also a language that works across borders. Because I’m talking about family language. I don’t know if that’s a thing that any lexicologists have really studied in detail, it’s certainly not something I’ve studied in detail. Indeed I may not even have ever noticed it had it not been for a family friend pointing it out.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m from a family of anti-socialites (if I use that word enough that’s the same as coining it right?). This means that we have very few friends between us, probably helped along by the fact that we can always rely on one or other of our siblings for a chat if we are in need of meeting our annual socialisation quota.

The most social of us is K, and as such K has had a few friends over the years but hasn’t kept the friendships up. But there is one friend who has stood the test of time and on this blog will be referred to as Em, whether that stands for Emilio or Emma is up to you to decide. To the best of my recollection they’ve been friends for about 16 years. Over this time we’ve all gotten to know Em, they’ve been to our family functions and all sorts. K has lived with Em’s family for a year or so too. So the two are kind of interchangeable within our families.

But there is one way in which Em hasn’t managed to entirely integrate with us. Because you see while Em knows us well, they haven’t ever spent a sustained period of time with us as a family. So Em can get lost in a conversation between the siblings. I didn’t notice until Em mentioned it in passing once.

But we talk at an incredibly fast pace with so many inside jokes and obscure references that it’s impossible for others to follow the conversation at times. After this discovery I started to take note of how my language and conversational skills altered depending on my environment. And yeah my speech slowed down when out in public, there certainly weren’t so many obscure references and I altered my jokes to fit the people around me.

I change my language and speech patterns to fit the situation. This is something I suspect we all do, mostly without even thinking about it. Over centuries a national language evolves and adapts to the needs of the users. On the whole the language grows but words, syllables and pronunciations are dropped too. Sometimes these changes are brought about by the need for a new word to describe something new or something that somehow has gone unlabelled for this long. But sometimes a language changes due to human error.

A good example and a mistake that grates on me is ‘supposedly’. I take great pride in my correct spelling and correct pronunciation of words. I ensure that I add emphasis to the ‘d’ in supposedly because it’s supposed to be there. However even living in England I have come across a great number of people that say ‘supposably’… It’s not a word and this kind of language butchery is called Barbarism (If you make a grammatical mistake that’s a Solecism). But perhaps, much to my chagrin, in the future it will be a word. It is so commonly mispronounced that the word may be altered irrevocably.

And this is on a national scale, it takes time to alter language on such a large scale. But within a group of people the size of a family (I do realise my family of 7 is probably larger than most) words get created, phrases appear and pronunciations are enforced with much more ease. No doubt the phrase ‘potato shoes’ means nothing to many of you no matter what language it’s said in. But it does bring a smile to my face and only family members know why.

On the off chance you haven’t seen it, here the perfect example of how siblings understand you no matter what you say.

Having said all that, we do still have to slow our speech down when Grandma visits. And sometimes our parents get a little bit left behind in conversation. But the ease of conversation that comes from family is so far unmatched for me.

Does anyone else have people that they almost have a new speech pattern with? I doubt I’m alone.

S. Hansen

P.S. I try and get a little bit of educational stuff into my posts every now and then. I feel like I should explain Barbarism and Solecism…

Barbarism is a non standard word or pronunciation in language. I think an incorrect expression also counts as a barbarism. So essentially getting the words wrong is barbarism. The words barbarism itself comes from the Greeks, who used the word to describe foreign terms in their language. Bar bar bar was pretty much the ancient Greek equivalent to blah blah blah.

Solecism is when you break the rules of grammar, a common example would be ‘Me and Bernardo went swimming’ because obviously we all know I should have said ‘Bernardo and I went swimming.’ … The term solecism is actually a word created by the Athenians to belittle the people of Soli and Celicia. The Athenians felt that they spoke Greek properly and the people of Soli and Celicia did not so when someone misspoke it was called a Solecism.


4 thoughts on “Language Change, Solecism & Barbarism

  1. I heard that it is now dictionary-acceptable to say “literally” when you in fact mean the very opposite, “figuratively”. This infuriates me. Far beyond a slangy bastardization of a word, it’s a literal acceptance of using the word to mean the word’s antonym. It literally makes my head explode.

    Liked by 1 person

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