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Language Change

5. Semantic Change

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About this Lecture

Lecture

In this module, we introduce the concept of semantic change, focusing in particular on the word 'literally'. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) the etymology of the word from the Latin 'littera' (letter), and the original meaning of the word 'literally' as 'letter by letter'; (ii) the later use of the word as an intensifier in statements that are actually true ("He literally died of hunger"); (iii) the still later the use of the word as an intensifier in statements that are not actually true (e.g. "He was literally dying for a coffee"); (iv) the criticism of this usage of the word in H. W. Fowler's Dictionary Of Modern English Usage (1926) – but its continued use to the present day; (v) other words who meaning has evolved to encompass the opposite of what they originally meant, e.g. 'cleave', 'sanction'; and (vi) the means by which language adapts in order to maintain clarity of communication, e.g. the rarity of the word 'to let' meaning 'to prevent' outside certain specialist fields.

Course

In this course, Professor Simon Horobin (University of Oxford) explores language change in the English language. In the first module, we think about why we should study language change at all. In the second module we provide an introduction to the history of the English language, from Old English (650-1100) to Late Modern English (1750-present). In the third module, we think about one of the most important structural changes in the history of the English language – the shift from inflection to non-inflection – and why it happened when it did. In the fourth module, we think about the emergence of standard written English, before turning in the fifth module to the concept of semantic change – focusing in particular on the word 'literally'. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about some issue relating to spelling in modern English.

Lecturer

Simon Horobin is Professor of English Language and Literature and Tutorial Fellow at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. He specialises in the history of the English language, especially in the Medieval period. Some of his recent publications include How English Became English: A Short History of a Global Language (2016), The English Language: A Very Short Introduction (2018), and Bagels, Bumf, and Buses: A Day in the Life of the English Language (2019).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Horobin, S. (2022, April 11). Language Change - Semantic Change [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://massolit.io/courses/language-change-in-the-english-language/semantic-change

MLA style

Horobin, S. "Language Change – Semantic Change." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Apr 2022, https://massolit.io/courses/language-change-in-the-english-language/semantic-change

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