If you think that today's digital information age is a boon to the evolution of language, you might want to think again. According to a new survey on the English, Spanish and Hebrew languages, vocabulary is actually shrinking at a faster rate than at any other time in the last three hundred years, reports Physorg.com.
With e-books, instant communication and all the resources of the internet at our fingertips, shouldn't our vocabularies instead be expanding? Apparently not.
The study, recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at 107 words that have so far been recorded by Google in their book-digitalizing process, which is believed to currently represent about 4 percent of all the books in the world. Researchers not only found that more words are going extinct than ever before, but fewer words are also being introduced to make up for the loss. The result is that languages appear to be shrinking, and at an increasing rate.
How can this be? Interestingly, researchers speculate that spellcheckers may carry much of the blame. As people conform their language to what is allowed by spellcheckers, fewer words get accidentally introduced. Email and especially texting may also play a big part in the simplification of language, because people tend to favor a smaller vocabulary when using these mediums.
These theories are supported by the fact that word loss from the three languages occurred most often in the last ten to twenty years-- the time period when spellcheckers, email and texting became prevalent-- than in all other eras in the period of study.
In other words, it turns out that misspelling may actually be a creative boon to vocabulary. The study is also a lesson about the importance of fluidity, rather than rigidity, in language. Words don't get their meanings from dictionary definitions; they get their meanings from how they are used by speakers and writers. The more speakers and writers instead conform their words to standard convention (as enforced by spellcheckers, for instance), the less fluid-- and thus less creative-- language becomes.
Another interesting finding from the study is that words generally have about a forty year 'trial period,' where if they aren't truly accepted as a part of a language by the end of that period, then they tend to die out.
Furthermore, the study did find that the digital age proved to be a boon to vocabulary in at least one sense. When new words are created, they tend to become popular and mainstream at a much faster rate.