We live in a world that is incredibly different to the one that was here 200 years ago. Literacy, in the developed world at least, is no longer an elite privilege, but rather almost taken for granted. English speakers are instructed in the rights and wrongs of things like spelling and basic sentence construction from an early age, and the same goes for many, many languages.

At the same time, the growth of the internet, we see a huge increase in the level of communication between language communities that are far removed from one another (ie, the internet, media). It was, in the past, the physical separation that induced accent/dialect change, initially, and over longer periods of time, the development of new languages in their own right.

My question is this: given that the rules of a language are taught prescriptively to young members of a language community, and the breakdown of the factors that lead to increased diversity between dialects, what impact will this modern age have on traditional language evolution. Will languages with standardised rules and a globally interconnected community of native speakers (e.g. USA-UK-Australia) see a slowing in divergence compared to what was observed in the past, or will it be a convergence, or will there be no tangible impact at all?

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    To start with, one of your "given" principles is totally false. The rules of a language are not taught prescriptively to young members of a language community. The rules of a language are learned individually and naturally by young members of a language community long before they do any schooling at all. They have learned those rules even if they never learn to read or write at all. Language is spoken. Writing is just technology; Morse code didn't change English, and neither will any other technology.
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 15:57
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    So no one ever taught you during your schooling that you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition, and that you should say "Jane and I" rather than "me and Jane". I really don't think you can even argue that most examples of formal education do not prescriptively teach grammar to children. Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 16:21
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    Agreed. But I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the rules of the language are not taught prescriptively to young members of a language community. What's taught prescriptively to young Anglophones is a catechism of shibboleths about writing. Not about language; Anglophone schools almost never teach anything about language or the English Language, only the technology of literacy. At best what they say about language is harmless, but normally it's simply bullshit. Luckily, almost everybody ignores it, except for the credulous.
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 16:56
  • Ignoring the OP's misconceptions about language acquisition, I wonder how and to what extent electronic media influence spoken language. It's obvious that many English speakers use catch-phrases that originate in television or social media, but I haven't read anything about electronic media effecting more significant changes. I wonder if there's much research on this subject. Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 0:52
  • I was never taught that I couldn't end a sentence with a preposition, and "I" and "me" was taught as the subject and non-subject forms, having nothing to do with "and".
    – ithisa
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


I just read on the French Wikipedia that the spelling of French had an influence on its pronunciation:

Au début du XVIe siècle, l'orthographe commence à avoir un impact sur la prononciation. Des consonnes initialement muettes, introduites en suivant l'étymologie, commencent à être prononcées (le b de subtil par exemple).


Which I'd translate as:

At the beginning of the 16th century, orthography starts to have an impact on pronunciation. Some consonants initially mute, introduced following etymology, start to be pronounced (the b in subtil [subtle in English], for instance).

I don't know how accurate this story is, but it is a fact that as a French speaker, I do pronounce this "b". So if it is true that this b was initially not pronounced, the idea that literacy may influence the evolution of the language is far from absurd.


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