Keeping language fresh – do you know your sheeple from your chantoosie?

August 23, 2017
Keeping language fresh – do you know your sheeple from your chantoosie?

One of the wonderful things about working in professional translation is that languages are so rarely static. Languages constantly evolve and expand, with new terms being created and accepted as part of modern parlance. 

Keeping up with language

English is a great example of this. The Oxford English Dictionary is updated four times per year in order to keep up with the language’s evolution. The last update was in June 2017, which saw more than 600 words, phrases and senses added to the official Third Edition of the UK’s most respected dictionary. 

For translators, dictionary additions like this present an exciting opportunity for continual professional development. Speaking a language fluently and being able to translate flawlessly means keeping up with linguistic changes as they evolve. It’s not always an easy task, but it can be a rewarding one for those who make the effort to stay up to speed. 

The expansion of English

The latest additions to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) include a wonderful variety of terms. ‘Chantoosie’ has been borrowed from the French ‘chanteuse’ to refer to a female pop singer. A ‘gin daisy’ refers to the increasingly popular cocktail made with gin, lemon juice and grenadine. Meanwhile, ‘bug chaser’ has been introduced as a modern (and many would argue dumbed-down) term for an entomologist. 

As well as such delightful new terms, updates to the dictionary include modern takes on much older words. ‘Thing’ has been used in English for over a millennium, but that doesn’t mean it’s finished evolving. Indeed, the latest OED update saw a new sense added, following the word’s evolution since around the year 2000 to refer to ‘a genuine or established phenomenon or practice.’ The usage example cited is, ‘Is that even a thing?’ 

Orthographic changes

Sometimes, working in the languages industry throws us even more interesting curveballs than dictionary updates. Portuguese orthographic changes provide an excellent example of this. Portugal was fairly late to the table in terms of standardizing its spelling. While French and Spanish language academics worked to define their respective countries’ orthographies during the 17th century, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Portuguese had a defined orthography. 

Unfortunately, by the introduction of the first spelling reform in 1911, European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese had already developed a range of distinct differences. Since then, much has been done to bring the two languages into closer alignment. One of the most significant steps in the evolution of written Portuguese came in 1990, when a new orthographic agreement was reached between Brazil and Portugal (along with other Portuguese-speaking nations). The agreement was a toned down version of a more radical reform proposed (and poorly received) in 1986. 

Thankfully, linguists had plenty of time to plan for the changes, with the new orthographical agreement not coming into force until 2009. However, many older residents still use the previously agreed spellings, despite the newer versions now being taught to those of school age. As such, it is likely to be the professional linguists and school children who really lead the implementation of the Portuguese’s linguistic reform, in a process that looks set to span at least the next few decades! 

Final thoughts

The evolution of language is a fascinating study for those who are interested in all things language-related. Each language has its own tale to tell in terms of its expansion (or, indeed, contraction) and development over time. As the internet makes it ever-easier for new words and phrases to catch on, no doubt those responsible for the sanctity of their country’s languages will be racing to keep up. 

What is your favourite recent addition to your language? How does that particular word, phrase or sense reflect the changes in contemporary society? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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