A paper by Rolf Herwig on “The Interrelation between Adverbs of Manner and Adverbs of Degree”; Herwig investigates the use of mild(ly), sad(ly), and warm(ly) in a large corpus, concentrating on the degree to which each has been “delexicalized” (come to be used as a simple intensifier). Near the beginning there is an interesting discussion of perceptions of language change:
Changes in language use or even in the language system, if noticed as currently on-going by the language users at all, is rarely seen as an objective, unavoidable, general feature of language. Due to the social nature of language, change is usually connected with value judgements on the social or moral integrity of those who apply new forms or meanings. Examples of this tradition of complaint against innovations in language can be found in the past as well as in the present…
In BORST’s famous essay on degree adverbs (1902), the writer finds an explanation for the need for subtle differentiations of DEGREE which shows what we today would call an elitist position: The common people’s judgement lacks the ability to go beyond simply accepting or opposing an idea. It takes convention and etiquette to reach a certain hyperculture of expression and apply meaning nuances. In the common people’s language, adverbs of quality are therefore degraded (!) to mere expressions of quantity, such as awfully good, frightfully glad (BORST 1902, 3; 22/23).
Via wood s lot.