Arika Okrent, a longtime LH favorite (see this post), has a mental_floss post called “4 Changes to English So Subtle We Hardly Notice They’re Happening,” and it’s just the kind of language reporting I like to see, focused on something other than the usual funny-word or dubious-press-release material. She starts off:
Everyone knows that language changes. It’s easy to pick out words that have only been recently introduced (bromance, YOLO, derp) or sentence constructions that have gone out of style (How do you do? Have you a moment?), but we are constantly in the middle of language change that may not be noticeable for decades or even centuries. Some of the biggest and most lasting changes to language happen slowly and imperceptibly. The Great Vowel Shift, for example, was a series of pronunciation changes occurring over 350 years, and not really noticed for over 100 years after that. It resulted in an intelligibility gap between Modern and Middle English and created the annoying misalignment between English pronunciation and spelling. But it was impossible to see while it was going on.
These days, however, it is possible to spot subtle linguistic changes by analyzing large digital collections of text or transcribed speech, some of which cover long periods of time. Linguists can run the numbers on these large corpora to determine the direction of language use trends and whether they are statistically significant. Here are 4 rather subtle changes happening in English, as determined by looking at the numbers.
And she goes on to discuss the increasing use of “-ing” complements, the progressive tense, the modals “going to,” “have to,” “need to,” and “want to,” and the “get” passive. Fun and educational!