On David Crystal's "Language developments in British English"

Essay, 2012

6 Pages, Grade: 1,3



David Crystal's essay “Language Developments in British English” deals with recent changes of the English Language and its causes. Throughout the text, Crystal points out that Language changes alongside culture and society. Moreover, he alludes that they do not only change to a similar extend, but that they also have a strong impact on one another. The author collects arguments in favour of language change and against it. The following text seeks to discuss the text by David Crystal against the background of the given statement by Jonathan Swift, moreover it will be carved out whether the arguments which oppose language change outweigh the ones which support it.

But what I have most at heart is that some method should be thought of for ascertaining and fixing our language forever […]. For I am of the opinion that it s better a language should not be wholly perfect than that it should be perpetually changing (Swift, 1712)

Two Perspectives

According to Crystal, language is something that carries numerous cultural aspects, since it “reflect[s] the development that takes place in the culture of which […] [it] form[s] a part”. (Crystal, 2010, p. 2) Subsequently, he takes a close connection of the two -culture and language- for granted and argues on this bases. Also, his arguments, explanations and observations of changes and long lasting varieties of English concentrate on the English speaking countries and their internal occurrences. Swift on the other hand, takes the impact of nearby countries like France in consideration or makes comparisons to Latin, Spanish or Italian whilst talking about how the English language changes. This might of course be due to the time the letter which includes the given quote was written by.

The first noticeable change Crystal refers to is the one that occurs in pronunciation, which helps to identify where someone is from, either “geographically or socially”. (Crystal, 2010, p. 27) That is to say, that there are already remarkable differences in spoken English, which don't affect the written English or grammar in the first place, in any way. Besides, it is not only the spoken language which changes, but also the attitude towards different accents. Only on account of that it is possible for the language to undergo a significant, lasting change. A Language, no matter which, cannot change if the majority of speakers lack flexibility of mind. Taking in consideration that one of the most steadily established accent's (Received Pronunciation) degree of esteem reduced for the benefit of geographically and socially bound accents, it gets clear how great the change of attitude towards accents must have been.

Another fundamental part of language change which mustn't be forgotten is vocabulary. It is, very likely to the phonetic features, not steadily and slowly changing, but sometimes abruptly and mostly in connection with variations which are based on cultural or political innovations. By the time when people left the country side to work in London, phonetic features and vocabulary where heavily changing. This was due to the fact, that workers accommodated to the sound of English and the accent of people living in the cities and vice versa. This is how different accents influence each other, by means of political innovations. (see Crystal, 2010, p. 31)

All these changes which have been mentioned above are vindicated by significant cultural events and Crystal connects them to social upheavals. Subsequently it is to say that language represents certain communities within a country and it adopts and changes to a certain extend, because it has to . As Crystal states in the beginning, a language may “sound dated” if it doesn't change. (Crystal, 2010, p. 29)

Moreover if it doesn't adjust to people's needs it is not only the sound that affects usability, but it would also become impossible to describe certain phenomenons, like the Internet, topics which have a close connection to it or any other modern subject for instance.

In contrast to the arguments which support a change in the English language, there are also some which hold up Swift's personal opinion. He is in favour of “some method […] for ascertaining and fixing […] [English] forever”. [Swift, 1712) However this method would still have to be found, the core of this perspective and it's reasons will be alluded in the following.

In the first place it would not be feasible to stop a language from developing and to fix it for ever. A universal collection of lexical meanings and an official grammar would not stop people from making up words or from using them in unusual ways. Moreover, one had to take all the words in consideration that are regularly used in spoken language when creating such an official version of English. However, “no one has yet devised a technique for capturing the neologisms that enter the spoken language” so this made-up jargon would not be accurate, in addition it could not be considered a representative mixture of all existing accents. (Crystal, 2010, p. 34)

Fixing a language would in the first instance prevent it from being used irregular and inconsistent. There would be one right way only to put things, which would affect grammar, words and phonetic features. No accent would be used and it would not be possible to tell where some one is from only by listening to him. This can be seen as a great advantage for all English speaking countries (and foreign speakers) on the one hand, since they would easily understand each other. On the other hand it would be a big loss for a country's culture, if certain accents simply died out or would be forced to merge into one. Taking for granted that Swift wanted to prevent a language from changing to preserve it as part of coeval culture, one had to argue that it is quite a contradictory argument: He would conserve one part of culture at the expense of many others. It would affect the political and social development of a country immensely and might slow it down till it nearly stops. Language also represents flexibility of mind, which is highly necessary for a successful economy and flourishing culture. (see Astington/Bird, 2005)

There are two ways to value the absence of slang in such an artificial version of English; At first glance, it might be useful by means of communication among generations which is rather a bloodless way to look upon it. At second glance however, it might occur abnormal that no differences exist between older and younger generations which would serve as a symbol of stagnation.


Conserving a language as a part of culture is basically a good intention, but it cannot be done in a way that doesn't stop it from evolving, which is more important than fixing it. Subsequently, in order to keep all varieties of the English language one has to accept that it is not possible and even not desirable to fix language at some point and synchronise every existing accents until it can be considered one homogeneous language, that shows no differences at all. It should rather be broadly accepted, that language is not only a part of culture, but that it is a certain kind of culture itself which should not be restricted at any rate.


Excerpt out of 6 pages


On David Crystal's "Language developments in British English"
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Introduction to the Integrated Language Studies
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
david, crystal, language, british, english
Quote paper
M. A., M. Ed. Felix Krenke (Author), 2012, On David Crystal's "Language developments in British English", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1007999


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