1925

LINGUISTIC DRIFT 1)3)4)

The slow and progressive changes in meanings that affects words and concepts in any natural language.

This very significant systemic transformation remains mostly unperceived, because it is slow (It is the equivalent for languages of the "boiled frog parable").

It can only be observed after various decades, or at least years, and is more easily perceived by someone who returns to his/her own cultural system after a long absence. A similar phenomenon occurs in any expanding linguistic area: "Democracy" has not exactly the same meaning in Italy, England, United States, Kenya, or Australia. It may also produce misunderstandings and even conflicts when new members in a culture or organization bring with them slightly different meanings.

J. WARFIELD stresses the importance of this phenomenon in organizations, where: "As the organization grows, linguistic separation grows both laterally and vertically in the organization". Particularly: "At higher vertical levels, metaphors and categories become progressively disconnected from the relevant components at lower levels, leading to decisions based on perceived relations between categories that are not borne out by relations between category members" (1995, p.129).

Linguistic drift even effect orthography, spelling and pronounciation. A growing number of errors and confusions can be observed nowadays in newspapers, magazines and even technical and scientific journals.

The main causes seem to be:

- interlinguistic contamination due to massive migrations and the wide diffusion of some languages, as for instance english as used by non-native english speakers

- the general abandonment (in western countries) of the study of classical Greek and Latin, as these languages tended to stabilize and standardize linguistic, and even interlinguistic uses

- the progressive transition from written and read transmission of information to verbal transmission in radio and television

Of course, linguistic drift always existed. This was the way for example how so-called latin languages (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, French, Rumanian) derived differently from latin until the latter became a "dead" language.

The main problem resulting from linguistic drift is semantic drift, which is in fact nothing else than the contemporary form of the "Babel Tower"effect.

In any way, this process is for now fully active in the whole world…and encyclopedia's editors are in for a rough ride.

1) general information

3) epistemology, ontology and semantics

4) human sciences

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