Derek Harrison's Crossword Message Board

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Is there a linguistic historian in the house?

Some people are linguistic conservatives. Show them a mistake, or an ugly or lazy neologism and they see it as evidence that the language is being dumbed down, buggered up and sent to hell in a handcart.

Some people are linguistic liberals. They eagerly point out that a language is a living, dynamic thing. If the language is to keep up with a changing world, it has to change, they say. And it cannot do that if it is being shackled by self-appointed guardians of literacy.

I don't want to attempt to choose between the two approaches. (Although I do find myself being increasingly drawn, with age, into the conservative camp.) But I would like to say to each side: show me your evidence. Has there ever been a historical situation where a community took a linguistic approach which was later seen to be excessively liberal, and which led to bad things happening? And the other way round. Has there been a case where historians now judge that an excessively conservative approach led, eventually, to unfortunate consequences?

Can anyone help?


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