Episode 57: Slanguage - Study Guide for High School Young people have always used language in new ways, and it has always driven older people crazy. But the linguist John McWhorter says this is part of an inevitable evolution of language.

Episode 57: Slanguage - Study Guide for High School

Young people have always used language in new and different ways, and it has pretty much always driven older people crazy. Renee Klahr/NPR hide caption

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Renee Klahr/NPR

Young people have always used language in new and different ways, and it has pretty much always driven older people crazy.

Renee Klahr/NPR

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Do your teachers or parents often correct how you talk? Do you correct how other people talk? John McWhorter is a linguist and he says there is no "right" or "wrong" way to use language. According to Dr. McWhorter, "It's the nature of human language to change." This, he says, is how Latin became French. It's how Old English became Modern English.

Young people have always used language in new ways - and it has always driven older generations crazy. Languages change all the time and words usually start off as mistakes but are later accepted as regular language. Languages are mostly spoken, not written down. This means that languages have always changed as people use them by creating new words, using old words differently, or changing the pronunciation of familiar words.

 

Study Guide Questions

List examples of new or changing words:

1. What are examples from the podcast?

2. What are other examples you can think of?

3. Why is Dr. McWhorter critical of dictionaries?

4. Dr. McWhorter uses a metaphor about a photograph. What does he mean there?

5. How many languages does Dr. McWhorter estimate are actually written down?

6. How many languages does he estimate are spoken?

7. Does this surprise you?

8. How do new languages develop? Why are "mistakes" so important in the development of new languages?

9. What does the word "literally" mean?

  • What's its earliest meaning?
  • What does it mean now?
  • How do you use it?

10. What does "contranym" mean?

11. What are some other examples of a contranym?

  • What are examples from the podcast?
  • What are examples you can think of?

12. What does "lol" mean?

  • What does it stand for?
  • How does Dr. McWhorter describe it?
  • Do you ever use it? How?

13. What's an example of a word you think might be different in 50 or 100 years? Why?

 

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