ENGB3 – Language Change- Americanisms

I’ve had a couple of email exchanges with Cass & Catherine.  It seems a shame to keep them to ourselves, so I’m going to put up some ‘edited highlights’. Here’s the first:

Sir, why is ‘gotten’ an Americanism?

‘Gotten’ as the past participle (‘-en’ form) of the verb ‘get’ is regarded as standard American English, but not standard British English. Like many (most?) grammar differences between US & British English, the American form is actually older, but has dropped out of British English. http://www.miketodd.net/encyc/gotten.htm

I see.. But I just don’t understand why the american form would be older and why it was in British English to begin with – I thought American settlers had not come to England before we went there, so to speak? And the guy who wrote the article states that it dates back to the 4th century. Even so, how can there possibly be Americanisms in our language if we hadn’t yet discovered America?

“Gotten” was British English. Like many ‘germanic’ verbs, it retained the ‘en’ inflection for the past participle (we still have given, driven, eaten etc) Britons therefore went to America using “gotten” when they settled there (Pilgrim Fathers and all that) ‘Gotten’ stopped being standard English (through the process of regularisation: lots of the distinctions between past tense & past participle disappeared – eg. we say ‘he has helped’ not ‘he has holpen’) ‘Gotten’ continued to be used in America (as the American settlers were relatively isolated geographically and culturally until America began to emerge as a world power, so the changes occurring in British English often passed American English by). Most people don’t know those facts, so they just hear that Americans say ‘gotten’ whereas we don’t, so they think of it as an ‘Americanism’. Has that made it any clearer?

Yes i think so. So did ‘Gotten’ in British English simply become ‘got’ as the past tense form of ‘get’?
Yes
In terms of regularization of exceptional plural forms e.g. ‘criterion’ becoming ‘criterias’ and then eventually ‘criteria’..
The greek plural of criterion is criteria, so your typical prescriptivist would regard that as the ‘correct’ plural. Some people would regularise the plural to criterias, but I suspect the most common use is to regard criteria as both singular and plural, and for criterion to have dropped out of use for most people. A similar example is agenda which is the plural of agendum, but hardly anybody uses the singular form any more.
Is this all part of the theory of least effort? I.e. there being less effort to remember all the different plural forms, similarly to how, as you said, ‘holpen’ became ‘helped’?
Yes
So perhaps the past participle ‘driven’ will evenutally become ‘drived’?
Indeed. And this is where language acquisition and language change fit together. You will hear lots of children saying drived. Almost all of them will eventually acquire the ‘correct’ (irregular) form. But not all of them will acquire it fully (most of us are aware of ‘borderline’ situations where sometimes we use a ‘learned’ form, and sometimes the form that we ‘acquired’ more naturally – for example those of us who use whom will usually have had to learn the rule rather than acquiring it as children, and are likely to use it only in formal contexts). Consequently, gradually the regular form can become more and more common, initially in informal contexts, until eventually it may fully supplant the irregular form.
Also, what is the weighting of marks for the exam – i’m sure i had a sheet including this but i can’t find it.
For each question there is a maximum of:
  • 24 marks for AO1 (linguistic methods (frameworks) / terminology / written expression)
  • 16 marks for AO2 (language issues / concepts / theory)
  • 8 marks for AO3 (context of production/reception / use of examples from data)
Finally, you know the GASPH acronym you told us about? Can you remind me what it stands for please 🙂
Genre / Audience / Subject / Purpose / Historical context

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