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Predicting the future of American English

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Self-proclaimed “word connoisseur” James Harbeck uses language history to predict the future.

Predicting what America will sound like in 2050 is the topic of a new op-edappearing on the website, The Week. Language expert James Harbeck penned the piece and shared his predictions with Take Two’s Alex Cohen.

Obviously you care about this stuff. You are a word connoisseur, but what about the rest of us? Why should we even bother caring about what Americans sound like in the year 2050?

People are always kind of fascinated about how language changes. There’s always a set of people who think that it doesn’t change, or that if it changes it’s suddenly gotten worse from the perfect unchanging state in history. Then there are other people who don’t really pay that much attention.

Why do terms change over time?

For about the same reason the clothes we wear changes. We always like new things. When you’re a teenager in particular, you wanted to assert your identity. You wanna find something that seems new and fresh and shiny and it wants to be different from that crap that your parents have. You come up with ways of saying things that seem new and interesting like, ‘Wow, that’s really sick, man ...'

So when we project to 2050, is it just gonna be that there are different colloquial expressions that we use, or are there actual other changes that we should be looking for as we look to the future?

It’s going to be fairly subtle and it won’t be very obvious to a lot of people. The grammar is unlikely to change hugely. It takes centuries to change … People will more generally accept ‘they’ as a singular word they do even now. 


You may as well get used to it. The fact is that ‘they’ was used as a singular in the King James Bible, it was used as a singular by Shakespeare, there were just some guys in the 1800s who decided that that was wrong and they managed to convince a lot of other people that it was wrong, but nobody ever stopped doing it.

Press the play button above to hear more of James Harbeck’s predictions about the future of American English.

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