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Languages are developing and expanding all the time, forever influenced by the present day, international communication, and humanity’s unending ability to create, discover and learn. Yet there are some who strive to rid their language of outside influence in order to achieve what is called ‘linguistic purism’. But is it actually possible?Linguistic purism: Is it possible?

To some extent, it may be considered possible to preserve a language in its current state, by banning the further influence of any foreign language or the invention of new words. Or indeed by teaching languages, both native and foreign, in the curriculum. This can help to preserve the grammar of a language as students are taught the standard style of a language instead of its variations, maintaining the use of proper grammar. However, this is not always used daily as the register correlates with the situation.

Vocabulary, on the other hand, seems at a greater risk of change than grammar. Although we still use the same grammar (to an extent), we have a much broader vocabulary. Purifying a language would mean removing all the foreign words or those derived from foreign languages, which would not only take a very long time, but would also leave the language with a far smaller vocabulary, perhaps compensated for with the invention of new words or the joining together of several words to describe a noun, such is often used in German. With so little outside influence, surely purism would render the language far less interesting?

In addition, languages are in a constant state of development and expansion, caused by the development of society. Therefore, perhaps there is no such thing as language purism. New inventions and discoveries bring in new nouns, from which verbs are often made. For example, the words atom, atomise, atomic and evolution, evolve and evolutionary.

Languages experience influence from those of foreign countries, one of the most influential being English. English has had a large impact on other countries worldwide for many years and continues to do so today, especially with the widespread access to the internet. With America being one of the great superpowers of the global market, English is shipped all over the world in many different forms e.g. music. Other influences are floods of immigration which often broaden the ‘slang’ vocabulary as immigrants begin to mix their native tongue with the local language and integrate their versions of words, and also the influence of the younger generation. The youth population will always seek to push the boundaries of a language with the invention of ‘cool’ words and fashions which bring about new terms, often alien to the older generations.

Therefore, with all of these aspects in mind, can we really ever obtain the goal that some have, of achieving linguistic purism? Despite the survival of basic grammar, the ever-growing connection to the outside world and the new things it has to offer make its influence inevitable, leading to an ever more diverse language.


Stephanie Orton