Saturday, 8 August 2009

how fast do irregular verbs change?

I came across an article in Scientific American discussing the rate of change in the English language. Researchers at Harvard University believe that the words in most common use change slowly and uncommon words change more rapidly.

Mark Pagel and his team examined words in 87 Indo-European languages and concluded less-used used words might change over about 750 years, but common words might stay the same for as long as 10,000 years.

The article was interesting, but the examples selected by the author, Nikhil Swaminathan, seemed rather strange to me. He said:
Researchers scoured grammatical texts dating back to the days of Old English, cataloguing all the irregular verbs they came across. Among them: the still irregular "sing" / "sang," "go" / "went" as well as the since-regularized "smite" which once was "smote" in Old English but since has become "smited," and "slink," which is now "slinked" but 1,200 years ago was "slunk."
I regularly say "slunk", so I guess I should admit there are some mornings I wake up feeling 1200 years old.

I'm not into the business of smiting people, so I can't be sure whether I'd choose smited, but I have a feeling smote would be my choice.

4 comments:

Hackpacker said...

I find myself sayong "skootch" as in "Skootch up so I can sit on this bench", but have no idea where it came from. Mostly the person on the bench understands the word but that may just be because of its sound rather than any meaning. Strange how verbs can sneak up on us so quickly.

parlance said...

Hackpacker, I was going to say that maybe that is a family idiolect you've picked up, or maybe from a social group you belonged to at one time, but when I looked up 'idiolect', I was surprised to see that it means an individual's way of speaking, so I suppose it can't apply to a group.
I thought I remembered, in the dark distance of my previous study, that idiolect meant the particular way a group spoke.

Mary said...

I would definitely say slunk. I often come across writing where I find I would say sank but the author has put sunk. I am also of the view that smote is the one I have heard (or read, much more likely).

parlance said...

These verbs sure are changing fast!
I think in the old days we didn't get to communicate so readily with people on the other side of the world - hmmm, or even with people on the other side of the hill - so we didn't know other people said our favorite words differently.