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I understand that this question may be perceived as a bit broad for this site, but I've decided to post it anyway. I figured that with the number of linguists, linguaphiles, and all-around language geeks on this site, I might get a rather intelligent (brief) answer pointing me to more detailed discussions on the subject.

It is my belief that one of the ways language evolves is similar to all other forms of evolution. Certain usages fall into and out of favor depending upon local necessity, and geographic separation can often lead to wide divergence in common languages (accents, sentence structure, etc.). One need only to look at the wide variations in English spoken in England, Australia, Canada, and the USA for proof of this divergence.

Clearly loan words and other factors have a strong influence on the evolution of a language, but I would like to set those aside for a different discussion.

I have long theorized that with the advent of mass media, and particularly the growth of the internet and social media, that language is now passed without the restrictions imposed by geographic separation. I think this should be a fairly self-evident statement, but as an example: If Hollywood movies are viewed world-wide, then American English and idioms should be spread world-wide to no small degree.

So, after that long-winded introduction. My question:

Is there any evidence that language (particularly English) is undergoing convergent evolution, where we are all beginning to speak more similarly to one another since the advent of mass media? Has this been a focus of study?

While the process is slightly different in the biological sense, I think that convergent evolution is an apt term here.

  • This is a duplicate of something that was written on a pub wall in the 1450s. – RyeɃreḁd Mar 9 '14 at 1:52
  • @RyeBread Where do you think I came up with the question? – David M Mar 9 '14 at 1:55
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    I wonder if Barrie or FF answered it already then? – RyeɃreḁd Mar 9 '14 at 1:58
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    No, no evidence at all. You're totally out in left field; language evolution doesn't work that way at all, and languages are not converging. Non-English speakers are learning more languages and getting smarter, but that's nothing new. – John Lawler Mar 9 '14 at 3:32
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    Geographic isolation is one of many factors; borrowing sounds, structures, metaphors, gods, idioms, inflections, derivations, and other features -- which might be analogous to gene sharing among bacteria and archaea -- certainly complicates the picture. I don't object to your metaphor of evolution, just the assumption that it will homogenize language. There's no evidence for that; it just seems to be normal wishful thinking, the sorts of beliefs that led to Volakpük and Lojban. One can see how successful they've been. – John Lawler Mar 9 '14 at 19:20
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In my opinion language does not only evolve the way plants evolve. There is also influx of other languages which I regard as not being part of evolution.

When the romans invaded Britain, they brought a huge amount of roman influence. As a consequence of this, you can now observe similarities between english and other romanic languages. When the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain, they brought their language with them. Because of the Anglo-Saxons you can now observe similarities between english and germanic-based languages (please excuse this vague term). So, now you can use for the same thing a word with a roman root or a word with a germanic root.

If you lived in roman times or shortly afterwards, you could observe a language convergence in the roman world. If you lived in the early medievals, there was divergence going on compared to the roman times.

There are also efforts taken to not only translate loan word from other languages but create new words to replace the loan words. The frensh created the word courriel for the word email. So, that's also a kind of divergent evolution. The icelandinc language is famous for its language purism. So, the existence of global mass media does not automatically cause language convergence. This differs among languages and over time.

  • To be certain, the borrowing of words is a factor in the evolution of language. Perhaps I should have included it above. I never meant to insinuate that divergence and convergence were the only forces. Thanks for the great answer. – David M Mar 9 '14 at 11:51
  • Once again, it is not a matter of opinion, any more than evolution by natural selection is. Opinions are useless when facts are available. – John Lawler Mar 9 '14 at 17:00

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