Is there a word for a force or process that changes language? Something like "lingomorphic" (a word I just made up.)

Walter Benjamin has an essay called "The task of the translator" where he suggests that good translations should change/enrich the target language. I was writing a paper on this for school and had shown how Classic Greek had indeed influenced the English used in the King James version of the Bible. I want to write a sentence that says

"Benjamin thinks it should not just be sacred texts which are given this __________ privilege".

On Google I found lots of words for specific types of language change but I could not find a more general word that means something like "language-changing" or "language-morphing" or my made up word - "Lingumorphic". Is there such a word?

  • 3
    Language evolution.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 1, 2016 at 21:42
  • Please do not close this! I know this word! I just have to find it. Give me 24 hours.
    – user116032
    Mar 3, 2016 at 2:22
  • I give up. I really give up.
    – user116032
    Mar 4, 2016 at 16:46
  • Languages gets enriched by other languages. English is a great example of that. So while the term 'enrichment' may be too generic it captures what you describe. Enrichment due to translations come in the form of new words and maybe new idioms more often than in new structures, so the word morphing (changing shape) is not very appropriate. Apr 9, 2016 at 17:01
  • There's linguistic corruption, aka bastardization
    – NVZ
    May 24, 2016 at 6:53

3 Answers 3


The closest I can come to a term meaning, generally, 'language-changing process', is 'diachronic process'.

An offshoot of 'philology' (see Josh's answer), the scientific study of language change over time is now called 'diachronic linguistics', or 'historical linguistics'.

'Philology', in one sense, was the term used in British English to name the scientific study of the history of language:

3. The branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages or language families; the historical study of the phonology and morphology of languages; historical linguistics.

["philology, n.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/142464?redirectedFrom=philology (accessed March 08, 2016). Italic emphasis mine.]

As pointed out in a note following that OED Online definition, however, use of the term 'philology' in the given sense was never current in the U.S., and is becoming rare in British use:

This sense has never been current in the United States, and is increasingly rare in British use. Linguistics is now the more usual term for the study of the structure of language, and (often with qualifying adjective, as historical, comparative, etc.) has generally replaced philology.

(op. cit.)

Language change is variation over time in linguistic features such as phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax and etc. Such changes are the fit subject of diachronic linguistics, where 'diachronic' means

2. ... Pertaining to or designating a method of linguistic study concerned with the historical development of a language; historical, as opposed to descriptive or synchronic. ....

["diachronic, adj.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/51786?rskey=vPcXSx&result=1&isAdvanced=true (accessed March 08, 2016).]

Thus, the processes of change in language can be lumped together and called, generally, 'diachronic' processes.

Lacking further context, and because of the somewhat ill-defined reference of the "privilege" you mention without that context, I'm not sure, but I think 'diachronic' might work in your example as it stands:

Benjamin thinks it should not just be sacred texts which are given this diachronic privilege.


"good translations should change/ enrich the targeted language". This section is questionable. A possible suggestion would be to say "good translations should enrich the targeted language". Therefore the authors passion for his work emanates through the use of certain words.

'The word 'translation' is the change. The process that changes language is a combination of scientific and humanistic theories, however if the focus of the question is to capture the essence of the above mentioned section, which I believe suggests 'the diginified change' - transformative, alchemize, metamorphose, or simply glorious may suffice as a word to describe the 'process' undergone for the author.

"Benjamin thinks it should not just be sacred texts which are given this glorious privilege" ;)

  • 1
    Are you suggesting 'glorious' is a synonym for 'language change'? (that's what the OP is looking for)
    – Mitch
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:32
  • Nabugodi's (2014) review of Benjamin's 1921 essay states, "translation is a form of artistic writing alongside poetry rather than a secondary derivative of literary art". In response to Mitch- it could be a question of perspectives, however the word 'glorious' was a suggestion to enhance the sentence (not as the word to describe language change). 'Transformative' appears to be the next best word to sit in context of the bible and Benjamin's essay.
    – user182253
    Jan 11, 2017 at 9:54

Selective pressures or evolutionary pressures evolve language.

Supporters of the [meme] concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures


Proponents theorize that memes are a viral phenomenon that may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution. Memes do this through the processes of variation, mutation,competition, and inheritance, each of which influences a meme's reproductive success.  -- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

  • Are "evolutionary pressures" not the "process that changes language" ? I'm trying to understand why this downvoted ?
    – k1eran
    Mar 2, 2016 at 11:07
  • The original question was not clear. Now that the original poster has clarified it, it seems that this answer would not work.
    – herisson
    Mar 4, 2016 at 2:37

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