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Language Change

All languages change over time. If you've ever seen an example of Middle English, you will know how difficult it can be to read. And if you've ever seen Old English, it might have seemed impossible to decipher. Language change reflects and is influenced by changes in culture. New experiences will always require new words and ways to describe them.

This quiz is an overview of language change. Challenge yourself and see how much you know about the fascinating, ever-changing English language.

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  1. Which of the following is an example of gender-neutral language?
    In the past, 'men' was taken to mean 'people' sometimes and '(only) men' at other times. In the last half-century, language has responded to social change, including that brought about by feminism, and 'men' is not often used to mean 'people' any longer. Other examples of gendered language appear frequently (such as always choosing 'him' and 'his'), making it important to learn to recognise them
  2. Which would be the modern equivalent of 'thine'?
    Over time, 'thou', 'thee', 'thy' and 'thine' have fallen out of use. If you have studied French or German, you will know that these languages distinguish between the formal 'you' and the familiar 'you'. In the past, an English speaker would call friends and family members 'thou', rather than 'you' ('you' was formal)
  3. 'A sailor's wife had chestnuts in her lap, and mounch'd, and mounch'd, and mounch'd: "Give me," quoth I: -- "Aroint thee, witch!" the rump-fed ronyon cries. Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger: But in a sieve I'll thither sail...' These lines from Macbeth are an example of...
  4. Which of the following is written in Old English?
    Beowulf was written at least a thousand years ago
  5. Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is written in...
  6. In the 18th century, this writer compiled his famous dictionary.
  7. Words which are no longer commonly used are referred to as...
  8. Which one of the following English words comes from French, rather than Old English?
    In Old English, ‘who’ was ‘hwā’, ‘how’ was ‘hú’ and ‘what’ was ‘hwæt’. Of the 100 most commonly used words in the English language, the majority are from Old English
  9. Which of the following words has come into the English language from the world of I.T.?
    The word 'robot' was first used in 1922! 'App' is short for 'application' and originally meant a computer function - the abbreviation was first used in 1985
  10. Which of these is NOT a reason why language changes over time?
    Governments often do try to control language, such as when Welsh was banned from use in courts and schools, but language change is a natural process which cannot be controlled by anyone - it can only be influenced

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