Translation Industry News | 17.11.2009

Vive la vernacular!

Collins – the dictionary giant – has recently been on a quest to save endangered dialect words for possible inclusion in future editions of their English language dictionaries.

Any living language is a constantly evolving entity, which inevitably means that some words fall by the wayside, replaced by new arrivals on the lexical scene. Enter Collins, who has invited people to submit evidence of the use of disappearing words via Twitter, as long as ‘proof of life’ is included, i.e. dates, places and examples of current-day usage. ‘Endangered’ is the key word here, as the compilers are keen to stress that their interest is not to resurrect any defunct language, but to protect words which are no longer à la mode in contemporary speech.

The project’s MO, or modus operandi we should say, is a physical embodiment of its ultimate aim. In other words, new technology has played its part to enable these old words to be recorded, as their submission was requested through Twitter – hence the perfect balance of old and new. Measuring dialect is an extremely tricky business as it can vary from village to village; constantly changing external factors are at play, such as increased international travel and the subsequent rise in foreign influences; the medias of television and film; and new technological developments (the list is endless). Furthermore, it takes time, effort and a genuine enthusiasm on the part of logophiles nationwide for such an idea to come to fruition.

As reported in the Times, the words are as follows: zamzoden – soft, half-baked (Devon); kickshaw – an amusement; shawm – to warm oneself; muckwash – hot and bothered; hippetyclinch – limp; galasses – braces; wambly – faint, sick (Lancashire); fratching – to quarrel; squaddy – muddy; roily – upset (stomach); wassuck – fool; and ommuck – sandwich.

This venture has provoked discussions amongst word-lovers, some of whom have compared the survival of certain words to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Yet just because a word is not widely used, this does not make it any less important and the etymology of any word is an exciting journey through the past which explains the roots of the language we use today. After all, a language is an identity and any attempts to record endangered words should be encouraged. However, that is not to say that these ‘revitalized’ words will become common usage once more and that linguists will be eager to replace sandwich with ommuck.

What we are witnessing with Collins’ SOS call for entries is the umbrella of conservation opening up to cover the world of linguistics, in a move which could save many words from extinction.

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