Friday, November 17, 2023

President Biden Issues Executive Order to Establish Standards for AI Technologies


By Lilian H. Hill

On October 30, 2023, President Biden issued an executive order to establish Artificial Intelligence (AI) safety and security standards, protect Americans’ privacy and security, advance equity and civil rights, and advocate for consumers and workers. It employs broad emergency powers, usually only invoked for urgent situations such as the coronavirus pandemic or war, and the power of multiple government agencies to address the risks of artificial intelligence, which Biden described as the “most consequential technology of our time.” Biden has also called on Congress to create legislation to regulate AI as multiple attempts have failed to pass.


Released just days before an international AI Safety Summit held in the UK (Zakrzewski et al., 2023), the 111-page Executive Order has seven focus areas: 

  • safety
  • protection of American’s privacy 
  • preventing bias 
  • supporting consumers, students, and patients 
  • supporting workers 
  • promoting innovation 
  • advancing American leadership abroad


Selected details are described for each focus area below.




  • AI corporations will be required to conduct safety assessments of their products and submit findings to the federal government before implementing AI technology.
  • Safeguards should be in place to shield Americans from AI-facilitated fraud and deception.
  • Protocols and best practices will be established to detect AI-generated content and validate official content.
  • A sophisticated cybersecurity initiative will be developed to identify and rectify vulnerabilities in critical software.

Protection of Americans Privacy

  • Federal backing for expediting the development and application of privacy-preserving methods will be utilized, incorporating the use of cryptographic tools.
  • Efforts will be made to strengthen the methods by which federal agencies collect and use commercially available information, alongside privacy guidelines to tackle AI-related risks.

Preventing Bias

  • Standards will be formulated to furnish landlords, federal benefits programs, and federal contractors with precise guidelines to prevent AI algorithms from exacerbating discrimination.
  • The Department of Justice and federal civil rights personnel will receive training to address algorithmic discrimination and to adopt best practices for investigating and prosecuting AI-related civil rights violations.
  • Fairness will be encouraged throughout the criminal justice system by outlining best practices for the use of AI in sentencing, parole and probation, pretrial release and detention, risk assessments, surveillance, crime forecasting and predictive policing, and forensic analysis.

Stand Up for Consumers, Students, and Patients

  • The responsible use of AI in healthcare will be promoted, with the Department of Health and Human Services establishing a safety program to receive reports of, and take action against, harms or unsafe healthcare practices involving AI.
  • Efforts will be made to shape AI's potential to revolutionize education by creating resources to support educators deploying AI-driven educational tools, such as personalized tutoring in schools.

Promoting Innovation

  • AI research across the United States will receive support by initiating the National AI Research Resource pilot program, providing AI researchers and students access to vital AI resources and data and increased grants for AI research in critical areas such as healthcare and climate change.
  • An equitable, open, and competitive AI ecosystem will be encouraged by granting small developers and entrepreneurs access to technical aid and resources, assisting small businesses in commercializing AI breakthroughs, and encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to exercise its authority.
  • The opportunities for highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants with expertise in crucial fields to study, remain, and work in the United States will be expanded by modernizing and streamlining visa criteria, interviews, and reviews.

Supporting Workers

  • Principles and best practices will be devised to mitigate the negative impacts and maximize the benefits of AI for workers, addressing job displacement, labor standards, workplace equity, health and safety, and data collection.
  • A report will be compiled on AI's potential effects on the labor market, and strategies to bolster federal support for workers facing labor disruptions, including those resulting from AI, will be developed.
  • The opportunities for highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants with expertise in crucial fields to study, remain, and work in the United States will be expanded by modernizing and streamlining visa criteria, interviews, and reviews.

Advancing American Leadership Abroad

  • Strengthen bilateral, multilateral, and multi-stakeholder engagements to collaborate on AI with the State Department, in conjunction with the Commerce Department, leading efforts to establish robust international frameworks for harnessing AI's benefits and managing its risks, ensuring safety.
  • Accelerate the development and implementation of crucial AI standards with international partners and in standards organizations, ensuring the technology's safety, security, trustworthiness, and interoperability.
  • Advocate for the safe, responsible, and rights-affirming development and deployment of AI globally to tackle global challenges, such as advancing sustainable development and mitigating threats to critical infrastructure.

Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI

  • Issue guidelines for agencies' use of AI, including clear standards to protect rights and safety, improve AI procurement, and strengthen AI deployment.
  • Assist agencies in procuring specified AI products and services more quickly, affordably, and effectively through streamlined contracting processes.
  • Expedite the rapid hiring of AI professionals as part of a government-wide AI talent surge led by the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Digital Service, U.S. Digital Corps, and Presidential Innovation Fellowship. Agencies will provide AI training for employees at all levels in relevant fields.


This Executive Order is far-reaching and comprehensive. It builds on and expands the considerations articulated in the White House Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights. However, news commentary indicates that the Executive Order is only a first step in regulating rapid AI development and implementation, but also indicates that the Executive Order needs to be improved in enforcement mechanisms.



The White House. (2023, October 30). Fact Sheet: President Biden Issues Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (n.d.). Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights: Making Automated Systems Work for the American People. Retrieved

Zakrzewski, C., Lima, C., & Pager, T. (2023, October 25). White House to unveil sweeping AI executive order next week. Washington Post. Retrieved

Friday, October 27, 2023

Digital Health Literacy Access and Skills


Image credit: Pexels, Telehealth

By Lilian H. Hill, PhD

Health literacy and digital health literacy are related but distinct ideas. This blog post is part of our series on different forms of literacy in which we provide definitions of health literacy, digital health literacy, and eHealth literacy. 

Health Literacy

To understand digital health literacy, a definition of health literacy is needed. In Healthy People 2030 (2023), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided an updated definition of health literacy that has two components: personal health literacy and organizational health literacy:

  • Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. (para. 3)

Begun in 1980 and occurring decennially, the Healthy People initiative sets priority areas to improve population health, provides implementation tools, and tracks progress. This updated definition acknowledges the responsibilities of health providers and systems to communicate effectively with patients of varying identities, language skills, and literacy levels. Older definitions only included reference to personal health literacy skills, burdening patients. 

Digital Health Literacy

Digital health literacy refers to accessing health information online and navigating and using digital or electronic health information and patient resources. It includes electronic patient portals, technology for telehealth visits, and using computers and mobile devices to access medical information and interact with healthcare teams.

The World Health Organization defines electronic health (eHealth) services as the cost-effective and secure use of information communication technologies to support health. Examples include electronic communication between patients and providers, electronic medical records, patient portals, and digital personal health records. A category of eHealth is mobile health (mHealth), including phones, tablets, and computers to use applications (apps), wearable monitoring devices, and texting services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines eHealth literacy as the ability to evaluate health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem (CDC).

Digital health literacy involves skills including: 

  • Accessing and using online medical scheduling platforms to make appointments.
  • Using and navigating electronic health records and patient portals.
  • Receiving text message reminders from healthcare providers.
  • Receiving digital health information instead of handouts (for example, information about medication instructions for medication adherence).
  • Obtaining results of medical or diagnostic tests online.
  • Searching for and evaluating online health information. (Rural Health Information Hub, n.d.).
  • Comparing options and enrolling in a health insurance plan on a government website.
  • Searching online for healthy recipes to prepare for a family member with health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes.

Unfortunately, these skills depend on computer and mobile device access, digital tools experience, and a robust broadband network. For example, people with limited income and live in remote rural areas need help accessing broadband. Estimates of people lacking access range between 21 to 162 million (Stauffer et al., 2020). The U.S. government announced investing over 40 billion dollars to extend broadband access to all Americans (The White House, 2023). Access depends on having a data plan with broadband access, yet 40% of low-income households are not subscribed to any data plans. Relying on limited cell phone data or public Wi-Fi spots has limitations, including interruptions and a lack of security and privacy (Sieck, 2021). 

Many healthcare organizations have invested heavily in digital resources to support patient healthcare. Research indicates these tools “can foster greater patient engagement, better support for patients outside of the clinic visit, and can improve health outcomes” (Sieck, 2021, p. 1).

Digital health literacy has become so important to healthcare that it is now included as one of the social determinants of health, the conditions in the environments where people live, learn, work, and play that influence human health, functioning, and quality of life (Sieck et al., 2021). Other elements include: 

  • safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods;
  • racism, discrimination, and violence;
  • education, job opportunities, and income;
  • access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities;
  • polluted air and water; and 
  • language and literacy skills (USHHS, 2023). 

As clinical care delivery is quickly being integrated with digital technologies, Sieck et al. (2021) recommend that healthcare organizations adopt digital inclusive strategies, including assessing patient literacy and access and partnering with community organizations to facilitate digital skills training and connectivity. 


Friday, October 20, 2023

Cultural Competence, Cultural Humility, and Intercultural Literacy

Image credit: Lillian H. Hill

By Lilian H. Hill, PhD

The multiplicity of terms related to effective intercultural interactions confirms the need for theory development and educational initiatives to develop people’s skills. Terms that have been used include cultural competence, cultural humility, intercultural literacy, cross-cultural and multicultural interaction, cultural literacy, intercultural competence, and global competence (Schliakhovchuk, 2021). This article examines three related concepts: cultural competence, cultural humility, and intercultural literacy.

Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is defined as the ability to understand one’s own cultural identity, understand and respect the cultural identities of others, and seek to understand how the various cultural realities may differ and intersect to form relationships of mutual respect, dignity, and service to others (Lekas, 2020). Within professional settings, cultural competence involves congruent attitudes, behaviors, and policies that serve intercultural interactions (Arredondo, 2013). To be culturally competent, a person must possess an internal desire to understand the various cultural beliefs and values of others, consider how these values affect life decisions, actions, and goals, and be able to integrate these into interpersonal relationships. For example, the picture above shows several people learning about the Japanese tea ceremony. The term has been used in adult education, teacher preparation, elementary and secondary education, higher education, counseling and psychology, social work, healthcare, and business.

Cultural competence is a large construct with knowledge, skill, behavioral, and attitudinal aspects. Cross et al. (1989) laid the basis for a cultural competence continuum, moving from cultural destructiveness through incapacity, blindness, pre-competence, competence, and cultural proficiency.  

Figure 1: Continuum of Cultural Competence (Cross et al.,1989)

The premise of this continuum is that individuals and organizations reflect various levels of awareness, knowledge, and skills vis-à-vis their relationship with cultural variables.  

Many of the earlier articles on cultural competence appeared to take an essentialist view of culture in which it becomes a list of characteristics to be memorized rather than a dynamic process of complex interactions (Gray & Thomas, 2006). This is illustrated by resources that, reminiscent of a cookbook, provide a cultural overview of specific groups and describe their behaviors and practices with recommendations for appropriate ways of interacting with them (see for example, see Salimbene, 2000). These resources made no allowance for differences within cultural groups. While people espousing cultural competence may have good intentions, the danger is that it can reduce people to a stereotype. Cultural competence also treats cultures as static and fails to recognize the multiplicity of identities a single individual may have. However, some voices challenge the orthodoxy of the cultural competence view rooted in cultural differences. Wear (2003) suggests educators should examine how culture is conceived. She uses Giroux's (2000) concept of "insurgent multiculturalism" which looks beyond the focus on subordinate groups' deficits, to examine the historic, semiotic, and institutional roots of racism. Over the years, a model of the higher levels of "proficiency" has emerged that acknowledges a greater recognition of societal inequities (National Center for Cultural Competence, 2007).

Critiques of Cultural Competence 

A critique of cultural competence is that cultural competence initiatives can stereotype and further marginalize people by assigning culture to people based on visible characteristics. Simplistic views of culture result in over-generalized representations of cultural identities and practices (Singer et al., 2015). Lekas et al. (2020) commented that:

Culture is not stagnant, but a changing system of beliefs and values shaped by our interactions with one another, institutions, media, and technology, and by the socioeconomic determinants of our lives. Yet, the claim that one can become competent in any culture suggests that there is a core set of beliefs and values that remain unchanged and that are shared by all the members of a specific group. This static and totalizing view of culture that connotes a set of immutable ideas embraced by all members of a social group generates a social stereotype. (p. 1)

Given the long-standing diversity of the U.S., it is arrogant and condescending to assume that a single person, institution, or system can become culturally competent in an all-inclusive manner. Everyone has their own intentional and unintentional racist, sexist, classist, and other biases, whether personally acknowledged or suppressed. Despite these biases, “the idea of cultural competency gives us a false sense of exemption from these human flaws in perception” that cause us to mistreat others (Cooks-Campbell, 2022, para. 22). Ignoring diversity does not adequately address people’s multiple identities or individuals whose identity is not immediately visible. 

Cultural Humility

Based on the flaws of cultural competence, some suggest that cultural humility should replace the term as a goal (Lekas, 2020; Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). Cultural humility is an approach to sociocultural differences that emphasizes intersectionality and understanding one’s implicit biases. This approach cultivates self-awareness and self-reflection, bringing a respectful willingness to learn to interpersonal interactions and attention to power dynamics. Reflecting upon one's culture is often a first step in becoming more aware of one's relationship with those culturally different from oneself (National Center for Cultural Competence, 2007). Self-reflection can be employed to identify how white privilege reinforces and maintains institutionalized racism (Lekas et al., 2020; Tyson, 2007). 

Intercultural Literacy

Intercultural literacy builds on the ideas of cultural competence but, much like cultural humility, adds concepts of critical reflection and self-examination. It also includes responsibility for contributing to constructive change within one’s culture. An interculturally literate person can draw on their background experience to comprehend a second culture, including its symbols and communications. Intercultural literacy requires analyzing dominant cultures as they interact with other cultures in global or cross-cultural partnerships. Intercultural literacy is “the competencies, understandings, attitudes, language proficiencies, participation, and identities necessary for effective cross-cultural engagement” (Heyward, 2002, p. 9). Yelich Biniecki and Stojanović (2023) note that cross-cultural interactions have become a daily experience for people and advocate that in “today’s internationalized work and education environments, developing the competencies, attitudes, and understandings to support cross-cultural encounters should be a priority” (p. 4). Preparation for internationalization is a goal of many higher education institutions (Yelich Biniecki & Stojanović, 2023) and businesses (Shliakhovchuk, 2021). Cross-cultural interactions are now the norm in a world with increased international interconnectedness, advanced communication technologies, frequent travel and migration, scholar and student exchanges, and displacement of populations due to conflict and devastation of natural environments (Schliakhovchuk, 2021). The current labor market requires workers with advanced skills, including soft skills that include communication, collaboration, and teamwork, all requiring the ability to work with others. 

Comparison of Related Concepts

Schliakhovchuk (2021) noted that discussion of international or global interactions emerged in the 1970s. Cultural competence was discussed as early as 1980, with cultural humility following soon after. Cultural literacy was described as early as the late 1980s, and, in the 21st century has become synonymous with “intercultural competence, intercultural literacy, CQ/cultural intelligence, or cultural mindfulness” (p. 234). The health professions intensively discussed cultural competence, and many training opportunities were offered. Over time, the reputation of cultural competence has waned because it assumes an impersonal, objective, and hypothetically superior person who is proficient in dealing with others. In contrast, intercultural literacy assumes more equality and parity among people involved in any intercultural relationship. Not only that, but intercultural literacy allows for self-examination, critical reflection, personal and cultural change, and the possibility of transformative learning.


  • Arredondo, E. (2013). Cultural competence. In M. D. Gellman, M. D. & J. R. Turner (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer.
  • Brandt, D., & Clinton, K. (2002). Limits of the local: Expanding perspectives on literacy as a social practice. Journal of Literacy Practice, 34(3), 337-356
  • Cooks-Campbell, A. (2022, February 14). How cultural humility and cultural competence impact belonging. Retrieved from
  • Cross, T., Bazron, B., Dennis, K., & Isaacs, M. (1989). Towards a culturally competent system of care (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Child Development Center, CASSP Technical Assistance Center.
  • Giroux H. (2000). Insurgent multiculturalism and the promise of pedagogy. In E. M. Duarte & S. Smith (Eds.), Foundational Perspectives in Multicultural Education (pp. 195-212). Longman.
  • Gray, P. D., & Thomas, D. J. (2006). Critical reflections on culture in nursing. Journal of Cultural Diversity, 132(2), 76-82. 
  • Hayes, E., & Colin III, S. A. J. (1994). Racism and sexism in the United States: Fundamental issues. In E. Hayes & S. A. J. Colin III (Eds.), Confronting racism and sexism. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 61 (pp. 5-16). Jossey-Bass.
  • Heyward, M. (2002). From international to intercultural: Redefining the international school for a globalized world. Journal of Research in International Education, 1(1), 9−32.
  • Imel, S. (1998). Promoting intercultural understanding: Trends and Issues. Center on Education and Training for Employment. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED424451.
  • Lekas, H. M., Pahl, K., & Fuller Lewis, C. (2020). Rethinking cultural competence: Shifting to cultural humility. Health Services Insights, 13, 1-4. doi: 10.1177/1178632920970580
  • National Center for Cultural Competence. Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. Retrieved February 22, 2008 from
  • Salimbene (2000). What language does your patient hurt in? A practical guide to culturally competent patient care. EMC Paradigm. 
  • Shliakhovchuk, E. After cultural literacy: new models of intercultural competency for life and work in a VUCA world. Educational Review, 73(2), 229-250 doi:10.1080/00131911.2019.1566211
  • Tervalon, M., & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician outcomes in multicultural education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9(2), 117-125. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2010.0233
  • Tyson, S. Y. (2007). Can cultural competence be achieved without attending to white racism? Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 28: 1341-1344.
  • U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. National Standards for culturally and linguistically appropriate services for healthcare. Retrieved from
  • Wang, W. (2007). Cultural competence of international humanitarian workers. Adult Education Quarterly, 57, 187-204.
  • Wear D. (2003). Insurgent multiculturalism: rethinking how and why we teach culture in medical education. Academic Medicine, 78(6), 549-54. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200306000-00002
  • Yelich Biniecki, S., & Stojanović, M. (2023). Fostering internationalization in adult education graduate programs in the United States: Opportunities for growth. Educational Considerations, 49(2).


Friday, September 22, 2023

Scientific Literacy: Its Importance for Daily Decision Making


Photo credit: Karolina Grawbowski, Unsplash

In this podcast episode, Dr. Lilian Hill discusses Scientific Literacy: Its Importance for Daily Decision Making. This topic is important because scientific literacy is needed in daily life to make appropriate decisions. It is also foundational to other forms of literacy such as environmental literacy, climate literacy, and health literacy. Scientific literacy is a form of functional literacy, meaning having practical skills to apply the ability to read, write, and perform math to navigate life, address real-world problems, and contribute to the community. In this sense, it is related to other forms of literacy we have discussed including information literacy, digital literacy, and social media literacy. 

Listen to the Podcast

Information Literacy Episode 22 Transcripts



Ashbrook, P, (2020). Becoming scientifically literate. National Science Teacher’s Association. Retrieved from

 Ehrenberg, R. (2012, July 9 ). Arsenic-based life gets even more toxic: Scientists pound two more nails into the coffin of an incredible scientific claim. Science News (Blog). Retrieved from

 Lovell-Badge, R. (2013). Nine out of ten statistics are taken out of context. Speaking of Research, Retrieved from

 Tokalić, R., Evans, N., & Paloš, A. P. (2020, October 28). Inaccurate representation of results in the media: What is this about? Embassy of Good Science. Retrieved from

Friday, September 15, 2023

Language and Culture


Image credit: Lilian Hill

By Lilian H. Hill


Some words are unique to regional culture, foods, and traditions. Language use can also be understood as an indicator of race, ethnicity, social class, and immigration status. While this can contribute to social disparities, the continuous integration of immigrants and their families contributes to a vibrant, ever-changing culture, and a varied lexicon or vocabulary (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2015). The process of immigration takes time and can be considered a two-way street in that it offers benefits to immigrants and the people of the country.


People who come to the U.S. from other countries will have an accent as will people who move from one region of the U.S. to another. Keep in mind that it is easy to believe that the way you speak is “normal” and that only other people have accents. The truth is that we all will have an accent when away from home, and some people who learned a second, third, or fourth language after the age of 12-14 will always have an accent in the newly acquired language. If they remain away from their place of origin for a significant length of time, they may develop an accent in their first language, too, because our speech is influenced by where we live.


It can be very frustrating to be asked where you are from, when returning to where you feel is home! This can even happen within a single language. I have lived in the southeastern U.S. for more than 39 years, and when I return home to English-speaking parts of Canada I am often asked where I am from. However, I retain some Canadian speech habits so in the South I am also asked where I am from. People can overcome accents with intensive speech therapy and coaching; however, this choice tends to be made by people who are very self-conscious.


Different cultural traditions within the country will have specific vocabulary and habits of speaking. While it is easy to make negative judgments when you hear someone speaking differently than you; in fact, different speaking traditions have their own vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation. In other words, they are recognized as languages. Your employer will want you to speak, read, and write Standard English, even if you may speak very differently among your friends and family.


Unfortunately, because of racism and discrimination, only some people are asked to “code-switch” from one tradition of speaking at home to Standard English at college or work. Code-switching refers to altering your speech style including its volume, speed, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar as a way of fitting in. This can be accompanied by changing appearance, clothing styles, expression, and even body language to make other people feel more comfortable, counter common stereotypes, and gain employment (McLuney et al., 2019).


Creating New Words

Everyone creates new words and phrases (Anderson, 2018; Boyle, 2019). Several processes are involved: 

  • Loanwords: borrowing words from other languages.
  • Compound words: combining words to make a new one (heart + broken = heartbroken; sand + castle - sandcastle).

  • Formation: combining words but letting parts drop off (e.g., sleazy – y = sleaze; dork + adorable  = adorkable).

  • Repurposing: Taking a word from one context and applying it to a different one. For example, the crane, a long-necked bird, lent its name to mean a large lifting machine.

  • Conversion: changing a word’s function from one part of speech to another (having a friend [noun] but also friending [verb] someone on Facebook).

  • Derivation: adding prefixes or suffixes, e.g., preteen, hyperlink.

  • Eponyms, meaning a name or place becomes the common description, e.g., sandwich named for the Earl of Sandwich or Kleenex instead of facial tissue.

  • Abbreviations and acronyms (e.g., ICYMI stands for “In case you missed it.”).

  • Nonce words:  words taken out of the air (e.g., bling (source unknown), or “on fleek,” coined by celebrity Kayla Newman.


Sometimes the meaning of a word changes altogether. For example, the word “nice” was used between 1300-1600 to mean silly, foolish, or ignorant. Then it acquired the meaning of meticulous, attentive, or sharp, while since the 18th century, it has been used to mean agreeable and pleasant (Herman, 2015).


It also means that you can create a word that may end up in a dictionary if enough other people start using your word.


  1. Creating new words allows you to convey specific meaning and express your creativity. New words attract your listeners or readers’ attention and help them focus on your meaning. For your new word to become recognized, other people must adopt and use it, so that the new word spreads.

  2. Some authors create new languages and when the books become extremely popular, some of that language enters common vocabulary. Think of the invented game called Quidditch from the Harry Potter books written by J. K. Rowling or the species called Orcs from Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

  3. New words are created to describe new experiences. Some of these experiences are the result of technological innovation. For example, the word telephone comes from tele, meaning far away, and phon, meaning sound. In other words, telephone is a compound word made up of two root words. Television, smartphones, and email are similar examples.

  4. Our impatient world is always looking for speed and efficiency, so words are often shortened. So, phone is short for telephone, personal computers are called PCs or Apples, computer applications are known as apps, and so on.

  5. To meet length limitations. For example, texting and tweets restrict the number of characters that can be used. This prompted the use of single characters used in place of words (R U ready?) and more extensive use of acronyms that then entered our spoken vocabulary.



This continual process of language reinvention will result in many new words being invented within our lifetime. Some other words will not be used as often and will fade away. 



Anderson, C. (2018). Essentials of linguistics. Retrieved from
Boyle, A. (2016, February 4). How new words are born. Retrieved from 
Herman, J. (2015, December 22). 11 words with meanings that have changed drastically over time. Retrieved from

Friday, September 8, 2023

How Language Changes Over Time


Image credit: Andrew De Leon, Unsplash

By Lilian H. Hill


All languages change. The English we speak today is very different from the English of the past. The way words are pronounced and spelled can change. The meaning of some words has changed over time. New words are added to the language on a regular basis. For example,  among new words in 2023, The Oxford English Dictionary added “porch pirate,” “deepfake,” and “antigodlin” (meaning something that is diagonal or askew) (Gutoskey, 2023).


Borrowing Words from Other Cultures

One way that languages change is by exposure to other languages. When people speaking different languages come in contact, they often ‘borrow’ words from each other (Anderson, 2018; Boyle, 2019). Good examples include words in English that came from other languages including croissant from French, karaoke from Japanese, avatar from Sanskrit, and loot from Hindi. Likewise, English words are used by speakers of other languages. You may have listened to a conversation in a language you don’t know and been surprised when you recognize a word or two, and then realized the people having the conversation are mixing in English words. 


Now that we are a global economy, more frequent word borrowing is occurring and words from many other countries are being adopted in English, including words from China, Japan, Latin American countries, and African countries. Sometimes words go back and forth between cultures. For example, the word “anime” was coined in Japan, but was originally based on the English word animation. Now we use the word anime to describe hand-drawn and computer animation originating, or designed to look like it, from Japan. When a word is adopted into English the word may transform its sound, spelling, or meaning. 


How Words Enter Dictionaries

Lexicographers, people who create dictionaries, pay attention to how people use words. Their job is not to decide on the meaning of words or to decide which words are “good” or “bad.” Instead, they continually learn about new words by observing the ways that people employ language. When a new word usage becomes common, it can be added to the dictionary. Likewise, briefly popular words that fall out of common use may be removed in future editions (Anderson, 2018; Boyle, 2019). 


Dictionaries are not an authority that exists outside of human control. Rather, they are created by human beings just like us. That means dictionaries have flaws and that they can change in response to how people use language daily. Like many other processes, online dictionaries are now in common use, and we are less likely to purchase them in printed form.


Regional Variations and Dialects

Even within the same language, there are variations in pronunciation and meaning of words used by people living in different times. If you studied a Shakespeare play, Beowulf, or read Chaucer (2023) in the original language during college you will be familiar with how different the language was in the past. For example, “Ful wys is he that kan himselven knowe” (from The Monk's Tale, one of 24 stories in Canterbury Tales published between 1387–1400) can be translated to “A wise person knows himself.” (Gender-neutral language was clearly not used during Chaucer’s time). You can guess some of the words in this quotation, but the spelling and even the sentence structure are unfamiliar today. 



Language also varies by location. Think of how differently English sounds in Canada, Britain, Australia, the U.S., India or Africa. There are regional differences in the ways that English is used in different locations of the U.S. such as New York City, Boston, and Atlanta. There are even variations used within single cities or regions. The accents in each city are distinctive and they are different dialects of the same language. You may be able to detect what part of a city someone comes from by the way they speak. A dialect is a regional variation of a language that has distinct pronunciations, grammar, and vocabulary. Instead of a single way to speak, write, and read English called American Standard English, linguists now recognize multiple dialects and ways of speaking (McWhorter, 2016). 


One reason for this variation is that people in these locations have different experiences and need words that describe them. When I moved from Canada to Florida, I was given a small humor book titled, How to Speak Southern by Steve Mitchell (1976). Some words are unique to the South, such as “fixin to,” (meaning planning to do something) or “mash the button” (meaning to push a button). Other words were explanations of pronunciations that differ from the way things are said in another region and some were words that are run together in pronunciations. For example, “jeet yet?” is a way of saying did you eat yet? There are other regional books of this nature. 


People speaking different dialects of the same language can usually understand each other and converse. Therefore, it is tempting to define the difference between a single language language and multiple dialects as being rooted in mutual intelligibility. Yet, there are dialects of English I’ve encountered that were very difficult to understand. Another point of clarification may revolve around the written form. We expect to see standard English used in books, journals, magazines, and government communications. In contrast, regional variations, when they do make it in print, are often found in quotation marks. Despite the difficulty of differentiating language and dialect, it is clear that there is a need for both terms so they will persist over time (McWhorter, 2016).



Anderson, C. (2018). Essentials of linguistics. Retrieved from
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McWhorter, J. (2016, January ). What’s a Language, Anyway? The realities of speech are much more complicated than the words used to describe it. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
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