By N. F. Blake (auth.)

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Sample text

The links which bound a compound word with the words from which it was formed were cut and English vocabulary became increasingly opaque. Many words were set adrift in form from those words with which they are closely related in meaning. There is no way that anyone can tell that urban, for example, is the adjective for town; the link in meaning is opaque and not transparent. There is no Background Survey 31 adjective formed from town such as townish or towny which would preserve that transparency.

Human interaction breeds the growth of societies and they in turn encourage the use of polite behaviour, which may in its turn influence changes in the language as certain forms are preferred to others. Quite apart from these general pressures, linguists have shown that speakers of all languages readily adopt pronunciations which promote certain types of change, but changes in other parts of the language are also found. It is common in all languages for final consonants in words to be lost. This might be attributed to laziness, but is more an aspect of weak articulation at the end of words.

Although we still say He comes, the final -s is not significant because it is obligatory to include the subject He and because there is no other form **He come with which it could be confused. If we all said and wrote **He come instead of He comes, there would be no confusion and no loss of meaning. After all, in the preterite we are perfectly happy to say He came where the verb has the same form in the third-person singular as in all the other persons. The relationship of the words in a sentence in Modern English is determined by their order and not by their endings.

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