Friday, August 24, 2007

Transition as a Verb

One of the things that is so fascinating to me as an ESL teacher is that the English language is continually evolving (or at least changing). As most of us were taught as children, "'ain't' is not a word." (And yet, it's now in the dictionary. Although most educated people don't use it, or if they do, they use it selectively.) The word "google" used to only be the name of a search engine. Now it's a verb. "I googled you last night."

In the past, we also only used the “generic” “he,” “his,” and “him.” That changed to "he or she" and sometimes "s/he." Now, using “they,” “their,” and “them” as singular pronouns is common and used in informal conversation and writing. It is perfectly acceptable to most people and “Usage Notes” are discussing this point in dictionaries (see Longman Advanced American Dictionary).

This word came up in one of my ESL lessons with an advanced ESL student. I was pretty sure that "transition" could be used as a verb. She had never heard it used as a verb. We looked in my dictionary and it was not there. Yet, I felt fairly certain that I'd heard this word as a verb before.

When I got home, I searched the internet for other dictionaries and other sites about this topic. Some people are absolutely adamant and even offended by the idea of "transition" as a verb. Most of the sites I saw "transition" used as a verb were discussing the issue of transgendered people. Some medical sites use "transition" as the verb to talk about the process of a person "transitioning" from one gender to another.

Transgender issues and sexual reassignment are a fairly recent phenomenon in our history. I tend to think that as society changes and deals with more issues, our language will change to enable us to talk about these topics.

Whenever I teach ESL students about non-standard English (even if it's only using reductions), I always explain how the language is changing and caution students about using new terms.

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