So I've come across this sentence from "A History of English" by B. Strang:

It is not immediately obvious that language should change; indeed, many have thought, at various periods, and some still think, that change could be halted, or at least brought under control. Animal cries, for example, may change a little from era to era, but there is some reason to think they do not change nearly as much as language.

I am not sure what the sentence is supposed to mean, especially when it comes to the "indeed" part. I think the first part means something like "one might not think so, but language changes" (I think the "should" is just subjunctive mood and not something along the lines of "is supposed to", but please correct me if I am wrong). But why is the second part then connected by "indeed"? I thought that it means "it is true", but it does not make sense to me in this context.

Could someone please explain it to me?

  • The normal significance of "indeed" in such contexts there is to emphasise that whatever comes before it isn't really worded strongly enough - indeed, the point should be asserted, rather than merely suggested. Saying something "isn't immediately obvious" is a very "mild" way of saying (or at least, implying) that it's not true. Dec 22, 2021 at 12:32
  • @FumbleFingers What is being emphasized is not that "language doesn't change" is false; rather, what is being emphasized is that someone people think that language doesn't change. Dec 22, 2021 at 23:37
  • @Acccumulation: One could say the assertion that it's not obvious [that language change is natural and inevitable] does no more than simply imply that it might not actually change. But the "indeed" clause specifically emphasises that some people agree so strongly with the initial assertion that they think it's possible to prevent or regulate any such change. It's not so much that they think language doesn't change, as that they think it shouldn't change - and they believe they can actually do things that will prevent language changes from happening. Dec 23, 2021 at 13:08

2 Answers 2


I had to read this a couple of times, and then look at the original text, to work out what this sentence means.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, should has several possible meanings. One of them is to indicate that something is likely or expected. The first clause can be paraphrased as:

We should expect language to change, but many people do not understand this- it's not obvious.

Indeed is used to add some extra information that develops or supports something you have just said

The rest of the sentence indicates that it's so un-obvious that some people believe that it is possible to prevent language change.

The following paragraph (not quoted in the OP's question) explains why change in human language is more likely to occur than in the noises that animals make.

  • 1
    Thank you, I finally understand the "indeed" part! I still have a question considering the "should" part. So, on the Cambridge Dictionary, it also says this about "should": "used after "that" and adjectives or nouns that show an opinion or feeling". As it is after "obvious that" I thought it was the subjunctive mood - and so it can be rephrased as an indicative mood. Is that not the case? I am sorry if I dwell too much on this, but in my native language, we do not have the subjunctive, so we have to choose between indicative and conditional mood, so I really want to get this right. Thanks!
    – Lizzie
    Dec 22, 2021 at 14:02
  • @Lizzie we only use subjunctive mood to talk about hypothetical situations: "If I were rich, I would....". "language should change" is not hypothetical- it is a statement of fact. Although "should" can be used to express an opinion, that's not the meaning of "should" that the author intends. He backs it up with hard evidence in later paragraphs.
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 23, 2021 at 8:28

The function of semicolons is to introduce an independent clause that relates to the part of the sentence that precedes it, usually elaborating, clarifying, and/or emphasizing it. The word "indeed" is used to introduce a claim that supports the previous statement and/or is a stronger version (e.g. "Home field advantage doesn't guarantee victory. Indeed, this team has lost more than half its home games.") So both are performing a similar purpose.

"It is not immediately obvious that language should change" is a somewhat weak statement. It's just saying that "language should change" isn't "obvious". This is followed by saying that some people have thought it's possible for language to not change, which is a similar, but stronger statement; if people think "not X", then that implies that X isn't obvious, but X being obvious doesn't necessarily mean that people think "not X".

"Should" is a rather ambiguous term, both because different linguistic communities use it differently, but because it can mean different things within the same linguistic communities. It has changed meaning over the decades, and its use in British English tends to be different from its use in American English. I think that it's being used to introduce a subjunctive mood, but given that this is from fifty years ago, and apparently British, I don't have a lot of confidence that I am reading it correctly.

  • Subjunctive is used for hypothetical situations. What is hypothetical about the clause "language should change"? It's as hypothetical as "The train should arrive at 3:25".
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 23, 2021 at 8:32

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