This is a frequent topic for armchair linguists, those who know little of the nuts and bolts of language but, like the theorists who said jazz music reflected the industrial age with its clanging percussion imitating factory sounds, search for reflections of society’s changing thought patterns in language. Usually they focus on words, much as George Orwell did. Sometimes they find it in grammar.
These latter often are wide-ranging, comparing whole language families or language types. The wider the range, the weaker the case. However, in the early 70s, I entered the world of counseling and I entered it big time: process groups, rational-emotive therapy, transactional analysis, gestalt therapy (not psychology), Rogerian, Ericksonian, and on and on. It was indeed very exciting and, I believe, made me into a good therapist. Being a language person, however, I noticed something about the language of people involved in this: just like the group, it focused on process.
I first noticed this at the job I took as a counselor just before I entered the graduate program for the M.C. degree at ASU. Counselors where I worked talked in this jargon that was new to me and a lot of it came from behavioral psychology, but there was another grammatical feature of verbs that focused on the process, the development, the on-goingness, if you will, of behavior. Not “I feel….” but “I’m feeling….”; not “I think….” but “I’m thinking….” and so forth. Once in the counseling program, we began processing everything. If you said good-morning, the old Freudian joke “Hmmmm, I wonder what he meant by that.” came out more like, “He is emitting greeting behavior” or “I’m sensing the onset of the initiation of a casual, touch-and-go early morning relationship embedded in a workaday environment”. A bit of an exaggeration but it makes the point.
But the grammatical stuff has sifted into the total language, it seems to me, when we say things like “It seems to be being replaced ….” Here the passive progressive indicates an on-going process effecting an outcome that is gradually taking shape. My belief is that as life with its changes has speeded up, we have shifted more and more into a process view of life, requiring the use of progressive forms.
My favorite jargon story is of the student in counseling who was a devotee of Skinner and one day narrated an incident of a woman screaming, but it came out as “She emitted screaming behavior.” Boy, now that’s scientific.