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In Real Life
, any living language inevitably changes, sometime startlingly rapidly. In fiction it's employed to suggest cultural change, or a character's status as Fish out of Temporal Water
. It might appear in Time Travel
Compare Eternal English
Anime & Manga
- In the Crest of the Stars novels, the language of Jinto's home planet of Martine is said to be descended from English but when they hunt down someone who actually does speak English Jinto can't understand a word of it. The Japanese = Baronh and English = Martine in the anime is presumably a Translation Convention.
- In Idiocracy, the massive proliferation of stupidity in American society has resulted in a corresponding degradation of the English language. The protagonist, our Fish out of Temporal Water, is regarded as talking "like a fag" (presumably meaning "overly formal") when speaking normal 21st century English.
- In Gullivers Travels, it is stated that most Struldbrugs are incapable of speaking more than a few words to those around them due to that trope. It is unclear how much that trope affects the written language, since there they suffer another problem — they can't remember what they just read.
- A major theme in Riddley Walker. It's post-apocalyptic fiction, and the book is just barely understandable, if you read it carefully and sound it out phonetically. Their conflation of various words of today's English (notably "Adam" and "atom") lead to much of the background, folklore, and plot.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz. By the time the events of the novel take place, English had long splinted into various successor languages. And the only ones speaking it are in the Catholic Church.
- In Michael Crichton's Timeline, three characters who travel back in time to The Middle Ages have to learn how the French of that time differs from modern French. Even the character who already knows the written language of 1357 has to learn how it's pronounced and inflected.
- Used Isaac Asimov in his Empire and Foundation series. Pebble in the Sky features a protagonist who inadvertently steps into the future, where his 20th century English is unintelligible to all except a few historical linguists. Even they struggle. In Foundation, Asimov repeatedly refers to the standard Galactic tongue as evolving throughout time, and isolated worlds tend to fall behind, resulting in Ye Olde Butcherede Galacticke Standarde. The change, however, is noticeably slower than in real life — it takes about five centuries for a document to start sounding queer, and a historian states the difference between his language and today's English is not that radical — different pronunciation and a lot of obsolete words, but not that different in principle. However, an isolated planet had its language completely unchanged, because, apparently, its people depend on robots, and maintaining the same language (in a society with little personal interaction) is easier than changing the programming.
- In the Legacy Trilogy by William H Keith Jr (writing as Ian Douglass), due to relativistic travel, characters come back to Earth after many years away and find that they're unable to understand what people are saying or be understood themselves without special translation software.
- In The Forever War, by the mid-21st century, pronouns have already begun to shift. Centuries later, 20th century English has become the Lingua Franca of the Force, since most of the military brass, having lived hundreds of years through relativistic travel, speak it.
- Becomes a major plot point in Courtship Rite when the inhabitants of the Lost Colony of Geta finally decode ancient documents, including a history of Earth, and learn, among other things, that their word for "God" used to mean "ship". Which puts a whole new perspective on the legend that the God in the sky that they can see every night brought them to Geta.
- In the "Mage Storms" trilogy in the Heralds of Valdemar series, a minor plot point involves the Kaled'a'in clan, who are the only speakers of their language. They pride themselves on keeping it "pure" and unchanged over the millennia — so naturally two native speakers are dismayed to find they cannot read a very important set of inscriptions in ancient Kaled'a'in.
- In His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Lyra and Will, who come from different parallel Earths, both speak English. There are, however, a few differences between their vocabulary such as anbaric/electricity, electrum/amber, and chocolatl/chocolate. This easily also could be Eternal English as there is such a different past in Lyra's world, but they still both speak the same basic English.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, being a linguist, subtly works it into his two most complete Elven languages: Quenya and Sindarin. Both contain phonologies, morphologies, vocabularies, and other eccentricities that are indicative of Language Drift, with a number of archaic words and sentence structures that don't quite fit the established rules. For example, Quenya lost the "th" sound as in thin, becoming "s", but still spelt with a different letter (as in Isil, the name of the moon, which "restored" the original sound when it was loaned into Sindarin as Ithil). Likewise, the "n" in Noldor was originally pronounced as an "ng" sound (as in singer, not finger), but by the late-Third Age when The Lord of the Rings is set, the pronunciation has changed to the sound familiar to modern English speakers, though the spelling in Tengwar and Cirth still kept the distinction. There's also exactly one multi-syllable word in Quenya stressed on the last syllable, unlike all others.
- One of the biggest stumbling blocks for people wanting to learn Sindarin are consonant mutations, where the initial consonant of words changes to a different one, according to the function or position of the word in the sentence. This is a direct consequence of the sound changes that affected consonants inside a word, but not initials; except that in certain cases two words are pronounced as one, and the initials now count as medial consonants and are affected.
- Another example of language drift occurs with Westron (the "common tongue," represented by Modern English in the books). It's noted in the Appendices that Westron as spoken by the Hobbits lost the formal mode of address (i.e., in English, "thou" was the familiar while "you" is the formal. Modern English has since lost the familiar, so only "you" is used today). The form of Westron spoken in Gondor, however, continued to use the formal mode. Therefore, when Pippin converses with Denethor, his Hobbit dialect is much more familiar than would be proper for a commoner when addressing a lord as powerful as Denethor, making him come across as Denethor's equal to those listening in on their conversations, and thus helping feed the rumors that he was Hobbit royalty which pursue him throughout his stay in Minas Tirith. (Though Pippin's family is as close as there is to Hobbit nobility.)
- The later books of the Enders Game series take place thousands of years in the future, and there are subtle hints that none of the characters are speaking modern languages. Those who sound like they're speaking English are mentioned to be speaking "Stark" (likely a descendent of Starways Kommon, which itself was a phonetic, simplified variant of English). The appendices also mention that the languages identified as "Portuguese" and "Chinese" are descendent tongues, which sound nothing like their modern equivalents.
- In the Ender's Game Alive audioplay, Common is already an existing English-based language, and all Battle School children are required to speak it. Ender initially refuses to use Battle School slang (e.g. "neh" — "isn't it", "eh" — answer to "neh", "ho" — "hey") but is advised by an older kid to try to fit in.
- Mentioned in Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, where time-viewing technology allows one to see and hear anyone who has lived as far back as the beginning of human history. However, the lack of Translator Microbes means that researchers are forced to learn the language of the people they're studying at a specific point in time.
- The "lyrics" in Nier's soundtrack are written in futuristic versions of French, English, Japanese etc. (and despite sounding like gibberish, you can actually tell which language they're been based upon), because the game itself takes place a few thousand years after the 2000s.
- 200 years pass between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Skyrim. Though you can still understand the Imperial tongue perfectly, the names used by some ethnicities indicate that the language has evolved. Many Imperials now use Italian-like names instead of Canis Latinicus, and the Redguards are mainly a mix of Arabic and Moorish instead of the ghetto-ish ones they had in Oblivion.
- The Business Men from Adventure Time have very bizarre grammar, but when one combines the Word of God statement that the show takes place after a nuclear war wiped out most of humanity and the fact that they were implied to be Human Popsicles from the past, it becomes apparent that they are speaking contemporary English; the other characters just have Translation Convention on their side. When Finn found the tribe of Humans they're speaking a language that could hardly be recognized as English.
- In The Mézga Family, a Hungarian cartoon from the 70s, the titular family, living in the 20th century, manages to contact a descendant called MZ/X, who lives in the 30th century. At first they don't understand a word he's saying, as MZ/X speaks "new Hungarian", which is just modern day Hungarian with EVERY word abbreviated to one syllable. Thankfully he has a telepathic helmet he can put on when he wants to talk to his ancestors from "the atomic dark age", as he calls them.
- The archaic Latin chants of the Roman priesthood were indecipherable even to Cicero in the 1st century BCE. The only recognizable words are Ceres, Janus, and thunder. The Donation of Constantine was recognized as a forgery when it used 8th century CE Latin words in a document supposedly written in the 4th century CE. See the wikipedia article on Latin for a history on the different forms of the language.
- Greek Language has shifted considerably from the time of Homer. Indeed the New Testament was translated several times in the past century because so few could comprehend the late Hellenistic language most of the Gospels and Epistles were composed in. For a speaker of Modern Greek, reading the late-Hellenistic Greek of the New Testament is more akin to a speaker of Modern English reading Chaucer than a speaker of Modern French reading Latin—it's archaic and difficult, but it can be done with liberal use of a dictionary. At that point, however, it's so difficult it's worth translating into the modern form.
- If Time Travel ever becomes possible (will become possible? Has become possible?), then the average user would discover the effects of language drift in spades. A typical modern-day English speaker would find it somewhat difficult to converse properly with natives from, say, Elizabethan England, and almost impossible just a couple of centuries or so further back. Even in Shakespeare's time, a modern day traveller would most likely be assumed to be a foreigner speaking poor constructed "Shakespearean" English (and any attempts to use Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe would only make matters that much worse). And that's not even going into trying to speak foreign languages in the past...
- The same would almost certainly hold true for the future, though perhaps with the advent of mass recording of modern day literature, the continued language drift may take a little longer to occur...