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.
- The Abh language Baronh is stated to be descended from a "purified" form of Japanese, which is surprising to many people since it looks and sounds nothing like Japanese. The author did his homework on this one, and has detailed the drift Baronh went through since it was first invented in-universe.
- 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 "too formally") when speaking normal 21st century English.
- In Gulliver's 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. After post-nuclear-war society decides that Science Is Bad and undergoes what is called "The Great Simplification," it becomes common to call someone "my good simpleton" as a polite greeting.
- 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 Ender's 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.
- In the Revelation Space Series, no modern-day languages exist unchanged in the 26th century or beyond. Ilia Volyova speaks 'Russish', and most of the Demarchists of the Yellowstone system speak 'Norte', which seems to originate from English and Spanish. There were a number of American colonies set up via seeder starship that spoke American English, but none are shown to exist by the time Revelation Space takes place thanks to the first generation of humans being emotionally stunted due to them being raised by robots, and the general inhospitable nature of the universe.
- The Forerunner Saga: The Forerunners use many different languages (only two or three are given any detail, however), with many, many more have been lost over their ten million year history.
- Halo: Broken Circle: When Zo and his Sangheili companions rediscover the Ussan Sangheili, they find out that the latter's dialect of Sangheili has changed far less than their own in the 3,000+ years since the Ussans became isolated from the Covenant, to the point that they have to use translation devices to communicate properly.
- 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.
- After the End: A Crusader Kings II Mod takes place 600-700 years after the end of modern civilisation, and while the actual mod is in English, in universe pre-apocalypse tongues are dead languages that linguistics evolved from centuries ago, not unlike ancient languages like Latin, Akkadian or Aramaic, and are studied as such by scholars.
- The Tribals' languages, as implied in Fallout2 and shown in Fallout: New Vegas, are creole tongues descended from English. After several generations however, there's just enough English left to notice their origins but they're otherwise barely comprehensible. This is in stark contrast to their town-dwelling counterparts in the wasteland as well as more civilized factions like the NCR and Brotherhood of Steel, all of whom speaking more or less the same English as Pre-War America.
- In the X-Universe series, both the Earth State and their 700 year long lost Argon Federation speak Japanese, but with the grammar completely turned on its head; translated graffiti Nose Art on Pirate ships and warnings on docking bays reveal that the order of words is backwards. When the Earth State makes contact with another lost colony in X3: Terran Conflict the colonists are shown to use more archaic Japanese words which are not translated by the game's Translation Convention.
- In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the Hylian language has changed enough in the interim between it and Ocarina of Time that those who speak ancient Hylian such as Valoo and Jabun are unintelligible to modern Hylian speakers like Link.
- 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...note
- Taking it a step further, a modern-day person travelling back to Shakespeare's London would probably be very confused by the accent. During Shakespeare's time the predominant accent in England sounded a lot like the modern-day southern Appalachia accent.
- All of the modern Indo-European languages (everything from English to Russian to Hindi) are descended from the language known as Proto Indo European, or PIE for short. The modern language closest to PIE is Lithuanian.
- The internet is causing a massive subversion of this trope. Before the internet, there were various dialects that were drifting apart to the extent that it was thought that within 100 years speakers of one would not be able to understand the other (examples: American vs British English, Mexican vs European Spanish, Brazillian vs European Portuguese). The internet has effectively reversed this, however. Dialects that were growing further apart are now starting to move closer together again, as instantaneous worldwide communication causes people in one country to start picking up another's dialects and slang. Just 20 years ago, if you asked someone in the US what a lorry was, most people probably would have no idea. In addition to this, the internet is also preserving "snapshots" of languages, as articles are written and can then be read anytime in the future.