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"Ye knowe eek that in forme of speche is chaunge
With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yet thei spake hem so."
Geoffrey Chaucer, 600 or so years ago Translation 
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All languages are always changing, all the time, so long as someone is alive to speak them. This is the basic idea behind an entire discipline of linguistics. It means that a thousand years' difference (for example, between Old English and modern English) can make two versions of the same language completely unintelligible; another thousand (as with the 2,000 years dividing Latin and modern French) and you might not even realize they're related.

In real life, a character traveling into the distant future would literally have to learn a completely new language: even if people are still using spoken language rather than, say, Electronic Telepathy and even if they are speaking what they call "English", there's a fairly high probability that it won't be similar enough to the character's English to allow intelligibility.note  In fiction, however, linguistic drift is almost universally ignored. For writers, it's a lot of trouble to translate into an ancient or imaginary language, and audiences often prefer to watch a show in their native language. Therefore, people hailing from vastly different time periods will almost always speak the language of the audience, and rarely with so much as Just a Stupid Accent (though characters from The Middle Ages or thereabouts typically speak Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe).

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In many future settings, the writers will try to balance this out by throwing in a couple of new slang words or having a handful of words gain or lose an embarrassing connotation over the years. Others will try to attribute this trope to the advent of recording technology. This may or may not turn out to be the case: after all, we are discussing tropes and memes on a wiki hosted on the web. Someone from the year 2000 wouldn't understand some of that sentence, while someone from 1990 would understand almost none of it (hell, a good number of people today still wouldn't understand it). On the other hand, while William Shakespeare would be unable to understand the sentence "His car's on the blink—the distributor is busted", the very concept of "car" being alien to him, it's entirely possible to read his works with a dictionary at most for troublesome words, and were we to pop into 1600 and chat with him about the weather, we'd have trouble with each other's accents and a few changed grammatical features, but no worse than, say, an American Southerner on first meeting a Yorkshireman.

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In some cases, a work will be set in a distant time period, but the characters don't encounter any time travelers, read modern books, or watch modern movies. Settings like these are actually invoking Translation Convention.

The absence of Language Drift. Compare with Aliens Speaking English. See also Future Slang, which tries to partially avert this trope.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Fate/stay night, Servants are summoned from the distant past and seem to have no problem conversing fluently in modern (even accentless, in the anime) Japanese. No matter where a Servant comes from, and no matter when they were alive, the summoning spell gives them basic knowledge of the world at the time of their summoning, including a familiarity with the average level of technology and a decent grasp of any languages they would be likely to use.
  • Inuyasha:
    • Kagome falls into around the year 1550 and has no trouble understanding Late Middle Japanese. Inuyasha has managed to come to the present without any trouble either.
    • The English translation has the elderly Kaede use the archaic thou and thy, hinting at the language changes. For some reason though, the characters who are even older than Kaede (including her sister Kikyo who gets revived in undead form, and most of the villains of the story) don't speak in a similarly archaic manner. 1550 is only five decades away from the start of Modern Japanese, so it's understandable that Kagome wouldn't have too much trouble.
  • There is an "Outer World" in Slayers that has been blocked off by a magical barrier courtesy of the Monster Race for at little over a millennium, hence two different cultures: the "Inner World" (i.e the main setting of the series) thrives on magic, and Word of God put out that everyone in it speaks the same language. The "Outer World" has little access to magic and thrives on technology instead, and has peoples in various types of environments, including a scant amount of primitive tribes. The third season of the anime has the main party go to the Outer World, but unless one member of the group has a translator on them, it would be unlikely that the Outer Worlders would speak the same language (whatever the heck it is) as they do. This problem doesn't arise in the novels because Lina and Gourry stay in the Inner World for the entire time.
  • ∀ Gundam, despite taking place thousands of years in the distant future, still has Earth-bound humans (and possibly the Moonrace) using modern English. Though this might be handwaved by the fact that much of the series takes place in what used to be United States.
  • Apparently, contemporary English has become the lingua franca of the Free Planets Alliance in Legend of Galactic Heroes.
  • Crest of the Stars:
    • Played straight in the anime, where Martine speaks English while the Abh speak Baronh (represented by Japanese sprinkled with Baronh terms).
    • The novels zigzag on the issue. Martinese is descended from English but when trying to communicate in English with a young Jinto he can't understand it. It's unclear if that means that English is still being used somewhere or if at least some people know it but its no longer a living language like Latin in the modern world.
  • In Lupin III: The Italian Adventure, Leonardo Da Vinci can fluently speak modern Italian in spite of originally being from Firenze in an era before Italian language even existed. Justified by Italian language having pretty much been ripped off from Firenze's dialect in the 19th century (see below), thus being close enough to what Leonardo spoke his genius could quickly adapt.
  • In Dr. Stone, the inhabitants of Ishigami village are descended from six astronauts who survived the stone apocalypse 3000 years prior. Despite this 3000 year gap, the protagonists (who were asleep during that time) can converse with them with no trouble at all. Granted, in a weekly publication as competitive as the Shonen Jump, the author probably doesn't have the luxury of inventing and explaining a whole new language. Later this is given an explanation: Byakuya insists on keeping the Hundred Stories completely the same through the generations in order to minimize linguistic drift, similar to the real life practice of passing down formal Arabic verbatim.
  • Code Geass: For some unknown reason, everyone speaks the same language (heard in Japanese) regardless of nationality or era. This is almost never discussed in the franchise. May have something to do with alternate history involving supernatural precursors.

    Comic Books 
  • Lampshaded in The Return Of Bruce Wayne #2: a man in Puritan times says to time-shifted Bruce Wayne: "All agree thy speech is stranger even than the Dutchman's here. As if the King's English were not thy native tongue." Which is understandable, since they all speak (an approximation of) 17th century English, while Wayne speaks modern English.
  • A New Mutants story involving time-travel brought them to the middle ages where Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair, aged 14 or 15) was able to converse fluently with Robert the Bruce just by virtue of coming from Scotland while her teammates weren't. There was no indication that Rahne had learned Middle English or indeed Scots Gaelic (should Robert have even spoken the latter; it had already become a minority language by the Bruce's era). Or Modern Lowland Scots, which is actually closer to Middle English than to modern English, but Lowland Scots is a nearly dead language, even less likely to Rahne to know anything about. Especially since she's a Highland Scot.
  • In ''The Machiavellian Trap'', when Mortimer travels to the future, at first he is only able to hold a conversation with a scholar who recognizes his language as "ancient English"... yet a few pages before he'd been casually interacting with people in fifteenth-century France without any language problems.
  • This is averted in Legion of Super-Heroes, where a language known as interlac exists, which has caused problems whenever the legion finds itself in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  • A Golden Age Captain Marvel story found the captain in the year 2943, where people still spoke English but abbreviated everything to one syllable. His 30th century descendant, Bilbat, could transform into Capmarv by saying the abbreviated magic word "Shaz!", but he lacked the powers that would have been provided by Achilles (courage, fighting skills) and Mercury (speed, flight).
  • Partially averted in Crossed +100, where the passage of a hundred years after the Crossed outbreak has dramatically changed English for surviving humans, with the language evolving to a much simpler dialect with fewer words and changed meanings. However, intelligent Crossed of the Salt Clan still speak standard 21st Century English as a deliberate choice. As Fleshcook tells Archivist Julie, "elocution is important...presentation is important."

    Fanfics 

    Films — Animated 
  • WALL•E: Of course, there's a good reason why humans haven't really changed language a lot in a few centuries.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Planet of the Apes (1968): It's 2,000 years in the future, and the apes are still speaking perfect English. Although they don't call it that... Cornelius just says it was the language taught to him by his father and his father before him. Justified by apes' Creative Sterility: the technology hasn't changed either.
  • Lampshaded in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, when the Turtles in Feudal Japan find that everyone they talk to knows English, which had been introduced to Japan only a few years earlier.
  • The film version of Timeline has this, with medieval French and English soldiers speaking the early 21st century version of their languages perfectly so that the English troops have no problems communicating with the modern-day heroes. This was handwaved by Translator Microbes in the book, which made a specific plot point of the fact that the medieval people spoke contemporary dialects of those languages (as well as Occitan and Latin), and having the time travelers struggle to be understood by them (because they naturally lacked the hidden earpiece translators the time travelers wore).
  • In The Time Machine (1960), the Eloi speak perfect English over 800,000 years in the future. Explained with the Morlock leader through the use of Psychic Powers.
  • In The Time Machine (2002), English is NOT the main language. It is a dead language taught to some people akin to Latin. Teachers and well-educated people are the only ones who know it.
  • The English language in Idiocracy has degenerated into a combination of Ebonics, Redneck, Valley Girl and Hispanic gang banger by the 25th century. People have difficulty understanding the protagonist from early on.
  • In Les Visiteurs, Godefroy and Jacquouille have very few difficulties with modern French, despite being from an era where Old French would be the standard. There are a couple of Double Entendre gags related to Have a Gay Old Time, but even for those, the archaic forms are still proper, if seldom-used, modern French. The pronunciation, of course, is pure modern French across the board.
  • The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey has medieval English villagers from 1348 come to modern New Zealand, with no difficulty understanding each other. This is justified when it's shown to have really been a dream.
  • Black Knight (2001): Jamal has little trouble communicating with Medieval Englishmen. At first, he tries using Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe but then quickly switches back to his normal speech when the locals are confused. This points to it simply being a dream, since actual English from the time would be nearly incomprehensible to modern speakers (and vice versa). Also, after ending up in Ancient Grome, the single spoken line is in English instead of Latin.

    Literature 
  • Arthur C. Clarke:
    • In 3001, sound recording technology is said to have stabilized all languages. As a result, they have changed about as much as is appropriate for two or three hundred years, instead of the thousand that have actually elapsed.
      • Although there are also many new words and terms in the language (which is referred to as Anglish), mostly from scientific and technological advancement. The protagonist (from a thousand years earlier) also has some difficulty getting the voice-activated technology to understand his accent.
      • It is implied that there may be bigger differences in the language, but the people interacting with the main protagonist have had the early 21st century English uploaded into their brains for his comfort. They make the occasional unsettling mistake, like saying "KO" instead of "OK".
    • Clarke relied on the same justification in The Songs of Distant Earth.
  • Played straight in Lord Dunsany's short story The Avenger of Perdondaris where in the far future a shepherd's offer of hospitality is 'Everkike' or 'Av er kike,' badly decayed Cockney for 'Have a cake.'
  • In the Commonwealth Saga/Void Trilogy, regeneration allows essentially eternal life - so the centuries old aristocracy maintains the general vernacular.
  • Addressed in Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series. When Conrad goes back in time to 13th-century Poland, he realizes how lucky he is to be there, where the language hasn't drifted very much in 700 years, as opposed to England, where he would be completely incomprehensible. Which is just as much of a bull as you might expect.
    • Frankowski tends to forget that the characters are supposed to be speaking Polish and not English so to a Polish person reading the books in English some of the conversations make no sense since they use English puns or language conventions. Some of them being also anachronistic.
  • According to Dave Barry, grammar came about thanks to Chaucer:
    We did not always have grammar. In medieval England, people said whatever they wanted, without regard to rules, and as a result they sounded like morons. Take the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who couldn't even spell his first name right. He wrote a large poem called "Canterbury Tales," in which people from various professions - knight, monk, miller, reever, riveter, eeler, diver, stevedore, spinnaker, etc. - drone on and on like this:
    In a somer sesun whon softe was the sunne
    I kylled a younge birde ande I ate it on a bunne.
    When Chaucer's poem was published everybody read it and said: "My God we need some grammar around here."
  • Digitesque: Averted. Even the Institute, the most advanced post-Fall organization that has made special effort to keep old language alive, has experienced quite a lot of linguistic drift. Ada is, with a great deal of difficulty, able to piece together English using a subtitled video with a voiceover and pictures.
  • In the first Dinotopia book, the protagonists have trouble communicating with everyone else on the island because they were the first newcomers to land there in some while. They meet a native girl who uses "a language in which I seemed occasionally to hear a familiar word," and when one protagonist tries speaking to her in English, French, and German she seems to catch a few words but is just as mystified. A local polyglot figures out what the protagonists speak in - "Ank- ayyank-leesh. Yank-ank-kee." - and a man is produced who is "fifteen mothers English", aka fifteen generations removed from English ancestors, and knows an archaic form of the language, to translate for them and help them learn the dialect, which is a blend of many.
    • Other works in the setting (except perhaps the 1995 computer game that no one remembers) which feature new arrivals washing ashore play it utterly straight, with said arrivals showing up speaking the same language as the locals.
  • Outside of two demonic exceptions, every character in the The Divine Comedy speaks medieval Italian, the native language of the author and his Author Avatar. Sure, there are a lot of Italians in the Comedy, but there are also conversations with Roman contemporaries of Jesus who wrote poetry in Latin who predated Dante's dialect by a thousand years and most notably, a conversation with Adam about the fact that language changes over time!
  • In the Czech sci-fantasy book Divocí a zlí (Wild and Dangerous), the protagonist (who in the backstory comes from a post-apocalyptic future, and yet understands modern Czech) ends up helping Alfred the Great fight off some Danes and Swedes. And has no problem understanding and communicating with the locals. To put into perspective, Beowulf was written somewhere around that time.
  • Played completely straight in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. Despite taking place 2,500 years after Pern was colonized, rhymes and puns still work in English, the entire planet speaks one homogenous language and ancient documents from the original colonization of the planet are completely readable by the modern characters. Additionally, a trip back in time several hundred years reveals no linguistic difficulties whatsoever. However, it is noted in later books that both the dolphins and AIVAS have trouble understanding/being understood. Also, Robinton is distressed to discover the language has altered at all, saying that it's the job of the Harpers to make sure the language doesn't change. Oddly, he and other characters assume that the dolphin's grasp of the language is closer to the old form even before checking with AIVAS.
  • Used to a ludicrous extent in The Faded Sun trilogy, where the high tongue (formal language) of the Mri is show to have been completely stable between two isolated groups of Mri for approximately a million years.
  • Addressed in David Severn's 'The Future Took Us' in which the protagonists only gradually realise the locals are speaking a futuristic version of English. "Bread" has become "brade" and "man", "mun".
  • In the Great Ship universe, English appears to have died out, but whatever has replaced it seems to be very static, courtesy of pretty much every speaker being effectively immortal. The only language drift would be caused by isolation due to all forms of travel and communication being slower-than-light. One exception is in the novel The Memory of Sky, set on a Lost Colony of mortals. When they discover a hatch on their Hollow World with unknown text, they have to go to their oldest writings to decipher it. Turns out that their entire world is a penal colony and the other bit of undecipherable text they discover is the world's purge button.
  • In the short story "Gun for Hire" by Mack Reynolds, a hitman is brought from the past to a future utopia. He's really not inclined to help, but is told that just running for it will do no good as only students of dead languages can speak American English these days.
  • Played ridiculously straight in Honor Harrington, where everyone speaks Standard English, unless they happen to represent a specific culture/country in real-world Earth. In which case they'll supposedly speak that language and dabble it into their Standard English that they otherwise speak all the time. It's stated that sound recordings have slowed linguistic change to a crawl. Enough that Honor has no problems reading C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and the only problem she has is in dealing with the archaic units of measurement.
    • Explicit mention is made of the use of other languages within other star nations. For example, the Andermani speak German and San Martin spoke Spanish until the Republic of Haven came in. Most language issues are handwaved due to good translation software.
    • In another David Weber book, The Apocalypse Troll, a character from 400 years in the future is stranded on modern Earth. It's stated that the advent of widespread sound recording pretty much stabilized the language, but she still has a tendency to slip into incomprehensible future slang (generally leaving out syllables in confusing places: "Mister" becomes "Ster", for example).
    • In Safehold, it's explicitly mentioned that the spoken language of Safehold has drifted in 800 years and the protagonist has to learn the new pronunciations before venturing out. The written language has apparently remained stable though.
  • L. Sprague de Camp wrote a surprisingly funny, informative, and accurate essay called "Language for Time Travelers", where the Framing Device for the information is the travails of a time traveler having to deal with vowel shifts, abbreviation, and slang in the future. It's worth tracking down, and you may learn something.
  • Played straight in Ken MacLeod's Learning The World. The book takes place 14,000 years in the future, by which time it seems virtually certain that English will have changed drastically, in the unlikely event that anything that could be called English still exists at all. Despite this, an important plot point hinges on the fact that the word "bug" could mean either "insect" or "spying device".
    • Many other languages do use words that mean "small creepy-crawly animal, possibly parasitic" in idioms for concepts like "curse", "nuisance", and "tag-along", so it's entirely possible whatever they speak has a Conveniently Precise Translation.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien was a professor of linguistics and fully aware how unrealistic this trope is, but he used it anyway with the (roughly) 500-year-old Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Actually, the 500 year age might be dealing with a retcon attempt to avert it. The appendices are the ones making Gollum 500. In fact, they specifically mention events which make it possible for him to be 500 - like the Hobbits temporarily returning to Anduin around that time while Sauron was banished, but the book itself seems to imply he's closer to 2000 - and the Silmarillion states explicitly he's a thousand at least (the Ring was stated to be found while Gondor still had kings).
    • It is also explicitly mentioned at some point that the text of the Rings books have been *intentionally* rendered as Modern English, even though the different ages and regions would have had different dialects and (to an extent) vocabulary. Apparently, this is done to make it easier for a modern reader to understand. The Orcs in particular are said to be using a "degraded" dialect that the narration flatly refuses to render accurately.
  • Played straight with Eternal Russian in the Noon Universe novels by the Strugatsky Brothers with the crew of an experimental FTL starship that accidentally traveled to the next century. Nobody ever mentions any linguistic problems. Considering that the story focuses on the awe-inspiring (or just cool) technological advances, which tend to shock even contemporaries, minor linguistic problems are likely to be overshadowed.
    • The same happens in the Time Travel segment of Monday Begins on Saturday where an Antimatter-powered relativistic starship leaves Earth in mid-21st century and returns several thousand years later. Similarly, the girlfriends of some of the astronauts opted to become Human Popsicles and are thawed out around the same time. None of the 21st-century characters have any problems communicating with future humans. Also there are Aliens Speaking English (in another galaxy, no less). This is because the segment is a hilarious mocking of overused futuristic SF tropes. If you squint hard enough, you can even recognize the originals.
  • Return from the Stars mostly plays this straight, though after 127 years there's some Future Slang, and there are scrolling ads (?) displaying confusing words that sound vaguely like corporate trademarks.
  • In Edmond Hamilton' The Star Kings duology, the language of the future is based on English, and can be learned quite fast by a modern man. Quite reasonable — except we are talking about 2000 centuries in the future.
  • Played straight in the Spaceforce universe, where Earth is at the centre of one of the three galactic superpowers and everyone in that Union speaks, or at least knows, a language that's stated to be English. Apart from a few buzzwords, it's identical to the English of today.
  • A particularly bad case in Sword of Truth. The High D'Haran (their Latin) has many dialects from different times, despite being mainly a scholars' language. However, the New World and the Old World have the exact same common language despite being separated for 3,000 years.
  • Beautiful subversion in C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength: The bad guys have gone to great lengths to awaken the sleeping wizard Merlin, long buried in his tomb beneath Glastonbury Hill, and extract from him his knowledge of ancient magics. The project leader interrogates Merlin for hours in impeccable medieval Latin, only to get no response. They then try communicating in Gaelic, Welsh, Old English, and start running through the list of any ancient languages that Merlin might have spoken. Merlin continues to fail to respond, leading them to the conclusion that he's purposely stonewalling them. While they go off to confer as to how to negotiate with him, our protagonist sneaks in and randomly greets Merlin in normal modern English, and, of course, Merlin begins a friendly chat with him. It transpires that the real Merlin actually woke up and fled the scene hours ago, and the man they've got is just a random homeless guy who wandered into the site and thinks everyone around him is insane.
  • Timeline (referenced in the film section above) had a scholar who had studied the period French extensively and was the only one who could really communicate, and even then he had a great deal of difficulty.
  • Present in Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, which is at a remove from the present in a comparable way that we are from Ancient Rome, but characters read Shakespeare and use Yiddish as a Second Language.
    • Barrayar has been isolated from Galactic culture for centuries and reverted to medieval level.note  It's specifically mentioned that only 4 languages survived: English, Russian, French and Greek. All four differ significantly from their galactic versions, yet remain intercomprehensible with them.
    • Cordelia at one point finds a book of poetry written in English but using the Cyrillic alphabet.
    • Possibly the difference is more in pronunciation than anything else. At another point Elli finds it unnerving when Miles switches between guttural Barrayaran accent and "musical" Betan.
  • Played frustratingly straight in The Wheel of Time, where cultures that have been entirely isolated from one another for upwards of a millennium have nothing more than a slight accent to contend with.
    • Word of God was that the language itself didn't change in Randland that time because White Tower had stayed a (mostly) continuous institution and exerted its influence all over. The Seanchan kept the language fairly constant because of the ruling powers tightly controlled education to exert power. It's mentioned a few times in the book that people of Randland find the Seanchan accent to be virtually unintelligible until they're used to it.
  • Discussed and arguably justified in The Accidental Time Machine: people in the fifth millennium speak oddly-accented but recognizable English, which is attributed to the invention of recording and movies making language more stable.
    • A character from 25,000 years in the future even speaks with a recognizable Australian twang, although said character is an AI and could conceivably have downloaded an ancient language database.
  • Played with in H. Beam Piper's future history, where the future "Lingua Terra" is a mix of several languages, "mostly English".
  • Downplayed in Warrior Cats. In human terms, the Clans have only been around for 100 years at oldest. However, to cats, the four Clans have been around for dozens, if not hundreds, of generations. Still, the cats in the origin series speak exactly the same as the cats at the tail end of the series' timeline.
  • Subverted in Have Space Suit – Will Travel. Kip. a modern (well, 1950s) boy, meets a Roman centurion from the later Empire. Kip speaks high school classical Latin, while the soldier, who is stationed in Spain, speaks a rough-and-ready lingo, with lots of what-will-be-Spanish thrown in. Luckily, Kip also speaks Spanish, so they can work out a fairly understandable mix.

     Live Action TV  
  • In Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, there are cultures that lived thousands of years before English was born that speak it flawlessly.
    • SG-1 began with people on other planets speaking different languages, mostly based on old Earth cultures. By the second episode they realized it wouldn't work with only one main character (Jackson) able to speak to the people, so it was changed.
  • In Sanctuary Will mentions this as evidence of why three woman claiming to have awoken from hundreds of years of sleep have to be delusional - they all speak perfect English. As it turns out they simply used their tremendous psychic powers to learn modern English instantly. In the first episodes Helen and John's mode of speech is a clue as to their shared origin. Their English is perfectly comprehensible, but slightly archaic and formalized. They and Tesla have all exhibited some distaste for modern conventions of the language.
    • Good luck picking up on the fact that Tesla is Serbian, given his near-total lack of an appropriate accent even in flashbacks. The only time this is ever mentioned is when the British government requests they stop Adam and do it for their country, prompting Tesla to mention that he's not British.
  • On Babylon 5, the official language of the Earth Alliance is English. A Translation Convention is in effect, but it doesn't explain how the characters can get away with verbatim quotes of Abraham Lincoln (or, in Garibaldi's case, Looney Tunes cartoons).
    • In one episode there is a delusional man claiming to be King Arthur, they figure out that he isn't who he claims to be because he speaks modern English. Seems strange, as earlier Jack the Ripper was portrayed with just a British accent, but between the series being set in the 23rd century (2258-2263), thus with relatively little drift, and King Arthur's first language not being English (as Old English was the language of his main enemies, Arthur's would have been either a variant of 5th/6th century Latin or Common Brittonic), is perfectly justified.
  • In one of the few Primeval episodes involving human incursions, a 14th Century knight strays into modern London and speaks perfectly clear Essex English, as does the local back in his time whom the ARC scout questions. Despite the fact that what passed for English back then was actually closer to modern Dutch. Even the fact that the ARC's knowitalls can understand him when he speaks Latin is questionable: chances are that our pronunciation of Latin has drifted almost as much as the living languages.
  • Word of God says that this was the case in Battlestar Galactica, which was bit of a shock for the fandom who had comfortably assumed Translation Convention to be taking place, considering that the show took place 150,000 years ago.
  • The Czechoslovakian sci-fi series for kids The Visitors (1983) had a group of scientists who travelled from the year 2484 to the year 1984, visiting a small Czech town and trying to retrieve a formula that would save the Earth. The human society was peacefully united and the main language of humanity was apparently Czech. Eternal Czech was not even an issue and communication with local people was more or less fine, save for some cultural stuff. Something as universal as Face Palm is apparently unknown on Earth in this vision of blissful and very much Star-Trek-esque future. Professor Richard thought that fore-head slapping is a form of greeting.
  • There's an extremely ludicrous example, not featuring English, in the Doctor Who story "Four To Doomsday", in which the white Australian character Tegan is able to communicate in an Australian Aborigine language with an Aboriginal character who was supposedly abducted from Earth by aliens 40,000 years before her time. This is implausible not just on grounds of linguistic drift, wherein we have NO attestations or models of any languages spoken 40,000 years ago, but also because there are many different indigenous languages in Australia, most of them mutually unintelligible, and because it would be extremely unlikely for any urban white Australian (Tegan comes from Brisbane) to speak any Aboriginal language fluently unless they had made a special effort to do so for political or cultural reasons. In terms of plausibility, it would be like being able to communicate with Cro Magnon man by virtue of knowing modern Haitian Creole. (Many fans assume that the TARDIS was tactfully translating for her and letting her think that she was speaking the same language.)
  • In Blake's 7, not only does everyone in the future speak English, but they do so with a posh Received Pronunciation accent. Granted, we're not told how far in the future this is, nor their exact history, so it's possible media kept the language and accent mostly the same for centuries.
  • On The 100, the characters who grew up on the Ark speak standard American English, having maintained continuity with present-day civilization, but the Grounders down on Earth, who've been living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland for almost a hundred years, speak a language called Trigedasleng that, while clearly derived from English, is virtually incomprehensible otherwise. The Grounders have preserved English as a trade language, which would reduce linguistic drift.
  • Dark Matter: Some six centuries in the future, English is basically the same. Possibly justified if mass media helped to preserve the continuity of the language.
  • Lucifer (2016): Played with when Lucifer and Cain resurrect Abel, the first murder victim, in order to lift Cain's Mark. They lose track of him, but assume they should be able to find him easily enough, since he only speaks ancient Sumerian. Maze, one of the demons who tortured Abel over the millennia, explains that's not the case. The demons got bored just putting him in the exact same situation over and over, so they started changing it up by putting him into more modern situations. He learned quite a few languages, including English, and proved to be able to think very quick on his feet.
    Lucifer: So what you're saying his Hell made him multi-lingual and completely adaptable?
    Cain: And we put him in the body of a young woman.
    Maze: Smooth move, boys.
  • Generally played straight in Timeless. No matter what time period the Lifeboat crew travels to, they have no problem communicating in English or, in one case, French. Even during the American Revolution and the French and Indian War. Only slang terms and idioms tend to cause confusion and the one time Lucy uses the word "infected" to an 18th century doctor, who hasn't even heard of such a concept.
  • Played straight in Legacies, where those Monsters of the Week who can talk speak modern English, even though some have been stuck in Malivore for centuries. In one case, a 13th century samurai is able to communicate with Josie, who learned modern Japanese.

     Radio 
  • In the BBC Earthsearch series, the protagonists on several occasions cite the fact that they speak the same language as proof to other humans that they're not aliens. This is despite the fact that Time Dilation from faster-than-light travel means they've been away for a million years.

     Tabletop RPG  
  • In Rifts the dominant language in the former United States and Canada is called American, which despite the different name, is indistinguishable from Modern English. Despite the game taking place 300 years after the apocalypse, where uneducated humans live in scattered, mostly isolated communities, there have been no regional language shifts.
    • In the Phase World setting, Galactic Trade Tongue Four is in fact the descendant of the English Language, where an English Speaker has roughly a 50% chance to understand Trade Four. Mind you, so much time has passed in the Three Galaxies universe that everyone has forgotten where Earth was.
  • In BattleTech, despite being 1000 years in the future, everyone speaks modern, late 20th Century English. Even the Clans, which spent 300 years in isolation from the Inner Sphere, had only added a few new words (and eliminated contractions).

     Theatre 

     Video Games 
  • Played straight in Chrono Trigger and its sequel, Chrono Cross.
    • Strangely, in Chrono Trigger's Prehistory era, humans speak broken English, using bursts of short words and phrases rather than grammatically correct sentences. On the other hand, their evolutionary rivals, the dinosaur-esque Reptites, speak perfect English. Humans are also implied to have a second language, as Ayla claims that "Lavos" literally translates from her language as "Fire Big".
  • Played straight in Skies of Arcadia. All six cultures of the world (all of them centered under its six magical, oddly-colored moons) are vastly different and some are quite physically isolated from the rest, and yet it seems that they all speak English/Japanese.
    • There are variations on how certain people in certain lands speak (for example, the primitive Ixa'Takan tribesmen speak in simple English, while in the Japanese version, the text boxes display katakana and hiragana only), but it still plays straight.
  • Halo: 500 years in the future, humans still speak 21st-century English, complete with present-day regional accents, e.g. Californian/Valley Girl ("It's totally hiding from us!"); Australian; and Mexican-American. It's indicated that other languages have also largely stayed the same, e.g. the Hungarian spoken in Halo: Reach is basically identical to the modern form.
  • Freelancer: Despite taking place in the year 3100, those who live in Liberty still speak American English, and those who live in Bretonia still speak British English.
    • Since we never hear anyone speaking any other language, it is not clear if they are also Eternal German (Rheinland), Eternal Japanese (Kusari), and Eternal Spanish (Corsairs and Outcasts).
      • The only mention of Japanese is in Trent's diary entry made after Ozu's Heroic Sacrifice when he writes "sayonara".
  • In Dead Space 3 despite 200 years having passed the audio logs in the abandoned ships and facilities are all spoken in the exact same dialect as everyone in the main cast uses.
  • In Warriors Orochi, everyone just inexplicably speaks modern English/Japanese.
  • The three-hundred-year Time Skip in Jak II: Renegade has absolutely no effect on the language.
  • In the present (or near present) era of The Journeyman Project, which takes place 300 years in the future, everyone has (21st-century era) American accents, even in Australia.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, in the Cavern of the Incarnate, the player will encounter the ghosts of the "failed incarnates," who thought that they were the Nerevarine but were killed before they could fulfill the prophecy. They are each Dunmer from different time periods, yet the player is able to communicate with them all without issue.
    • In Skyrim:
      • At one point in the main quest you either have a vision of the past or travel back in time a couple thousand years. When you do this, you find that people speak the same sort of English they do in your time, though this may be a function of the vision/time travel, rather than a true case. It's fairly vague on this point.
      • From the Dawnguard expansion, there is Serana, who has been kept in stasis for so long that she is unaware of the existence of the Cyrodiilic Empire, yet not only speaks Tamrielic, but speaks it in a very modern, nonchalant dialect, and has no trouble socializing.
  • In Asura's Wrath, a game with a story not constrained by reason or logic in all other aspects, Asura can no longer understand the language of humanity after 12,000 years in limbo, although he can still understand his fellow gods just fine.
  • Played with in the X-Universe series, where the Common Tongue of the three human factions is a variant of Japanese - the word organization and writing is backwards (Nikkonofune, for example, would directly translate into "Sunlight of ship")
    • It averts this trope by mentioning that the name Argon is the result of eight centuries' worth of language drift from "R. Gunne."note  Similarly the name of the Goner fringe sect is vowel-drifted from "Gunner", also a derivation of Gunne.
    • At the same time, it's played straight by the fact that the Terrans, Argons, and Aldrinites can easily understand each other despite each having been separated from the other for nearly 800 years.
  • This is frequent in the Sonic the Hedgehog game series.
    • In Sonic Adventure, the playable characters are sent to a vision of the past, roughly 3000 years ago. Despite this, the Echidna tribe speaks the same language as the present cast.
    • Repeated again in Sonic Chronicles, where the Nocturnus Clan speak the same language as the cast. The Nocturnus Clan are Echidna who were trapped in an alternate dimension 3000 years ago. The other alien races from the Twilight Cage, however, have their own quirk.
    • While not as explored, Silver speaks the same language as the cast. Silver is from 200 years in the future. His future isn't explored compared with the Echidna civilizations.
    • In the Sonic Boom sub-franchise, the Ancients speak the same language as the present cast. Lyric has been trapped for thousands of years.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time not only has the Ice Age raccoon capable of speaking modern English (well, in subtitles; in spoken words, he's The Unintelligible), but even characters from around the globe, such as Rioichi and Salim Al-Kupar, who should really be speaking Ancient Japanese or Arabic or Sanskrit or something, speak with little more than Just a Stupid Accent. Sir Galeth from Medieval England uses Ye Olde Butchered English.
  • In Timelapse, you travel to Ancient Egypt, a Mayan city, an Anasazi cliff dwelling, and Atlantis, where each civilization left video recordings of their history, each one spoken in English. Professor Alexander Nichols lampshades this in his journal, speculating that Atlantean technology behind said recordings could be translating them as speech he and the player understand.
  • Zigzagged in the Fallout series. Thanks to the presence of ghouls who were alive before the Great War, the Brotherhood of Steel and civilized territories ranging from towns to the New California Republic, the English used in the 2200s wasteland would be recognizable to a 2077 American. On the other hand, tribals like the ones in Zion National Park and those a certain Edward Sallow moulded into Caesar's Legion have developed various, unintelligible dialects based on English and whatever other languages said tribals' forefathers spoke.
  • The Legend of Zelda: In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Hero's Shade (aka the Hero Of Time himself) speaks in a modern dialect, though somewhat formally, but that could be explained as him knowing it to converse with Link more easily.
  • Mass Effect is set almost 200 years into the future, and yet the only apparent changes to spoken English are a few technical terms and some slang. This looks to be carried on in Mass Effect: Andromeda, even though that game will be set several centuries after the events of the first trilogy. This is quite justified in Andromeda, as the people travelling to the titular galaxy have spent the centuries between the games in stasis during their long voyage.
  • We don't know exactly how long the Pale Bride in Analogue: A Hate Story spent in stasis, but it appears to have been at least a millennium. When she awakens, Korean appears to be exactly the same, and so much to her new family's annoyance, she has no trouble speaking her mind. Writing is another matter - since people have for some reason reverted to hanja, the Pale Bride is thought to be illiterate; in fact, she can read and write in hangul just fine, but she only knows a few Chinese characters.
  • Zig-zagged in Civilization VI. Modern leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and John Curtain speak with contemporary accents and dialects. Elizabeth speaks the Queen's English, anachronistic but expected. Averted with Robert the Bruce, who speaks with period-appropriate language and a thick Scottish accent that makes some of his speech decipherable, and other parts thoroughly opaque to the modern ear.
  • In Ikemen Sengoku, despite the 500 years between them, the only language issues that come up are when the main character or Sasuke use modern reference or when the main character struggles with reading books written in the ancient script.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: Every tribe speaks perfect English despite it being a thousand years in the future, with minor dialect drift but no noticeable accent drift. As it turns out, this version of humanity has only existed for about five hundred years, reborn from bunkers after the Earth was wiped clean of life. They were all taught English by the same robotic personalities and are staunchly traditional, which would reduce linguistic drift.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: Exaggerated by a Precursor who was sealed in a tomb before the playable characters' species even existed. She starts to speak in the Eternal tongue upon her release, then effortlessly switches to the Common Tongue when she sees her audience.

    Webcomics 

     Western Animation 
  • You would suppose someone who died 1600 years ago would not be speaking modern English in Danny Phantom.
  • Futurama:
    • Played straight. In the year 3000, there are only a few notable language changes. "Ask" is now always pronounced "aks" (except when the writers forget it), and not just by rappers, and "X-mas" is actually pronounced as "ecksmass". Also, people still speak modern English in the year 50 million.
    • Meanwhile, French is an incomprehensible dead language.
  • In the 10th century, the main language of Scotland was Scots Gaelic. Despite this, the main characters of Gargoyles have no trouble communicating when they come to 20th century America. Later, Xanatos, Fox, and Xanatos' father have no trouble when they end up going back in time.
  • In Megas XLR, humans in the year 3037 speak modern English.
  • Parodied in a time traveling episode of Pinky and the Brain, where Brain, in his Mobile-Suit Human, stumbles through all his conversations trying to remember which is "Thou, Though, Thee, Ye, They, Thine, etc" until at one point he grabs a guy and just yells at him until he understands.
  • The illegal immigrants from the future that come to present day South Park speak an unrecognizable language. And insist on bilingual education.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Zig-Zagged between Princess Luna and the Crystal Ponies. Both are products of pony life 1000 years ago, and Princess Luna is still shown speaking Flowery Elizabethan English in her appearance in "Luna Eclipsed". Part of her Character Development involves learning to speak in a more modern manner. The Crystal Ponies, however, speak modern English with no trouble.
    • In some season 7 episodes, Twilight states to be fluent in Old Ponish, averting this trope. However, in the finale, the author of one such book, brought to modern days from a thousand years ago, speaks the same English (or whatever language you are watching the show) as the main characters and understands everybody just fine.
  • This was actually lampshaded in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even thought the Trope was, indeed, used. Usagi Yojimbo comes from an Alternate Universe, from a world with a culture that mirrors Feudal Japan, "So naturally, he speaks English," says Raphael.
  • In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Serpentor, right from the minute he drew first breath, spoke perfect English, even though none of the known historic figures who donated his DNA did so. (Of course, they used a lot of Artistic License regarding history for his origin, even by the standards of that show.)
  • Used in Samurai Jack, though most likely with Japanese instead of English. From the moment Jack lands in the distant future, he understands the locals perfectly and vice versa, though slang terms and "high five" confuse him. Jack was shown to have trained in many places around the world growing up before he first faced Aku, so presumably he's multilingual. In the episode where he has amnesia and doesn't even have combat-related muscle memory, Jack can still understand what fish-people are saying, though the Scotsman, a native to the time, has no idea. Perhaps going through the time portal also made him an Omniglot.
  • Aside from the odd bit of Future Slang, characters in Adventure Time speak the same version of English as their ancestors did before the Great Mushroom War, 1000 years ago. When Finn and Jake travel to an Alternate Universe where the War was averted and to the distant island chain were most humans fled to shortly after the War in their universe, they all speak the same language.
  • In Steven Universe, all Gem characters have had English-language gemstone names and have spoken English for ten millennia or longer.
  • Zigzagged in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "SB-129". SpongeTron claims that the alphabet has 486 letters in the future, but he still speaks contemporary English.

    Other 
  • A subdivision of creationists is Babelists, who believe in Eternal English.

     Real Life 
  • Language change is a constant, which causes problems in real life — the written form of the language tends to freeze at a certain point in development, while the spoken language keeps changing. This causes definite problems in literacy, even when merely limited to works of literature and legal documents. Eventually the literary and vernacular languages become totally different (called diglossia by linguists, Greek for "two tongues"), and later still the spoken language becomes the new written standard in place of the old one. This is what happened to Latin (replaced by Romance languages), Classical Chinese (replaced by Standard Mandarin) and Classical Greek (replaced by Modern Greek), among others.
  • This is still the case with the Tamil language of South India. The written standard is still mostly the same as it was in around the 14th century, while the spoken form kept on changing, resulting in a written form that contains extra vowels and diacritics that no one actually pronounces. This is further complicated by the fact that different social classes speak drastically different dialects that use different words derived from completely different roots to represent the same concept.
  • Written Arabic is closely based on Classical Arabic, spoken at the time of the Qur'an. Colloquial Arabic differs greatly from it and there are several spoken dialects which are closer or further apart from each other.
  • Tibetan's standard orthography hasn't changed since the 1100s, and is essentially the same in all the Buddhist Tibetan-speaking regions. The language went from having complex consonant clusters and no tones, to having much simpler consonants and many dialects having developed tones to make up for lost consonants. To give an example, the Dalai Lama's surname 'Gyatso' (generally pronounced chatso) is spelled rgyam-tsho natively.
  • The written Burmese language has changed very little compared to the spoken form. They are pronounced quite differently.
  • Written English has changed very little since the 18th century, while the spoken language would sound almost alien to someone from the 1700s. This is why English spelling is so different from its pronunciation—why does the word "why" have an h in it? Because in the olden days, it was pronounced "hwy". Likewise, the k in words like "knight" and "knife" used to be pronounced (and they still are in their Scandinavian equivalents). Not likewise, but on the same note, we have words like "due", "dew" and "do" which are pronounced the same because in the olden days, they weren't homonyms. Combine this with etymological spellings and the like, and you basically get modern written English.
  • English gets a bad rap, but people tend to not mention that French is also very different from its written form. To an Anglophone learner, it may seem as if half of every word is silent because they represent sounds which are no longer pronounced but included for etymological reasons. In 1990 the French Academy instituted spelling changes for this reason, such as getting rid of the circumflex over vowels in many instances, changing the spelling of some words, and eliminating the hyphen in the middle of many compound words (mille-pattes, or millipedes, becoming millepattes).
  • Traditional Chinese gained its form during the Qin Dynasty, then cemented during the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago, and remained relatively consistent. In relation to other languages, Chinese writings from 2,000 years ago are comparatively recognizable and comprehensible.
  • Chinese characters encode concepts and not sound, so when Chinese characters get adapted for writing other languages like Korean and Japanese, written texts can be partially readable across language boundaries because of shared meaning of glyphs. You can potentially learn to read Chinese without knowing how to say a thing. This is only possible since there was no unified Chinese 'tongue' until recently, thus a writing system based on sound would have been utterly inconvenient. In addition, Chinese grammar tends to be far simpler than the aforementioned languages, thus it was less complicated to adapt.
  • The Ugro-Finnic languages of Northern Europe, like Finnish and Estonian, have been separated for millennia, but still have a large amount of remarkably similar words. Finnish in particular is famous in linguistics for being a slow-mutating language, with quite a few ancient loanwords mostly "frozen" in place from the time they were originally loaned. An example of this is kuningas meaning "king", which was loaned about 3,000 years ago from Proto-Germanic kuningaz, of which the English word "king" is a far more mutated genetic descendant.
  • Modern Icelandic speakers often have less trouble understanding thousand-year-old Old Norse than modern Danish speakers have understanding modern Swedish speakers. It's said that Leifr Eiríksson, the first European to discover the New World, would be able to be understood in 21st-century Iceland.
  • Sanskrit is a notoriously slow-mutating language in the Indo-European family. Sanskrit is so old that hymns composed before the time of King Tut can still be chanted with with near-perfect accuracy. An Indian priest from the time of Christ would be able to speak much the same Sanskrit and chant the same prayers as a modern Hindu priest.
  • The Lithuanian language is also relatively unchanged. For knowing how the ancient speakers of the Indo-European languages talked, you need to listen to a Lithuanian villager talking (the Lithuanian language, separated by thousands of miles from Sanskrit, retains nearly identical words for many things, unchanged for millennia.)
  • Even though it did lose its incredibly complex and powerful tense system and is still leaking cases, Russian is a remarkably slow-changing language. A 12th-century epic poem "The Tale of Igor's Campaign" is still understandable to the modern speaker, for example. Even the 9-10th century texts (like the Novgorodian birchbark letters) can be figured out by the readers uneducated in the language. Old Russian also gave birth to Ukrainian and Belarusian languages which are in some aspects (especially grammar) closer to Old Russian than modern Russian is (which was based on local version of liturgical (so called Church Slavonic) language rather than on vernacular Old Russian).
  • Irish and Scottish Gaelic are two Goidelic languages that diverged from one another 1600 years ago. Yet despite this, and despite both going through many many changes in that time, they are still mutually intelligible, and indeed share an estimated 70% of their vocabulary.
  • Hebrew is an example in that, while there are definitely obvious differences between Biblical and Modern Hebrew, one can nevertheless understand a lot of Biblical passages on the strength of a Modern Hebrew education alone. For instance, students in Israel going on a field trip to see the Dead Sea Scrolls can simply read them unaided.
  • The changing nature of languages has raised some issues on how to mark toxic waste dumps so that future civilizations who would not understand modern languages are not endangered by this. The proposed solutions range from plausible, like putting up obelisks with pictorial warnings on them, to breeding cats that glow when in range of radiation and hoping people associate it with danger, to launching an artificial moon over the site. Of course, the real problem is that putting any sort of sign, even one depicting clear danger or death, will likely be interpreted as "Hey, there's something interesting here!" and start digging. It's like how archaeologists pay little attention to the supposed "Curse of the Pharaohs" when opening Egyptian tombs.
  • Zigzagged by Latin. It's a language that, despite being outmoded and dead, is still used for some purposes, but has undergone dozens of revisions. Despite that, vanilla Latin is still in use as a form of lingua franca in some circles (such as science) but is also being edited today due to a sparsity of words. Latin is included among the European Union's 'Official Languages' in which all documents are to be published. Which requires tricky transliteration when writing about concepts Latin had no words for, such as modern economic policies, industrial or environmental regulations, and farming subsidies. The Vatican has a whole department devoted to coming up with neo-Latin words for modern concepts.
  • Romance languages remain extremely similar to each other (and some are in fact mutually intelligible) in spite of starting to diverge about 1,500 years ago. Justified by the deep interactions between the peoples speaking them, getting speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, French and the other languages to influence each other's vocabulary and grammar.
  • The Italian language experienced surprisingly little drift from its first written examples in the late 13th century, as a direct consequence of having been born as a literary language based on Firenze's dialect and remaining mostly fixed until it started being spoken by the people in the 19th century, finally starting the drift.

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