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Language Drift

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Left: Old English, c. 500-1000 CE.
Right: Modern English.
In Real Life, any living language inevitably changes, sometimes startlingly rapidly. In fiction it's employed to suggest cultural change, or a character's status as a Fish out of Temporal Water. It might appear in Time Travel stories.

Compare Future Slang. Contrast Eternal English.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Mentioned. When Zeke Yeager as the Beast Titan attempts to communicate with Mike and Zeke, he briefly wonders if they are still speaking the same language when he gets no answer from Mike (turns out he was too terrified to reply).
    • It's played straight with historical texts from the time of the beginning of the Eldian Empire (over a thousand years before the present). A lot of the confusion about what happened came from how no one can decipher the texts, having only the pictures to go on.

    Comic Books 
  • The Ram V run of Detective Comics introduces a mysterious family named Orgham, who have a centuries-old connection to Gotham City that they are finally collecting on. It's eventually revealed that the branch that settled in Gotham became known as Arkham. The 18th century flashback in the 2022 Annual features several other characters with somewhat similar names (and personalities) to prominant Gothamites of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it's not clear if they're actually ancestors, or just fit the same roles in the pattern created by the Orgham "reality engine". The town itself was apparently known as "Gathome" at that time.
  • In Legion of Super-Heroes (Vol. 5) #23, Supergirl travels to Kandor -a surviving Kryptonian city- and meets 31st century Kandorians. Although they talk Kryptonese, their language has become barely intelligible to her. At the same time, her speech is an archaic, thousand-year-old dialect from their perspective, so they do not even understand a simple request for some water.
    Supergirl: Are all the wires necessary? They're making me uncomfortable. And could I have some water?
    Scientist 1: What's she going on about?
    Scientist 2: Weird, isn't it? It's Kryptonese, but it's an ancient dialect! Something about liquid wires...?
    Supergirl: Water? In a cup?
    Scientist 1: Oh. For thirst.
  • Star Trek: Debt of Honor has Gillian Taylor, who had time-traveled from the mid-1980s to the 2280s with Kirk et al. in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, mention she had to partially re-learn English because the language has changed so much since her home time period (there's no sign of this in the film, where Kirk and the rest speak to 20th century people in San Francisco with no problem - her included).
  • In Wonder Woman (Rebirth), Paula von Gunther is descended from Gundra, an Amazon-hating Viking woman. Apparently, the family name started out as "von Gundra".

    Fan Works 
  • In The Silmarillion fanfic A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script, Noldor Elves note Sindar speech has evolved into a completely different language after several millennia.
    Luthien: [to Finarfin] My mother didn't speak Quenya. Not until your family taught us.
    Steward: [wry aside] The which surprised no few of us; countless assumptions in those days were shattered no sooner than revealed.
    Finrod: I told 'Tari it didn't exist when our ancestors began the great journey.
    Luthien: Yes, but I don't think it had fully impressed itself upon her.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel fic Bring Me to Life, Angel, triggered by a spell cast by Lilah, draws all over the Hyperion's lobby, revealing a massive diagram of dimensions and constellations centered around the Earth, along with glyphs written in a language Giles and Wesley can't recognize. Whistler explains that said language is called the Language of the Eternals, the original language used by the Powers That Be themselves from which Enochian and all other languages evolved; while it's lost to record books and the minds of man, as the messenger for the Powers, he has it hardwired into his brain.
  • Clair de Lune: Due to being a Fish out of Temporal Water, Lune isn't used to "you" (instead of "thou") being used casually. It feels impersonal when others, including her sister Celestia, use it towards her.
  • A Game of Cat and Cat:
    • As noted in Chapter 8, language does change over time:
    Because obviously, real knights from the 11th century didn't speak English as anyone without a degree in history or linguistics would recognize, and weren't knights basically cowboys? And the one-size-fits-all RP accent was just as unrealistic as any other dialect that English could spit out, especially since this knight was French, and everyone knew how much the English and French hated each other.
    • Side story Drift demonstrates how Dracula becomes increasingly harder to understand throughout the centuries. Richter Belmont can barely understand half of what he says, and by the time Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin confront him, he is completely incomprehensible and requires Death to translate for him.
  • Naming explores how Hylian has changed a lot throughout the centuries. Zelda has awaken after a millenia and can't understand most people. Even her distant niece, the current Zelda, can't communicate casually, because she learned Ancient Hylian through formal texts.
  • Story Shuffle: In "Matters of Interest". It causes an accidental perception of formality:
    Luna raised a hoof "Peace, sister. Thou wert ne'er the only pony at fault, and at the end, all blame lay with that which I became." She hung her head. "I do not blame thee for not forgiving me in full."
    Celestia flinched and took a step back. "What! How could you think that?"
    "If thou didst truly forgive me, why dost thou still speak to me so formally?"
    The two just looked at one another for a time. Celestia then facehoofed. "Because I am even more of an idiot than I realized."
    "A thousand years is a long time for a language, Luna. 'Thou,' 'thee,' and 'thine' have fallen out of use."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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 Stargate, the crew sent through the Stargate is stumped by the language of the locals. Our hero, an Egyptologist, says that it sounds like Egyptian but is otherwise gibberish. But when one of the local transplanted humans shows him hieroglyphic inscriptions that he understands, he realizes that they are in fact speaking Egyptian, just using a vowel shift so pronounced that he couldn't recognize the words. Working together, he figures out the new pronunciations and becomes fluent overnight.

  • 1632: The influence of the 20th century Americans on 17th century Germany has led to the creation of a creole known as "Amideutsch". The language is mentioned to lift most of its vocabulary from Hochdeutsch, but uses the grammatical rules of modern English. For example the character "Strong Hans" is "Stark Hans" in Amideutsch and "Starker Hans" in Hochdeutsch.
  • 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 the far-future storyline of Cloud Atlas, English has devolved into a near-incomprehensible mess that seems vaguely Creole-inspired. And the entire section is written in it.
  • Courtship Rite: It becomes a major plot point 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.
  • Crest of the Stars:
    • 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 adaptation 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. For example, the Abh capital was originally named "Takamagahara" but in modern times is spelled "Lacmhacarh" and pronounced roughly "lak-fak-all". The author did his homework on this one, and has detailed the drift Baronh went through since it was first invented in-universe.
  • In the Deverry books, the Gaulish-descended Deverrians remember the ancient heroes Gwercyngetoryc and Gwindyc, who are the historic Gaulish king Vercingetorix and Gallo-Roman governor Vindex. Other Deverrian words featured in the books are similarly derived from the Gaulish language. The hereditary noble rank of Gwerbret, for example, comes from the Gaulish word "vergobret", which means an elected magistrate, showing how both pronunciation and culture have changed since the Dawntime.
  • Discworld:
    • Suggested in Interesting Times when the subject of Mad Lord Snapcase is brought up, the man having been hung up "by his figgin". A figgin is a small pastry, so a footnote suggests that either there's some very bizarre linguistic drift going on, or there really is some horrifying element to hanging a man alongside a teacake.note 
    • In Pyramids, only the most ancient mummies understand the heiroglyphs on the First Pyramid, and only the slightly less ancient mummies understand them, and so forth, resulting in a chain of translations to get it into modern Djelibeybian.
  • In The Divine Comedy's strange addition to the Genesis story, Adam claims that the original language was extinct by the time Nimrod brought the Curse of Babel upon humanity.
  • Played straight in Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, where as part of Kivrin's preparations for traveling to the 14th century she is required to learn Middle English, plus also Church Latin, Norman French and Old German. In addition she has a translator installed which is supposed to automatically translate the words she hears plus her own speech when she talks. Things go awry almost immediately - the Middle English she learnt is totally off on pronunciation which the contemps cannot understand and it takes several days for the translator to build up enough vocabulary to start translating for her (she at least does manage to use some Latin with Father Roche). It's not helped that in the time period there are separate dialects of Middle English in use - the upper classes have a French-syle inflection in their speech whereas the peasantry (such as Maisry) still have a Saxon-influenced dialect.
  • Ender's Game:
    • The latter books in the 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 descendant 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 descendant 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 (with words borrowed from a variety of languages, reflecting Battle School's multinational background) but is advised by an older kid to try to fit in.
    • At the end of the first book, when Ender is speaking to Peter (thanks to relativity, Peter's an old man while Ender is still a teen), Ender calls out Peter on deliberately using Battle School slang in their conversation. Peter replies he's doing no such thing: the Battle School slang that Ender knew has been incorporated into the standard Common language over the years.
  • 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.
  • Foundation and Earth: As a historian, Pelorat is familiar with the effects of time on language, and he discusses language speciation with Trevize. Their initial arrival on Solaria is complicated by the fact that the house robots only speak the Solarian dialect, which Pelorat can only barely fake as it is a static instance of language from Robots and Empire. However, Bander and the Guardian robots have watched hyperwave communications and have learned modern Galactic Standard.
  • Gregory Benford's Foundation's Fear: Early in the book, two quotes about Rome are misquoted due to the intervening millennia since humanity left Earth; "Fiddling while Roma burns" and "All worms lead to Roma". They're distortions of "Fiddle While Rome Burns" and "All roads lead to Rome".
  • 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.
  • The General Series uses this for comedic effect. Several words in the languages spoken in the setting (Sponglish and Namerique) are immediately recognizable to those who speak their parent languages (Spanish and English). For example, the Sponglish word for officer is brazaz (from the English "brass-ass") and their name for a particularly foul form of invertebrate bottom-feeding fish is avocato (from the Spanish "abogado", meaning "lawyer").
  • Halo:
    • 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.
  • In Heart Of The Comet, by David Brin and Gregory Benford, a 300-strong crew of scientists and miners who have hitched a ride on Halley's Comet find their communications with Earth becoming increasingly difficult as their 75-year long mission progresses. Only a small percentage of the comet crew are ever awakened from cryogenic slumber and active at the same time, and their language drift is kept to a minimum as a result. The Earthlings who serve as the ground crew for the mission have to receive special training in the dialect, slang, and technical language their space-faring colleagues use, which grows increasingly "outdated" from their point of view.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: In the "Mage Storms" trilogy, 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.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy does this twice with names.
    • Lounquawl and Phouchg, who receive the Ultimate Answer from Deep Thought, are presumably the descendents of Lunkwal and Fook, who set the task seven and a half million years earlier.
    • Judicary Pag, aka Zipo Bibrok 5*10^8, in Life, the Universe and Everything may be intended as a descendent/ancestor (the Beeblebroxes have a weird thing going on there) of Zaphod Beeblebrox.
  • 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.
  • Lumbanico The Cubic Planet: Subverted. Many hundred years ago, all Lumbanicians spoke a language called Lumio. The language itself changed but it did not splint into different idioms; and its successor language is also spoken by all Lumbanicians, even though the people who populate the mountains' isolated vales have lived without contact with the outside world for seven centuries.
  • Deliberately invoked in Dolton Edwards' 1946 short story Meihem in ce Klasrum. At first glance, the last few sentences are unintelligible gibberish. However, if you read the story carefully, they become completely clear.
  • Outlander: When discussing how he knows Claire is not a spy, Jamie points out that she doesn't speak French well enough to be an actual French woman. He does, however, comment that her spoken English is a bit odd as well, despite seeming to be her primary language. This is owed to Claire learning English in the 20th century rather than in the 18th century.
  • 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.
  • Pebble in the Sky: The protagonist, Joseph Schwartz, inadvertently steps into the future, where his 20th century English is so different (he says Chicago, they say Chica) that it is unintelligible to all except a few historical linguists. Bel Arvardan recognizes Schwartz's English due to his specialty as a prehistory archeologist.
  • 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.
  • Riddley Walker: A major theme. 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.
  • In John Michael Greer's novel Star's Reach, although the language of 25th-century Meriga is mostly comprehensible, some changes have occurred, such as "general" and "colonel" becoming "jennel" and "cunnel", "llama" becoming "lom", "apprentice" becoming "prentice", and "master" becoming "mister". "Government" is also in the process of becoming "gummint", though some, like Plummer, still pronounce it the old way. This also applies to place names, with Tennessee becoming "Tenisi" and Detroit becoming "Troy". This is not universal; some higher-class characters, such as Jennel Cobey, still write like a modern person would.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series novel "Ex Machina" the Enterprise crew finds that even though the Fabrini tried to plan ahead, the language of those on the Yonada still experienced some drift during their 10,000 year journey.
    • In Rihannsu: The Empty Chair, Uhura comments that she doubts the ships the Romulan central government sent to quell the rebellion on Artaleirh will understand "one word in ten" of the local dialect, even though the rebels are broadcasting in the clear. That's how much the local dialect has diverged from that spoken in the Romulan capital system.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Time for the Stars, the crew of the Lewis and Clark find that the language has drifted somewhat as a result of their time dilation. The protagonist asks for directions and is told "Outdowngo rightwards. Ask from allone."
  • 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.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • 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.
    • The Fall of Gondolin: When Tuor meets the people of the hidden city for the first time, he notes they also speak Sindarin, but it sounds really strange. He correctly guesses their language has changed during their four-century-long self-isolation.
      And even as the echoes died in the stone, Tuor heard out of the darkness a voice speak in the Elven-tongues: first in the High Speech of the Noldor, which he knew not; and then in the tongue of Beleriand, though in a manner somewhat strange to his ears, as of a people long sundered from their kin.
    • The Fall Of Numenor: In the 600th year of the Second Age, a host of Númenoreans arrive in Mithlond and meet with a delegation of Men of Eriador. Both groups have difficulties communicating with each other since the Western Men had not had contact with their kin for about eight centuries and their languages had changed a great deal since then. Fortunately "they found that they shared very many words still clearly recognisable, and others that could be understood with attention, and they were able to converse haltingly about simple matters."
    • 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.)
  • In Poul Anderson's story "A Tragedy of Errors", a merchant explorer who finds a long-isolated colony world announces himself as "a friend" who has come to "do business". The locals then shoot him down. He discovers that, after an attack by pirates who initially introduced themselves with the same phrasing before revealing their real intentions, those words came to mean "an enemy planning a sneak attack". When things are finally patched up and he heads home, he promises future visits, not by "friends here to do business" but by "comerados to 'change (exchange)".
  • In We Are Legion (We Are Bob), after awakening 117 years in the future, Bob learns that English (or, at least, American English) has changed significantly to the point where he has trouble understanding the locals. He starts using a translator program. It's implied that this was deliberately done by the theocrats of the FAITH to prevent the people from being able to easily read old writing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The 100, the language of the Grounders sounds foreign at first. But a careful listener will notice that many of the words are either English or close to it, like an extreme case of Future Slang.
  • Alien Nation: In the episode "Generation to Generation", an Tenctonese artifact called The Heart of Tencton is discovered near the crash site of the slave ship Gruza. It is sold at auction despite the vehement protests of a Tenctonese elder named Moodri. The human purchaser, who had no training into how to open the box without setting off its security systems opens the box and is promptly fried to a crisp. The artifact also burns Tenctonese writings into his desk. Investigating the purchaser's death, Detective Francisco identifies the writings as being in an archaic form of Tenctonese, but is still able to decipher the meaning of the writings, which is basically summed up as there's only one correct way for someone to open the box without getting killed by the artifact in the process.
  • Doctor Who: In "State of Decay", the Doctor explains how linguistic drift caused the names of the primary officers of the Hydrax— Captain Miles Sharkey, Navigational Officer Lauren MacMillan and Science Officer Anthony O'Connor—to gradually change into the names of The Three Who Rule—Zargo, Camilla and Aukon—in the centuries since the three of them were turned into vampires.
  • A more meta case with Emerald City. Inha, the language for the Mage Species, was made by David J. Peterson as a singular dialect. Then he, along with Ana Ularu, who played Mistress West in the show, came up with the idea of having it become four dialects, each one representing the four classical elements, and the language became what is was during the show's run.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • The episode "Contagion" established that the ancient Iconian language was the parent language of an entire language family. While Iconian itself was a long dead language, Data was able to gain a basic understanding of the written language by comparing the writing on the control console of an Iconian gateway to some of the child languages.
      • Soon after leaving Vulcan, the language of the eventual Romulans starts to diverge from Vulcan. In "Gambit" Picard is able to identify ancient artifacts as being Vulcan rather than Romulan as the writings on the artifacts Baran's crew stole are much more consistent with Vulcan rather than early Romulan.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: In "Minefield" the Romulan language has diverged to the point that its completely incomprehensible to most Vulcans by the mid 22nd century.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Reckoning" Captain Sisko brings a recently discovered 30,000 year old Bajoran tablet back to the station for analysis. He and Jadzia Dax find that the station computers are having difficulties translating the inscriptions on the tablet due to all the changes that took place in the Bajoran language over the 30,000 years since the tablet was created.

    Video Games 
  • After the End: A Post-Apocalyptic America 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.
  • Age of Empires IV implements this in the form that every unit has different voice lines for each Age. For example, the English civilization has its units speaking Old English in the Dark Age, and eventually they speak Early Modern English by the time it reaches Imperial Age.
  • 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.
  • EXA_PICO: The various conlangs in the series are all implied to be related to each other across many millennia: with Ar Ciela being the original language, Carmena Foreluna being a simplified version of it, and Hymmnos and its dialects being descended from that. Some commonality can be seen between the languages, showing the relation. For example, the word "hymmnos", meaning "song", appears back in Ar Ciela passages virtually unchanged.
  • Fallout: The Tribals' languages, as implied in Fallout 2 and shown in Fallout: New Vegas's Honest Hearts expansion, 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 New California Republic and Brotherhood of Steel, all of whom speak more or less the same English as Pre-War America.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the Hylian language has changed enough since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that those who speak ancient Hylian such as Valoo and Jabun are not only significantly different from modern Hylian speakers like Link but utterly incomprehensible. The few modern characters who do speak the ancient version of the language, such as Valoo's attendants, speak it in a form so broken they can manage only partial translations making ancient Hylian very near to extinction.
  • 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 around the year 3465.
  • In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is perfectly able to understand and (at least implied) speak Quechua and Mayan. However, she struggles a lot with reading ancient texts of the same language, and needs plenty of practice before she can make things out.
  • Downplayed Trope in Stellaris, where First Contact with a Lost Colony is significantly easier than with a fully foreign empire... But a formal First Contact mission is still required before understanding develops.
  • A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: The names of some places are distorted versions of their original names after millennia. Silver Spring was originally Silvia's Ring, and the continents' names were descended from their military designations. Like Terasu was originally Terra-2.
  • In the X-Universe, 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 Breakpoint City, Ben is dismayed to find out that Scrabble has become essentially unplayable for him after he travels to The Future because of all the words added to the dictionary.
  • In Quantum Vibe 500 years into the future most of the cast apparently speaks English, though there may be some extent of Translation Convention, while the Lunar Republic has developed a patois resembling LOLcats speak. Another 500 years later English seems to have been forgotten by the general intergalactic populace except for the "Loonie" dialect and the Common Tongue is a pidgin of English and Portuguese called "Portanglo".
  • One xkcd comic suggests that in a few more centuries historical re-enactors will end up speaking a medley of every dialect from the 16th-20th centuries, no longer remembering the difference between them.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-411 is a man from 400 years in the future with Merlin Sickness. In addition to answering questions before they're asked, conversations with him are difficult due to speaking a dialect of English that has severely deviated from Modern English, containing elements of Spanish, Chinese, a classified third language, and Haskell — a programming language.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: In the 30th century, while English remains recognizable to 20th / 21st century speakers, there are a few occasions when pronunciation has changed (Christmas is now exclusively X-Mas, and ask is pronounced "aks" (axe).)
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • See the Wikipedia article on Latin for a history on the different forms of the language.
    • 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.
  • The 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.
  • 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.
  • Chinese:
    • To show how much the Chinese language has changed, historical linguistics has hypothesized that Confucius (which is just a Latinized form of Kǒng Fūzi from Mandarin) would have been called /Kʰˤoŋʔ Kʷʰə/ during his lifetime.note  His courtesy name was even more different — /Truŋsnˤərs/ instead of Zhòngní (as in Mandarin).
  • When China and Taiwan opened to each other in the early 1990s, the mainland Chinese sounded like old-fashioned hicks to the Taiwanese, while the Taiwanese sounded like fast-talking con-men gangsters to the Chinese.
  • 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, Brazilian 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 lorrynote  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.
  • Because of the self-enforced isolation of the country, it has been noted that North Korea retains a form of Korean which is "fossilised" from the language as spoken all over the peninsula in 1945. North Korea, because of its insularity, has also missed out on the massive linguistic changes brought about in Korean because of South Korea's enthusiastic acceptance of the cultural influence of the rest of the world. South Korea has adapted and changed and evolved since 1945; North Korea hasn't. Therefore the two forms of Korean have noticeably diverged whilst remaining the same language. Korean in the North sounds, to somebody brought up in the South, rather archaic and old-fashioned. A parallel might be for a modern British person to listen to the Pathé newsreel films of The '30s and The '40s and reflect on the English being used, both in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary. A generation ago, linguists listened to German as spoken in the West and the East and speculated that the political, social and economic divisions between the two Germanies was provoking the same sort of divergence. Unification appears to have solved this one.
  • English:
    • An epilogue to Poul Anderson's "A Tragedy of Errors" (above in Literature) notes that when King James first saw newly-built St. Paul's Cathedral he said it was "awful, pompous, and artificial", meaning "awesome, majestic, and well-made".
    • It would be unwise for a modern Australian to rely on old newsreels and early television to chart the evolution of the Australian accent and pronounciation. Until well into the 1970s, Australian newsreaders and announcers, especially on The ABC, were expected to use the "BBC English" accent and pronounciation, and both Broad and even Standard Australian English accents and pronounciations were strongly discouraged. Of course all Australians said things like "charnce" and "darnce" until the advent of television.
  • Attempting to work around this trope is the purpose of nuclear semiotics. Since nuclear waste can stay radioactive for potentially thousands of years, there's a need to devise warning messages that will keep people away even if civilization collapses and all modern languages are forgotten or rendered incomprehensible.

Alternative Title(s): Linguistic Drift