For a frame of reference I’ll be using the population and general distribution of the United States

Let’s assume the United States spoke English and only English. The country is sealed off and kept in a bubble with 0 immigration or emigration. No news, no culture, nothing.

Would English still be the language after 100 years? Would regional dialects eventually evolve into totally different languages?

And if they do change, how long could that take? Are their other factors that could make a walled of culture develop different languages?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Not enough information. Does internal communication continue to be as easy as it is now? Internal travel (e.g., NY to CA)? Does the internal economy still stay more-or-less national, or does it fragment into regionals? $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Feb 7 '18 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ With no people coming or leaving, wouldn't there be less evolution of the language than there has been in the past 100 years? English still is the language, and it's been almost 250 years with emigration/immigration. $\endgroup$ – CHEESE Feb 7 '18 at 17:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can both read books and listen to recordings of people speaking from 100 years ago. If you do so, you can see that American English has changed, but not by enough to make it difficult to understand. In today's world, with people communicating instantly over the internet, divergence of the language is even less likely. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Feb 7 '18 at 17:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you asking if English in USA will stay the as in UK and Canada? (hint: it already isn't). Or are you asking if it will stay English as it is today? (hint: English from 100 years ago was substantially different) Or are you asking about regional differences inside USA? There already are some, and sealing borders wouldn't have impact, neither positive or negative. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 7 '18 at 17:56
  • 1

Yes, English will still be English.

With the advent of national TV, regionalization of language has virtually stopped. As long as people have a common media to communicate, they are not going to invent local dialects. The language will be changing, but it will be evolving as a whole. 100 years should change it very little.

Having said that, different social groups may proceed to develop their own dialects. Look at the texting teenagers and their technology-challenged parents, for example. The latter sometimes have no idea what the younger generation is talking about. Ex. Read Books, Get Brain. But this is a normal process, slang has always been a part of a language, and it has only little effect on the development of language as a whole.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any citations for "With the advent of national TV, regionalization of language has virtually stopped"? $\endgroup$ – sumelic Feb 7 '18 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @sumelic unfortunately I can't find studies that would attribute this effect to the national TV. However, everybody seems to agree that in 20th century smaller regional dialects in US have started to disappear, while hardly any new dialects were detected. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 8 '18 at 1:26
  • Isolating that U.S. of A. culturally, politically, and commercially from the rest of the world would have a barely noticeable effect on the speed of evolution of the American language.

  • All languages evolve. Linguistic evolution cannot be stopped. It can be slowed down. Mass literacy and pervasise nation-wide news and communication media are factors which tend to slow down the speed of language evolution.

  • American English does not have regional dialects. There are regional differences in pronounciation, but that's benign and expected in a country as large as the U.S.A. On the other hand, American English does have cultural dialects, also known as sociolects. For example, Black Vernacular English is a strongly marked dialect, which some will say it's well on its way towards becoming a separate language altogether; it already has specific grammatical features which distinguish it from standard American English.

  • American English is already visibly different from other varieties of English, such as, for example, Indian English or Australian English. One century of isolation will only increase the differences. At what point it will become generally agreed that American and European International English are two different languages is partially a political and cultural question.

    For example, in South Africa, Dutch became Afrikaans, in about two centuries. Everybody agrees that Dutch and Afrikaans are two very closely related yet different languages.

To make American split into two or more daughter languages you need to split the U.S.A. into two or more countries which don't communicate much; a sort of a cold war would help. If you cannot or will not split the U.S.A., then lowering the rate of literacy and breaking up national news networks will help too. Isolation does not have to be absolute; all that's need it to make sure that the average person from, for example, Seattle doesn't ever communicate with a person from, for example, Dallas. You do need to keep up this isolation for ten generations or so.

Each successive generation speaks a language which is slightly different from the language of their parents. The difference is small, but it's real and measurable. If two linguistic communities are relatively isolated from each other, that is, members of one community don't have to communicate much with members of the other, then in time those differences will accumulate and result in two closely related yet different languages. If the isolation is maintained then the distance between the two daughter languages will grow to the point where communication becomes impossible without translation.

If you can imagine a way to divide the U.S.A. into two or three relatively isolated linguistic communities you may well end up with a situation where each such linguistic community speaks its own language, with educated people speaking standard American English in addition to their local language.


A degree of regional dialect is guaranteed to arise in a country this large with that many people (and in fact, very much exists already, of course). However, Alexander has the basics right: as long as long-distance communication never breaks down, and mass-media distribution and mass literacy in the standard remain, the language will still exist. (Those factors are basically what precipitated the dissolution of Vulgar Latin into hundreds of separate languages.)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy