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Out in the former state of Utah, near where the Old Salt Lake ruins are, a group of scholars and students from the New Jerusalem University are on an exploration mission. They have heard, from an unknown but (maybe) reliable source that an old Fallout Shelter is out there. They search all day until they find it. They ask, or rather force, some slaves to break down the door, and they are able to get in.

The Fallout Shelter, though littered with skeletons, is full of valuable knowledge from before WWIII. The paper they used in the Old Times was super powerful, and never rotted, at all. Most of the notes the found were just grocery lists and etc. but they do find a blueprint which talks about some machine powered by that mystical force, the “electron” if I remember correctly.

There is just one problem. The apocalypse was 800 years ago, and since that time New English (The language they speak in the present) is totally different from Modern English. So, what might be a plausible reason for why the college kids could read Modern English?

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    $\begingroup$ Modern (and medieval) scholars read Latin. Why future scholar can't read Modern English? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 4 '18 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ Incidentally, why bother with slaves? Promise them a cut of whatever wonderful treasure is in the vault and you'd get people lined up around the block today, let alone in the post-apocalypse. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jun 4 '18 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence: No, their is no treasure, unless you consider the broken remains of old technology treasure. It is valuable only to the scholars, as it is knowledge. Common farmers don’t care, and a metal box isn’t valuable $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Jun 4 '18 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ @DTCooper Well, you know there's no treasure, but they don't. (Otherwise, why bother breaching it?) Speculation can be a wonderful thing. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jun 4 '18 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: Even Latin is a bit of a stretch for an 800 year time gap. A better comparison might be to the Middle English of Chaucer, about 650 years ago. It's still possible for a modern person to get a lot of the meaning, e.g. poetryfoundation.org/poems/43926/… $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 5 '18 at 18:19
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Languages tend to develop fastest in cities, where lots of people meet and develop new words and new grammar. Outside the cities, especially in isolated communities, language change is slower. There are parts of Sardinia that have an Italian dialect that would probably be intelligible to the Romans. If this is the case it may be that a slave can read what the intellectuals cannot.

Modern English is a foreign language to the intellectuals of New Jerusalem, but out in the wilds of Utah, among the backwoodsmen, you will still find families who speak a language that, while it isn't classical English, could be understood by a person from the times before the war.

Among the slaves is LeVerl, and he grew up in an old isolated family (before his capture and enslavement), and while he has since learned to speak New, he still knows the language that his mother learned from her father. To the scholars’ surprise he can read the old texts.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, just a harmless nitpick, his name would likely just be LeVerl. In Utah, it is very uncommon to have a last name, unless you’re families from outside state. But I like your answer, it gives an interesting story scene $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Jun 4 '18 at 23:37
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In school, some of us learn Latin. We learn it because it is the root of many modern languages, so learning Latin helps us with understanding the modern languages.

Classical Latin is 2000 years old. Also, the fact that they call their language New English suggests that there's strong connections between New English and "modern" English (at least similar as "modern" English to Old English, though that's not very similar).

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  • $\begingroup$ Well the language is very different. The words have been shortened and simplified, and many words have changed meaning, spelling, and pronunciation $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Jun 4 '18 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @DTCooper And we now call those who grow our food "farmers" instead of "agricolae," but we still have the word "agriculture." Latin is very different from English, but it still proves useful enough to teach. Of course, it also depends on what sort of reading level you expect. If these kids are expected to read Engineering papers at a college level, they will struggle, for sure. Most college students now couldn't read engineering-speak if they had to do. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 4 '18 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ This is the answer. There is very little chance of English changing so much in 800 years that people would struggle to understand it to a significant degree. And despite the apocalypse there should presumably be some trail of history linking the two languages that could be used to work backwards. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Jun 4 '18 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon: I know some Latin. Non potes intelligere, recte? $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Jun 4 '18 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ An alternate example: can you, or anyone you know make basic sense of reading Chaucer, without a modern translation? ("Canterbury Tales", etc - written in the English of about 600-630 years ago) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Oct 24 '18 at 12:37
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Children's books

If the daily paper is that long lasting (ours isn't). Some books should also survive. If some of those are children's books good guesses about what words mean can be made. If a full children's library was available it should be possible to follow the same steps as learning to read.

Labeled Goods

Many products are labeled. If the scientists are good they may be able figure out what had been in the packages and learn names and some other words that way.

Secondary Translations

A say Navajo or Chinese dictionary might be linkable to known languages or other archaeological sites' work. The Bible specifically is printed in a large number of languages and reasonably likely to be included in caches and has a prominent symbol (cross) to aid in linking between versions. Even if it becomes heresy it may have significant scientific value.

They don't need to read

Seeing a system that only time and not bombs or looting destroyed might give valuable hints. Knowing that water or steam turned big wheels, or that copper was made into wires and often coiled could be a big step towards recreating the technology.

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800 years is a LOT of language evolution, but if they kept the alphabet, numbers and phonetics remained the same it would be a LOT easier than an unknown language in an unknown script.

A newspaper is written for a 10 year olds reading age, childrens English primers might be there as well. Textbooks, a whole bunch of stuff that would help.

The roots of words should still be discernible, Boewulf was written much longer than 800 years ago in a different script in Old English, but the Middle English version can be made out better with a bit of guesswork mainly because it's in our script

Your best bet is English primers and suchlike to get a feel for the language and basic vocab. Having said that English is one of the most complicated languages, so hopefully they have retained the grammar structure which is plausible since we have basically retained that since before English became English with no real changes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh I get your drift. You say that the college should get old Learn to Read books from elementary schools so they can understand the language $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Jun 4 '18 at 23:09
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Basic electrical machinery - such as a dynamo, or an electric motor - could easily be described simply through images, schematic diagrams, and other visual means. The scholars would need to experiment with the proper materials*, but the actual design would be easy to pick up on. Once they have a handle on what those basic machines do and how, that gives them a starting point to translate documentation related to those machines, which is a big leg up when working on other schematics.

*They might not have to guess if the materials are described chemically; I would expect chemical symbols for elements to be pretty stable (no pun intended). They're already short, unambiguous, and half of them are already Latin or Greek, so it's not like they're neologisms that will wear out.

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