Title pretty much says it all. Which languages would be most useful to a time traveler?


closed as primarily opinion-based by Measure of despare., AlexP, Shadowzee, L.Dutch Jun 27 at 4:47

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you be more specific about location and specific period in history? At the moment (although I'm fascinated to hear a story about this), The only thing I can suggest is that you look at the work of Noam Chomsky, You need to study the language of "Primate". voting to Close as off topic. $\endgroup$ – Measure of despare. Jun 27 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ Sumerian was used as a language for learned and international communication for more than two millennia. In the same geographical area, Akkadian and Aramaic had long and distinguished histories. Classical Chinese also enjoyed about two millennia of use in administration, trade, culture and diplomacy. Greek, both Attic and Common. Latin. Church Slavonic. Sanskrit. Middle Persian. Arabic, used on a very large territory for some 15 centuries. Spanish. Portuguese. French. Of course, neither of those would help if the time travellers arrive in Tenochtitlan around 1400; Nahuatl would be more useful. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 27 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ Apart from the spoken languages, maybe working on the body language would be beneficial if your traveler is going to go to different eras. $\endgroup$ – V.Aggarwal Jun 27 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ Fabula vera est @AlexP . I fear that during the vast bulk of human history (circa 200,000) years, none of these languages would be of much use. The question needs to be so much more specific. $\endgroup$ – Measure of despare. Jun 27 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ Unless you can narrow the time range down, or have a general location this is just going to be Primarily Opinion Based. The best answer will simply depend on what you had in mind, and not what you have presented in the question. As an example, an American might ask this question with the assumption that all time travelling will be within the USA. A Chinese might apply the same logic and choose Chinese. Until you have added in more details about where and when you are time travelling the answer will simply be, whatever you want it to be. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jun 27 at 4:26

My gut says Latin, and I'm not really inclined to disagree. Unfortunately, there are a lot of types of Latin, so if you have to pick one, choose Vulgar Latin. Latin's pretty useful, considering that half of Europe is derived from it, and every Western scholar, up until even half a century ago, was required to have a passing knowledge of it.

Chinese seems to be the obvious choice, but the problem is there are too many dialects. The most common is Mandarin. China never spoke one unified language (until recently, anyway) and I don't know the base tongue of it, and even if you did learn that, it's fallen to obscurity. English only real came into prominence with the rise of England and America, so that's out.

  • $\begingroup$ Latin has been used for a tad less than a couple thousand years in a relatively small region around the Mediterranean sea. Outside that space-time region it would be useless. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 27 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. I suppose it would depend on what the reason you're time-traveling is. I don't think it's the most common tongue spoken in history, so if you're traveling at random, I'll admit it's pointless. On the flip side, I do think it's fairly useful if you're traveling to see the great moments of human history. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jun 27 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ that's why we advise not to answer poorly asked question. You have answered without having enough information to do so. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 27 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ Vulgar Latin is just the lazy Englishing of the Latin phrase Latina vulgaris, which simply means popular Latin, what we would call today spoken Latin. It is not a different language from classical Latin, it's just a different register of the same language; moreover, spoken Latin is an ill-defined target -- it evolved through time and varied from place to place. One cannot learn spoken Latin in general. Learning spoken Latin as practiced in the 1st century AD in southern Italy (which is relatively well-known, due to the many graffitti found at Pompeii) won't help in 4th century Gaul. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 27 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Dutch: Latin was used for about a thousand years as the language of culture, learning and diplomacy in Europe. The amount of Latin literature we have from the New Latin stage is orders of magnitude larger than what we have from the Antiquity. From the late Middle Ages to dawn of the age of machines everybody who was somebody in Europe knew Latin. New Latin is the language used by Newton, Erasmus, Grotius, Spinoza, etc. In the Far East the corresponding role was taken by Classical Chinese. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 27 at 7:45

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