In a setting where hundreds of scientists and engineers from around the world embark on an international mission to colonize a distant Earth-like planet (the ethics thereof are out of the scope of this question), and the unifying language happens to be Esperanto, to what extent, in what manners, and at what rate can/would the language deviate or evolve differently from terrestrial Esperanto over time? My intent is not necessarily to create another language or dialect that has branched from terrestrial Esperanto, but to illustrate the effects that may occur when a language evolves separately from its parent in such a setting.

Firstly, I would imagine that such an "international" civilization would be an interesting "superculture", but I'm not sure what effect it would have on a language like Esperanto, which is already intended to be pretty unifying.

Secondly, the setting is explicitly disconnected from terrestrial civilization, and nearly everyone here is a scientist, engineer, or a child thereof. What effects might this have?

Thirdly, and most obviously, neologisms, idioms, and quirks that have developed since their departure from Earth obviously won't appear in their setting (unless they somehow coincidentally come up with the same things). As a slightly more meta question, to what extent can I, as a writer, make their language a little different? Surely, I'm not going to start arbitrarily making up new words or messing with the grammar, but perhaps introducing little nuances, such as, for example (and this is just an example), the tendency for adjectives to come after nouns as opposed to the norm on Earth. Ideally, this extraterrestrial Esperanto should still be valid terrestrial Esperanto.

Another concern I have is to what extent linguistic and cultural nuances can differ in terms of what could realistically happen. For example, in this setting and culture, all things, animate or inanimate, are considered objects (in analogy to recognizing both humans and non-humans animals as animals). If the gender-neural pronoun "ri" was not conceived prior to their departure, they perhaps could have used "ĝi" (the pronoun meaning "it") as the notion of "object" differs from what it may imply in a language like terrestrial English (i.e. "humans aren't objects").

Given that the scientists departed at around 1995, and it is now 2047, to what extent could the language have evolved? What could happen in the future, given complete isolation and completely separate societal and cultural development from Earth in such a setting?


50 years is quite short, as mentioned by John. It is this short in timespan because I did not want to situate the setting too far in the future. I now ask instead how long it would take for a non-negligible amount of differences to develop, and what could possibly happen in such a timespan (in addition to the above, but much further in the future than a measly 50 years).

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that the Esperanto of Earth will also change. $\endgroup$
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 23, 2019 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but that doesn't matter in this setting, as the two civilizations will never be in contact ever again (I had forgotten to mention this, my bad). $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ If you say 'deviate', you've got also to say deviate from what? From the standard Esperanto of Zamenhof? From the 1995 version of Esperanto? I understood it as 'deviate from the 2047 version of Earth Esperanto'. You simply haven't specified the point from which the deviation is to be measured. $\endgroup$
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 23, 2019 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ It would begin to deviate from that of the time of departure, which is 1995. However, as John mentioned, 50 years is kind of short, so let's assume it's actually much longer than that. That is, X years since 1995, where X is some number much greater than 50. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ Ask your average grandparent whether they really understand their teenage grandkids when they're conversing with other teens - or vice versa, of course. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 23, 2019 at 5:37

6 Answers 6


In a period as short of 50 years the language is not going to deviate significantly in its structure, especially since you're dealing with a literate population. Widespread literacy will tend to lock in major aspects of the language.

There are real-world examples of this; French Canadian became essentially isolated from Metropolitan French following the British conquest of Quebec in 1760 (and even before then migration from France had essentially petered off). Québecois retained older pronunciations and created some vocabulary differences, but even 200 years of separation didn't create any significant difference in grammar.

Where you're going to see possible changes in shorter periods of time are in things like accents, which isn't something that comes across in written dialogue very well. To use real-world examples again, vocal fry is becoming more common among younger North American women, and it's easy to imagine that becoming a dominant form of pronunciation, but that doesn't come across in dialogue without the writer explicitly describing the voice of the person speaking. Yet, were you to hear different generations speaking, you'd instantly pick up on the difference. Another example is the Mid-Atlantic accent that was taught in the early-20th century in the United States (that's the "old-timey movie accent" you'd recognize immediately). Again, instantly recognizable as being different, yet the vocabulary and grammar--putting aside differences like slang and such--would be no different from the same film shot a few decades later.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer definitely adds a strong argument that the language doesn't have to change from its parent language, but as was demonstrated in another, although incomplete answer, it is possible. Especially if their intent is to change. $\endgroup$
    – V. Sim
    Oct 23, 2019 at 9:11

On one hand, (1) there shouldn't be much change; but on the other hand we are speaking about (2) a small community, and specifically a small community (3) speaking Esperanto.

  1. For a normal language, there shouldn't be all that much change.

    Realistically, for a reasonably sized community speaking a normal language all that one could realistically expect in 50 years are (potentially significant) vocabulary shifts, some pronunciation shifts and maybe, just maybe, the beginnings of a handful of grammatical shifts.

    • Vocabulary shifts are inevitable, and in 50 years it is not impossible to see massive change. It is rare, but it does happen.

      My own native language, Romanian, went through a massive vocabulary shift from about 1830 to about 1880, most by borrowing a staggering number of words from initially Italian and then from French; the English language went through a very massive vocabulary shift from the during the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, mostly by borrowing a very very large number of words from French.

    • Shifts in pronunciation are also inevitable, but they usually tend to become noticeable over longer periods of time. But all hope is not lost, because ...

      We have a well-documented historical example of an absolutely dramatic sound change happenning in about 200 years: the Great English Vowel Shift, responsible for making English so much different from Dutch and Low German in general. Now the thing is, the Great English Vowel Shift was a chain shift, which means that if the entire chain was complete in about two centuries, then individual stages must have happened very quickly, maybe as quickly as one or two generations.

    • Grammatical changes tend to happen ever slower than sound changes, and they are quite often pushed by sound changes. And we are speaking about Esperanto, a language which doesn't have all that much morphology to begin with.

  2. In a small isolated community language changes can happen very much more rapidly than in large communities. The question states that the community of interest has only a few hundred members, meaning that it is relatively easy for linguistic innovations to spread out.

  3. And then, this is specifically a small community speaking Esperanto. Esperanto has seldom, maybe even never, been used as a full-time, full-scope language for any significant length of time. My impression is that if Esperanto was forced to take on such roles it will be put under enormous pressure to adapt and develop into a real human language, replete with nuanced meanings, frozen metaphors, set phrases (a.k.a. idioms), not to mention an enormous expansion of vocabulary, be it only to make Esperanto a practicable language for science and engineering.

    For example, look up akvo in the Plena ilustrita vortaro, and you will get half a page comprising six definitions including some very pedestrian and made-up examples of use; look up water in the Oxford English Dictionary and you will get dozens of pages, with 32 definitions, the vast majority of them with several subdefinitions, with hundreds of examples of use taken from actual literature.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you think of the even smaller Esperantidoj (like Ido and friends) that exist today? Though I guess those arose to address perceived shortcomings in Esperanto as opposed to something that is naturally evolved, per se. My primary intent is to give this fictional "branch" of Esperanto just a little bit of realistic variance from the parent language, as to give the reader a sense that this is a different place from Earth, but not so different as to sound exotic or unrealistically deviating or anything. Good real-world examples! $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 19:42

After the Second Anglo-Boer war in 1902, in what is now South Africa, a fairly large community (600-650 people) of Afrikaans speaking people immigrated to Argentina, South America rather than be subjected to British rule.

This community was fairly isolated at first but around the 1950's they increased their interactions with the local spanish speaking communities and became fully bilingual and eventually Spanish becoming the First language spoken by the newer generation. Today about 300 descendants can still speak the Afrikaans language, mostly the older generation.

So while in total this situation spans over 100 years, the main evolution of Argentinean Afrikaans could be considered to have only really "evolved" for around 50ish years.

What is really interesting is that this isolated community retains elements of the language from before the main larger South African language and dialects were reduced through standardisation. I've seen a clip of a documentary where an older Afrikaans speaking South African comments on how lovely it is to hear Afrikaans spoken "properly" like "back in the day" (this was after a younger Afrikaans speaking person had commented on how the Argentenians weren't speaking proper Afrikaans).

What I suspect for your situation is that your space community of speakers will retain alot of older speech patterns that will have been erased in the larger earth community through standardisation, interaction with a large variety of other languages etc. I reckon the only real new words will be for things that aren't yet included in the language before they leave. Such as words for space phenomena only encountered by actual travellers (nit earth observatories), spaceship maintenance, social words evolving from living in a tightnit community with no escape outside the limits of the ship etc.

  • $\begingroup$ It is interesting that a branched language like that would be more likely to retain traits from its parent than evolve into something slightly but noticeably different. Could it ever realistically be the case that the members of the branched community want to change the language a little, and make an Esperantido out of it like the Idists did? That is, a conscious desire as opposed to a natural process of linguistic evolution. Might not be likely, but it is just a thought of mine. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2019 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Historically, that's not what happens. The vast majority of languages I can think of, and that includes English, have the isolated population tending to retain features that changes in the larger population. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2019 at 20:23

Almost an unnoticeable amount, 50 years is barely a generation. a large percentage of your population will have learned their native language on earth.

  • $\begingroup$ I had a feeling that 50 years would be too tiny, but I didn't want to take the setting too far into the future. How long would it take for it to deviate by a non-neglibigle amount? What could happen in that case? $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ And since your people are probably all going to be literate, that will slow down the language change as well. $\endgroup$
    – Futoque
    Oct 23, 2019 at 5:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just because you understand all the words, doesn't mean that their underlying meaning is clear. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 9:47

50 years is plenty, but the extent depends on how their history develops and how it influences their culture and technology.

Here are two examples:

Culture A and B both make similar discoveries, but they are not in contact so those discoveries are done by different people. Depending on how crucial those discoveries are treated by each civilization different names could become of importance to either of these cultures. Calling someone an Einstein would mean nothing if the discovery was made by someone else, or if it was made at all.

Memes are a another way to affect language, they are not anything new since the dawn of the internet. The internet is just a platform for them to spread wider and faster. Memes are often derived from current events, and their success depends on how viral they become through reaching an audience that resonates with the ideas presented. Culture A and B may have common ground, but that 50 years separation is a lot of time for memes to develop which influence culture B's language and be completely alien to culture A.

However, that isn't to say that in 50 years their language would change so much that they would not understand each other. It would just become another dialect that requires context for words and phrases. Perhaps there would be a few grammatical differences too.

  • $\begingroup$ Though I could imagine a situation where more words could be developed, or grammatical changes may arise, I think I am more concerned with linguistic nuances than the addition of words or changes in grammar. There could be no new words or changes in grammar, yet the same sentence can mean or imply different things in the two dialects. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 2:52

The North/South Korean language divergence is probably the best real world analog to the scenario. The two countries have been pretty much sealed off from each other (and in North Korea's case, the rest of the world) for about 50 years.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ And is there any divergence??? $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 23, 2019 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange! As it stands, your answer is a little short. I would recommend including sources and elaborating on how your answer affects the original question. See the comment above for more details and information. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ In the context of N. and S. Korea you need to take into account that there might be (as is probably is) push to change the language. Novolingua/newspeak is a real thing that is born in totalitarian systems because they need break with the old and look for different ways to describe things that are happening. For example, if a tie is a sing of people in suits doing wrong things to workers how you gonna cal that piece of material? "decorative male sag" $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZOKŁY I agree that this doesn't answer the question, but I also don't think that an intent to change the language should matter here, the question just posed to what extent it could, in which case the N/S Korea is a good example just as much as the French Canadians and their intent to retain theirs. $\endgroup$
    – V. Sim
    Oct 23, 2019 at 9:06
  • $\begingroup$ @V.Sim I just wanted to point out that in the case of Koreas the change of language is more artifical and forced than natural evolution. Whie in the OP problem the requirment could be that there are guardians of langauge who try to keep it as orginal as they could. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 10:21

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