In the lore for the book I'm working on, what basically happens is a ship full of Byzantines is expelled from their homeland on a ship and winds up on a small continent (think something around the size of Australia) full of people descended from earlier Mongol and Zulu arrivals. Over the next two or three centuries, these Byzantine descendants conquer and unify the various squabbling kingdoms they find when they arrive. During their rule, the cultures and people mix a bit, though Byzantine-origin culture remains at least somewhat dominant and Greek is the official language. During this whole time, this continent has no contact with the outside world.

Now here is my question: if after 500 years, another ship arrives from Byzantium, would the Byzantines be able to understand the language of the colonists, or would the two varieties of Greek have diverged so much by this point that the groups would not be able to understand each other?

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    $\begingroup$ With Byzantines specifically? I'd imagine that even if there is language drift, the nobles or at least scholars would know "old Greek" enough to converse. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 18 '19 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ As an example: Apparently the closest example to what the British sounded like at the time of first colonization of North America is the accent in the state of Kentucky. That's round-about 200 years. It's mostly accents and emphasis, and a bunch of colloquialisms. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Dec 18 '19 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ I think you won't be able to get a definite answer but only "Maybe if they did a good job perpetuating it, but not if they did a poor job of it." Sometimes it takes 1 generation for things to become difficult to understand. I've a second cousin who speaks same primary language but has an accent so thick I can only understand half of what he says. My children frequently say things I don't understand and I tell them to slow down and enunciate - if I let them be sloppy and then they raised their kids with their "accent" and let it drift just as much, I wouldn't understand my grandkids. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Dec 18 '19 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @puppetsock reinstate Monica Whaaaaa? Can I get a source? I want to read up on this. $\endgroup$ – L.T.Smash Dec 18 '19 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ There’s an island off the east coast of USA where the English spoken is incomprehensible to me. I was raised in Oklahoma, Oregon, and California. In Turkey, there was a time when people had trouble communicating with their grandchildren — but that was because Ataturk decreed that schools would abandon the borrowings from Arabic and return to the original Turkish. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Dec 19 '19 at 5:04

10 Answers 10


The first thing to examine is, what are those "Byzantines"?

  • Are they for-real Byzantines, that is, inhabitants of the city on the Bosphorus from the 7th century BCE to the 4th century CE?

  • Are they Constantinopolitans, that is, inhabitants of the city on the Bosphorus from the 4th century CE onwards?

(Nobody called the Byzantine Empire the Byzantine Empire during its existence, and nobody called the New Rome Byzantium during the Middle Ages... The empire was the Roman Empire, its inhabitants called themselves Romans, and the city was called Constantinople, or, more usually, The City. The name Byzantine Empire was invented by an obscure German historian during the Renaissance, when the empire in question was long gone.)

Now the funny thing is, the Greeks who called themselves Romans spoke various kinds of Greek, Common Greek (a.k.a Koine, the language of Archimedes and Ptolemy and the Gospels) from the 3rd century BCE onwards, Medieval Greek from the 4th or 5th century CE onwards: but they always, always wrote either Koine or plain Attic. The Greeks continued to write ancient Greek well into the modern era. Demotic, the language which is usually called Modern Greek, only became the official written language of the Hellenic Republic in the second half of the 20th (!) century. (From the late 19th to mid-20th century the Greeks wrote a semi-artificial language named Katharevousa, "Purified", midway between the ancient Common Greek and the modern Demotic.)

(As an aside, this is the origin of the term diglossia, the situation of a linguistic community which uses related but different languages in everyday life and in writing or formal occasions.)

So the answer to the specific question, would some Greeks from Byzantium or Constantinople continue to understand Greek after 500 years of separate existence is plainly yes. Greeks have only stopped teaching Ancient / Common Greek as the written language in the late 19th century. The Greek Church still uses the New Testament in the original Common Greek to this day.

Now, the more general question in the title is much harder to answer, because the only possible answer is, it depends: not all 500 year periods are the same.

Consider the history of the English language, for example. The 5 centuries between the Norman conquest and the reign of Elizabeth I saw a dramatic evolution of the language, the starting and ending points (Old English and Modern English, respectively) being very clearly different languages with not a trace of mutual intelligibility; but the 5 centuries between the reign of Elizabeth I and our days saw much less transformation, so that the plays of William Shakespeare are still shown in their original Early Modern English.

The same is true in the history of the Greek language; the are periods of 5 centuries when the spoken (albeit not the written) language changed dramatically and other periods of 5 centuries where little change, if any, can be detected. For example, if those Byzantines are actual Byzantines from the 2nd century BCE, they are in luck, because the spoken Greek lanaguage changed very little between the 2nd century BCE and the 3rd century CE.

In my own language, I can read 500 years old Romanian texts with little difficulty as regards the grammar and the structure of the language, but the vocabulary has changed so much in the 19th century (mainly due to the massive Italian and mostly French influence) that I may need a specialized dictionary of archaisms.

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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that question is not Can people understand 500 years old version of their language?. But Can two branches of the same language that diverted 500 years ago be mutually intelligible?. Like, for example Finnish and Hungarian have common "ancestor"(they surely diverted more than 500 years ago), but I doubt they're mutually intelligible. Or another example can be: "Romanian" and "Italian" 500 years after they stopped being in the same Empire. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Dec 18 '19 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @user28434: And the essence of the answer is that the specific linguistic community chosen in the question used as their written language an ancient frozen form of Greek, which, by being ancient and frozen, would certainly permit communication. (And the most recent common ancestor of Finnish and Hungarian was spoken several thousand years ago; English is more closely related to Russian than Finnish is to Hungarian.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 18 '19 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ nobody called the New Rome Byzantium during the Middle Ages — I think the word bezant for a gold coin is a bit older than the Renaissance; sorry my OED is not handy. $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Dec 18 '19 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @AntonSherwood: Indeed, in the west Roman gold coins were called bezants since the 9th century. But then, I said nobody called the city Byzantium, not than nobody knew that the city used to be called Byzantium once upon a time. (And the inhabitants of the empire where those coins were struck never called them bezants; this is a name used only by western barbarians in their western barbarian tongues. The Romans themselves called those coins nomisma or hyperpyron, depending on the specific coin.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 18 '19 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP, Yes, core Greece had their written language frozen. But would exiles keep it too? They could outright lose they writing system, because they would have rough time on arrival. Like they lost minoan and mycenean linear writing systems during Bronze Age collapse. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Dec 19 '19 at 9:55

The answer could be anything between "the pronunciation is a bit different" to "each corner of the continent has a completely different language".

Let's have a few real-life examples. The colonization of America by European immigrants began roughly in the year 1500. Because the immigrants came from different countries, they had different languages, but agreed to four main languages (English and French in North America, Spanish and Portuguese in South America).

Today, people from the UK can travel to the USA and will easily be able to communicate. The pronunciation of British and American English is different and there are a few different words, but the languages are still recognizable by each other.

On the other hand, in the sixth century, there were the Anglo-Saxons, who colonized the UK, and the languages went completely different ways (in the origin of the Anglo-Saxons, the language became German and in the UK it became English). There are still a few words in common or at least have similarities, but people from both countries can't communicate without the knowledge of each others language. Even in the UK itself, the languages differ a lot. Somebody from London will hardly understand somebody from northern Scotland.

So it depends on a few things. If they have some kind of broadcast, the language will not change much. If a large portion of the population is able to read, they may change the pronunciation a bit, but the language will mostly remain the same.

If you consider real Byzantines, who didn't have broadcast and only had a few nobles who were able to read, then you will have a total mess of languages after 500 years. Most probably, even the people from the Byzantine Empire will speak much different in the course of 500 years.

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    $\begingroup$ That should be "(English, Spanish and French in North America, Spanish and Portuguese in South America)". Central America is part of North America, not South America $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair Dec 18 '19 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ Between 1500 and 2000, there was still a fair amount of intermingling between north america and europe. Lots of people with european-english accents/dialect migrated to north america, and this was likely enough of an anchor to significantly slow the language drift. If the first mayflower voyage was the only time people crossed the atlantic between 1500 and 2000, I think that the language would have likely drifted far more by 2000. $\endgroup$ – The Guy with The Hat Dec 18 '19 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ @PaulSinclair. Same as Florida, California, Texas, etc. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Dec 19 '19 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ There's also the Pennsylvania Dutch which is rooted in German language and is much more separated from Modern German than American English is from British English. And I'm not a speaker, but I know that Latin American Spanish and European Spanish as well as Quebec French and French French are much more distinct, to the point that Disney will do separate translations of their films for both markets out of convenience. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Dec 19 '19 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ Minor correction: Modern German diverged from the Anglo-Saxon language before English did; modern German descends from High (as in altitude) German, while the Anglo-Saxon language was of Low German origin. Modern German largely displaced the old Anglo-Saxon language (which is now reduced to a handful of local dialects), it didn't evolve from it, while English did in fact evolve from the Anglo-Saxon base (with major contributions from Old Norse and Norman French, and smaller contributions from the Celtic languages, as well as Latin and Greek). $\endgroup$ – ShadowRanger Dec 20 '19 at 4:28

In your case, an unrecognizable dialect is almost guaranteed.

The Scenario

Many other answers seems to sort of glaze by this and speak about language evolution in a broader since, but you have 1 ship of people vs an entire continent. Even if your Byzantines had assault rifles, and the natives were fighting with sticks and rock, the number disparity is too great for a war of dominance to ever favor the Byzantines. But there is one strategy that is historically proven to work in this exact sort of situation.

The foreigners have the advantage of entering the scene with a clean slate. No one has a reason to distrust them as anything worse than strangers. If they are friendly to everyone they meet, they can be accepted by everyone and learn a great deal about the natives while showing off their technological wonders to gain the native's respect. While they seem to just be cultivating new friendships, they are really looking to find pre-existing rivalries, agendas, and dogmas that they can capitalize on.

Once they have the lay of the political landscape, they identify those tribes/nations who are oppressed in large numbers, but are too afraid or divided to band together to fight the hegemony that is in place. By helping mediate rivalries, and making promises of technology, military training, independance, etc. to the downtrodden populations, they raise a large army from the local populations and spark a civil war that is ultimately just a conflict between the continent's internal populations. When the war is done, you are left with a massive power vacuum, and a bunch of small tribes with no clear leader among them. Since you already established yourself as the best mediator and most trustworthy, you take up the roll of leadership, and now your small band of outsiders has the whole region's loyalty, and your Greeks become their new aristocracy. This strategy was made famous in Europe by Julius Caesar in Gaul; so, your Byzantines would know about it, and history tells us from its application by conquistadors that it is VERY effective when used against cultures who have never had to deal with this sort of political take over.

The Outcome

For this strategy to work, your foreigners need to adopt the language of the locals enough to politically influenced them. In the case of the conquistadors, there were enough follow up expeditions and colonists to exert cultural dominance after the fact, but in this case you have no additional colonists or merchants coming in behind you to reinforce the Greek language and culture. With so little reinforcement of Greek culture, and so much need to communicate with locals, you will very quickly either see the Greeks completely adopt the native language, and Greek mostly fades away, or you see the rapid evolution of a pidgin language which is neither Greek nor the Native language.

When you have a strong education system in place, and regular communication with the homeland, colonists tend to retain a lot of their native language as you see in the General American English dialect or many of the major Latin American Spanish dialects, but if most of your colonists are not made to speak "proper Greek", then the pidgin language will typically evolve into a more complex language and grow in popularity among both the natives and Greeks to become the new common language preferred by both groups. This isolation + cultural mixing is how you quickly wind up with unintelligible dialects such as Cajun, Ebonic, and Hawaiian Pidgin in such short timespans.

When a Pidgin language begins, you usually start with a system much like Spanglish where children of bilingual households just start speaking in a combination of words they hear growing up used by either language, but it is very common for different languages to pronounce the same letters differently, struggle with certain sounds used by the other group, or have grammar conflicts that are inconsistent between the languages. These conflicts resolve themselves over time by changing how original words are pronounced and spelled, coming up with new words to resolve conjugation issues, forming a common grammar which may or may not be the same as either of the parent languages, and lots and lots of made up words where people just gave up on translation and settled for a specific made up word. By the time you are done, you usually have a language that when read, you might be able to figure out anywhere from a few words here and there to most of what is said, but when spoken, the combination of words you don't know, "improper" grammar, and massively different accent makes it completely unrecognizable.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the most likely of all the answers since the Greeks are showing up in one boat that would contain only a few hundred people at most. They are going to be a small percentage of the people and politically weak for a long time before taking over. $\endgroup$ – Futoque Dec 18 '19 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ "This how you quickly wind up with unintelligible dialects such as Cajun, Ebonic, and Hawaiian Pidgin in such short timespans." or indeed, English itself - which is a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French (and has, for example, all the complexities of grammatical gender knocked out because they couldn't be doing with deciding whether a bridge is he (as in German/Anglo-Saxon) or she (as in French)). $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 19 '19 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinBonnersupportsMonica: Actually, grammatical gender loss began even before the Normans arrived (though it accelerated under them); the areas under the Danelaw (with heavy Old Norse influence) show a reduction in gendered language long before the Norman Conquest, likely because even North Germanic (Old Norse) and Low German (Anglo-Saxon) languages couldn't agree on grammatical gender in many cases, so areas where both languages were spoken tended to lose grammatical gender. $\endgroup$ – ShadowRanger Dec 20 '19 at 11:39

The colonists’ language wouldn't change very much in 500 years. Small populations have slow language change, because they don’t have the diversity and the sheer number of people for much linguistic innovation. For example, Icelanders can still read and understand 10th century Norse sagas because the language hasn’t evolved beyond comprehensibility in a thousand years.

The main Greek language would evolve faster, of course, but there would be people who were used to archaic (and of course Classical) Greek and so could understand the colonists and make themselves understood.

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    $\begingroup$ Those populations evolve slower because they are so isolated from outside influences, but rapid language change tends to happen more in smaller populations when an outside force acts on it, and the OP describes a scenario where there are lots of outside influences. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Dec 18 '19 at 19:39

if after 500 years, another ship arrives from Byzantium, would the Byzantines be able to understand the language of the colonists, or would the two varieties of Greek have diverged so much by this point that the groups would not be able to understand each other?

OK, I'm not a linguist. So, I can't say how or how much would language change in 500 years after being isolated. I suspect there are people a lot better equipped to answer that. To me, it seems that 500 years is not insignificant - it's between 20-25 generations (a generation is about 20-25 years "long"). It's also not "excessive" - we can trace back some words and phrases today for about that long. Sure, texts from 500 years ago might seem archaic at best or barely intelligible in other cases but we have some that we can understand without needing to be trained specifically.

However, what I do know is Byzantines. OK, I'm not an expert or anything but I have a passing fascination with the Eastern Roman Empire. So, I feel more confident I can (at least partially) answer the question from that side.

Were "old" and "new" Byzantines to meet, they'd be able to understand each other.

Not without some initial difficulty but it wouldn't be THAT hard.

Some background clarification first: the Byzantine empire was never called "the Byzantine empire" during its existence. It was the Roman empire. People living there were Roman and would call themselves Roman. After the East/West split of the empire and the collapse of the western part, the eastern just...continued existing. Nothing radically changed for them. However, the Eastern Roman Empire was also Greek. People spoke Greek and used their Greek customs. They also knew Latin, for when needing to speak to people from the Western part but the Greek cultural identity was rather strong.

Speaking of people in higher positions, they'd also read and study old Greek writings. Of philosophers, playwrights, writers - cultural heritage is something they not quite revered but valued greatly.

So, the old was preserved. People in the new world would most likely keep some reference of the "old language" - even with a language drift, there would still be people who would read and understand the old texts. The elite would very likely be educated in old Greek, too, even if out of tradition.

Aside from protecting the old heritage, the Hellenistic culture was rather aggressive in protecting itself from outside influences. Not to zealous levels but the Eastern Romans generally disliked using foreign words and terms, if they could help it. They'd translate or at least Hellenise a word. If possible, they'd use an existing one instead of a foreign term, even if it doesn't match correctly. In fact, the title Imperator was translated as "Autokrator" (self-ruler) in Greek. Many other titles had a Greek equivalent to keep outside influences - "doux" for "duke", "comes" (kom-es) for "count". Even the very official Latin title of an emperor Augustus was sometimes translated as "sebastos" in Greek. Not for very long at least in terms of referring to the emperor as sebastos - the Greek title continued existing for other officials.

Somewhat fun fact with some side-tracking: eventually the emperor Heraclius changed his full title from Imperator Caesar Flavius Heraclius Augustus (which could be even "fuller" as Emperor Ceaser Flavius Heraclius, faithful in Christ, most serene, supreme, beneficient, peaceful, victor over the Alamanni, the Goths, the Franks, Germans, Antae, Alans, Vandals, Africans, Heruls, Gepids, pious, fortunate, glorious, victor, triumphant, ever venerable Augustus) to the Greek "Basileus" (pronounced vas-ee-levs) which literally meant "king". However, Roman Republic did not have kings - the title in common usage referred broadly "ruler" and then came to mean "the ruler of the Roman Empire", so equivalent to "emperor". This was only used for the emperor of the Roman Empire - foreign rulers would usually be referred to as "rex", a Hellenised term for "king" that applied to other (barbarian) rulers.

Side-track over, this was (in part) another way for the Hellenic culture to reject "outside" influence and preserve its independence.

All that is to say that the Byzantines are highly likely not only to preserve at least some of their old ways but will also reject overt "barbaric" influences.

Since the original Byzantines would also act in a similar fashion, when the two re-join, they should be able to communicate. They should have enough commonalities to overcome any initial differences.

  • $\begingroup$ Due to centuries of colonialism and the cultural subjugation practices of the Macedonian Empire, Greek was already spoken across the entire Mediterranean, the middle East, and was even the predominant language in southern Italy before the Roman Empire began to expand. Greek remained strong in the Roman Empire because it was already a well known language to the Romans and it was the native language to the vast majority of its population; so, it was simply easier for Roman Governors to speak to Greeks in a language they already studied in school than try to convert everyone to speak Latin. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Dec 19 '19 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ However, when you look at situations such as Greek immigrants to America where Greek speakers are heavily outnumbered, they are historically just as likely as other cultures to assimilate. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Dec 19 '19 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki-ReinstateMonica so, in a situation where it's not the Eastern Roman Empire arriving somewhere and conquering the entire region? Because, then yeah - that's different. It's also not what the premise of the question was. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 19 '19 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ No, I'm just saying that being Greek does not make them inherently more culturally resilient. Their language just resisted change well in Europe because it got such an early head start spreading far and wide. This is much how English has become the de facto language of international trade because the internet started in the United States. But if you throw an English speaker into country where English is not widely known, human nature will follow its course and he will assimilate just as quickly as any other foreigner. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Dec 19 '19 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Again, the question premise is not about random Greek people but Byzantines - people we know are culturally resilient and interested in history, too. Furthermore, it's Byzantines who have conquered the area and are in position of control. We've seen that when they do that, they will Hellenise even terms coming from what's supposed to be "equals" the Latin half of the empire. And They've done it with VERY official terms and titles like "Augustus". So, your point is noted but irrelevant in the context of this question - the setup isn't with the Romans in a weak position but the opposite. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 19 '19 at 20:28

Will they understand each other? Maybe? A little?

Take a look at English. 600 years ago, Chaucer wrote this paragraph:

Wepyng and waylyng, care and oother sorwe
I knowe ynogh, on even and a-morwe,'
Quod the Marchant, 'and so doon oother mo
That wedded been.'

(copied from Wikipedia)

Some of it is familiar to us ("Merchant").
Some of it we could understand if we heard it instead of reading it ("Wepyng" was pronounced like "Weeping").
Some of it we won't understand because it was pronounced differently ("ynough" means "enough" but the "gh" was pronounced like the German "ch" ).
Some of it is just incomprehensible ("Quod" will not be recognizable to most native English speakers),
And look at that grammar. So alien.

So English has changed a lot in the last 600 years.
It has also borrowed a lot of words from foreign languages it met along the way (In your world that would probably mean the colonists may be using Mongol and Zulu words).

So I believe the first ship to land after 500 years will probably find the local vernacular mostly incomprehensible. But maybe after a while they will start to "get" the differences. And as @VLAZ commented, nobles and scholars will probably be able to converse in the old language.

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    $\begingroup$ The Chaucer is both a good and bad example: bad because if it's the spelling that's different, that isn't a factor when people are speaking to each other. "Weeping and wailing, care and other sorrow, I know enough". Ore two putt at an udder weigh, this cent tense locks rally wired boot if won said it allowed, it wood bee tote ally under stand table. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Dec 18 '19 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison I think the example works both ways, to be honest: some of the spelling differences actually reflect pronunciation differences; and some of the familiar spellings hide other pronunciation differences. Even if that wasn't the case, it's reasonable to think that a spoken language might change about as much as a written one, give or take. $\endgroup$ – IMSoP Dec 18 '19 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ Chaucer's 600 years old Middle English is clearly a different language but Shakespeare's 400 years old Early Modern English is still comprehensible... "But wherefore do not you a mightier way make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time? And fortify your self in your decay with means more blessed than my barren rhyme?" It so happens that in the history of the English tongue a lot of things were happening fast just about 500 years ago. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 18 '19 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ Accent differences alone can make it difficult to communicate. I am from Midwest USA (a mostly neutral American accent), and I have found it difficult to understand speakers from Australia, South Africa, and China and India in the past. Took some practice in each case to get over the difficulties. I know Scottish is even worse, but I've not dealt with that accent personally. $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Dec 19 '19 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth considering that the 'original' language wouldn't stay static either; rather than comparing modern English to English 500 years ago, this is like comparing modern English to a hypothetical alternate universe English that split off 500 years ago and potentially evolved very differently. $\endgroup$ – DaveMongoose Dec 19 '19 at 17:01

If after 500 years, another ship arrives from Byzantium, would the Byzantines be able to understand the language of the colonists

It's up to you. Others have offered some plausible answers on the "yes" side. On the "no" side:

  • Writing is not wide spread at this point. There is no printing press, for instance. Possibly some scholarly language will be preserved, but it's a toss-up whether the pronunciation will be intelligible between the two groups. (Consider how we still have Latin almost two millennia later. I believe the spelling is essentially unchanged, but there are disagreements on the pronunciation.) If you look at the evolution of English from circa 1500 to now, there are significant changes, and that's with the printing press. Since there are no audio recordings from 500 years ago, it's hard to say how much pronunciation may have changed.
  • Your Byzantines are assimilating a larger group of Mongol and Zulu people. There will likely be some language mixing, if the Byzantine's language is conserved at all. It's just as possible that they, or at least "common people", will wind up speaking the local languages instead. (Maybe the original Byzantine language is only preserved for legal purposes, e.g. how French was used around 1500 or so.)

Given that your Byzantines seem to be the minority in the scenario you've described, it would take an intentional effort to preserve their language. Since you describe them as conquerors, that is certainly plausible (modern Mexico, for example, speaks Spanish, not Incan/Mayan/etc.), but if they're more laid-back, maybe they just adapt the local language instead.

Meanwhile, you're also assuming that nothing radical happens to the mainland language in that time... which is more plausible, but not guaranteed.

If you want a "yes" answer, at the very least you will want a corpus of written material from around the time of first landing to have survived.

  • $\begingroup$ Those people are Greeks. Their prestige language is ancient Greek, either Attic or Koine. Most definitely not Latin. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 18 '19 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean Latin there as the actual language that would be preserved, but as a real-world example of a language that has been preserved more or less in tact for a very long time. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 18 '19 at 16:18

500 years seems to be too short to make the two branches of the same languages mutually non intelligible.

Though not having been mutually isolated, the Spanish spoken in Latin America and the Spanish spoken in Spain are still mutually understandable, if you manage to avoid the vosotros/ustedes quarrel. Same goes for the English and Portuguese spoken on both sides of the pond.

Some local terminology will surely arise, but for the rest it won't feel like a foreign language.

  • $\begingroup$ "Some local terminology will surely arise, but for the rest it won't feel like a foreign language." just a note on this - the Greek/Byzantines would definitely create new words for concepts they discovered in the continent. They didn't like using foreign words when they could use or create a Greek one or at least make the existing word more Greek. So, they'd use translate "Imperator" as "Autokrator" (self-ruler) and but also use "rex" for "king" which was a Hellenised term that originally came from Latin. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 18 '19 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ Fun side fact, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius dropped the imperator/Autokrator title (among others) in the 7th century CE in favour of more simpler "Basileus" (pronounced vass-ee-levs) which technically also meant "king" but a foreign (barbarian) kings would be referred to as "rex" to draw a distinction. Well, that and "Basileus" would only be literally translated as "king" - Romans didn't like having kings. By the time the title was changed "basileus" was mostly used to mean "ruler", so in effect could also be used for "emperor". $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 18 '19 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. Scots (not Scottish) is completely unintelligible to English speakers, despite being a closely related language and not isolated. m.youtube.com/watch?v=cENbkHS3mnY $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Dec 18 '19 at 16:47

Inuit Languages and Dialects https://nacmedia.ca/product/inuit-uqausiqatigiit/ talks about the spread of Inuit across the Arctic over the space of about 400 years. It mentions how dialect speakers are able to understand their neighbours, but less so their neighbour's neighbours, and so on, as well as how the archeology backs up the linguistic theory on how phonology changes with time.

I highly recommend the book itself as it describes a very logical, self-consistent language that messes with your mind. For instance from memory, I don't know how to take 1 inukshuk away from 3 inuksuit, because I cannot remember the ending for the "dual" case.

oblig wiki-ref https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuit_languages

Edit: updated version of Dorais' book https://nacmedia.ca/product/inuit-languages-dialects/


No linguistic expert but the language if truly dominant would mainly stay the same with some additions in the form of slang from the newly integrated languages. Take German and Dutch, two languages that existed for over a thousand years but due to their shared roots in Germanic two people could still talk at a let's say "kindergarten" level with minimal knowledge of the other's language due to the similarities.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, Germany and Holland are also right next to each other. They'd be trading with each other and otherwise communicating fairly often which means the languages won't diverge too wildly. You can see that a lot with many neighbouring regions that share the same language family - Slavic, Germanic, Frankish. They'd still be close enough for mutual comprehension even after a millenia, as they evolve together. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 18 '19 at 9:47

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