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In my world there is an engineered species of changeling-like shapeshifters. Their lifecycle is similar to that of cuckoos (and the fair folk) of replacing human children with their own, who then run away into the wilderness once they reach maturity.

The original changelings would have spoken the language of their creators. However, would we expect subsequent generations of changelings to switch over to the language of their victims as their childhood will have been spent among people?

Assumptions:

  • Developmentally, language develops in shapeshifters in a similar manner to humans (in terms of age-related milestones in language development).
  • The switch typically happens between early and late childhood. More ambitious shapeshifters would go for younger babies, whereas more cautious ones would go for children who are old enough to walk independently (to swap younger children would involve sneaking into dwellings, whereas older children could be lured away).
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    $\begingroup$ I would imagine they would speak their victims language but if they revere their original tradition, if the shapeshifters socialise with their own kind and when they mate, they may speak the original language also. $\endgroup$ – RandySavage Feb 24 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RandySavage Ah cool :) so perhaps they'd speak whatever human language they grew up in, but have their creators language as a liturgical language (like Latin). Perhaps they'd use it as a bit of a lingua-franca for communicating with changelings based in other cultures. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Feb 24 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ This is a choice you can make as it's your world. We have no way to provide guidance as we have no way to know how language functions in the brain (or equivalent) of your shapeshifters. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Feb 24 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG Hum, let's assume that the development of language functions similarly to humans. Will edit the question accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Feb 24 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @RandySavage Haha I expect you're right ;) good point about hiding any obvious signs of their original language. So there would be a moderately strong pressure away from using their original language. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Feb 24 at 13:18
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Your assumption that they would adapt the language of their victims is correct.

If the changeling babies spend their youth pretending to be human, the only language they will be taught, and subsequently know, would be that of their victims. They will not magically know the older languages of their species, nobody will have taught them. Advanced communications (beyond grunts and screams) does not come naturally to any species without being taught, magical or not.

Of course, they could learn the elder languages as a second language when they join their community later in life. The usefulness for this is debatable, as it would only be useful to communicate with their kin worldwide. They could communicate with their community in their youth language, as they will have grown up in the same area. But when international communications are needed, learning any common language could do, rather than the elder one.

Over the generations, the usefulness of the elder language will deteriorate, and eventually it will be forgotten. They will solely speak the language of their victims, and perhaps some second language(s) they choose to learn on top of that.

Note: This highly depends on the language of their creators to begin with. If this is any of the worlds most common languages, this could come in useful, and the language might stick around. Languages like Romanian, Greek, or Swedish for example are less universally known, and will not likely stick around for long.

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  • $\begingroup$ absolutely correct Given this is an entirely fictitious scenario with an unknown species and unknown biochemistry and no way of knowing how their intelligence functions (do they even have brains as we know them ?), "absolutely" is rather over the top. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Feb 24 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG Sure, it was more for emphasis than precision anyway. I have removed "absolutely" as you wish. However, the question does state their language development is similar to humans. If their intelligence level matches more or less, then one could assume similar characteristics with some certainty. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 24 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Plutian Thanks :) so what we'd likely see is a trajectory towards using the local language, with perhaps an intermediate phase of the elder language being used as a sort of lingua franca between more distant groups (in the absence of any other lingua francas spoken by their host population). Eventually, the elder language might die out, depending on how robust the structures are for maintaining it. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Feb 24 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Ynneadwraith that is more or less what I would expect in a reasonably humanoid population, yes. Of course, as StephenG suggests if they are not at all humanoid in their culture, traditions, or thinking, this might be different. In that case it will completely be up to the writer to decide what their species are like. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 24 at 14:35
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I'd have thought they'd speak their adopted language only, unless their own was hardwired in as part of the changeling process.

Unless you are having clandestine "speak changeling" courses as they are growing up. Or once they "escape" to the wilderness, the 1st thing they do is learn their own language.

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