I realize that evolutionary linguistics comprises an entire sub-field of study, but I figure I can narrow it down a bit for this question.

In How long will it take to form a new dialect and language in underground steampunk London?, I asked about how long it would take for a new language to form, and how much a language would change within 50 years. In a continuation of my worldbuilding experiment, I'd like to fully simulate language evolution.

I'll break this down into a two sections: short-term and long-term. What pieces of a language are more likely to change over a short-term period of time and what pieces are more likely to change over a long-term period of time?

Here are the "pieces" I'm concerned with:

  • Vocabulary/semantics
  • Conjugations and declensions
  • Word order/syntax
  • Phonetics
  • Speech rhythm
  • Cadence
  • Any other important bits I'm missing (?)

The reason I ask this is because I'd like to work towards a computational simulation of the evolution of a language. I've read about various methods (see, for example, a late section of Bickerton (2007), but I'd like to figure out which bits I should focus on for short-term and long-term simulations.

  • $\begingroup$ Considering historical examples, I think all of these elements are fairly equally-changeable. (I would guess about 5% change per century, max.) Phonetics probably depends on the environment more than the other pieces. $\endgroup$
    – abcde
    Sep 7, 2015 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Rather relevant and quite thoroughly elaborated example of future English: xibalba.demon.co.uk/jbr/futurese.html $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2015 at 18:41

2 Answers 2


I'm assuming you already know your linguistics so I won't go over the (not so) basics.

It's pretty easy to tell what the phonology will become because those changes already happened in the past or other languages in the language family/dialects. On the other hand, "Innovations", changes that do not happened before or happened but didn't stick for long take more time. Vowels in general change all the time.

The same principle applies to grammar and syntax, the changes that are already taking place will keep moving on until the language changes category or grammatical focus.

Assuming no significant external influences the vocabulary will change accordingly the patterns of the language's morphology and sound distribution, names are usually obvious in the context they were introduced, some languages call batteries "piles" because back in the day they were actual piles of zink people came up with the them because it was obvious for them.

You were naive on this regard on your last post, the name 'geordysword' is too long and cumbersome for an English word, it's not intuitive and it's not consistent with how words are formed, for English you would like to have either a name coming from Latin/French or a monosyllabic English word in which the sounds fit with the apparent/shape of the object. Like [ljuːm] from Latin [Lumen]. Remember that every time something new appears it usually has several names but only the most consistent (easy to learn and remember) names survive. By 'consistent' I mean matching the expectations of the people. They also need to be consistent with the object they represent, see "sound symbolism" and "Bouba/Kiki effect".

Take much care with slang, slang is like sperm, they are created by the thousands but only a few are actually useful and have the properties to survive.The rest dies in obscurity.

On a side note, your whole idea seems very implausible, those people have family, business, tasks to do in the big outside world which are much more appealing than the hot deeps of the mine, why they would isolate themselves to form a new society, let alone a new language?

  • $\begingroup$ Re kiki/bulba: I think the fact that one of the shapes looks kike the letter k, and the other vaguely looks like a B if you cover up half, is a bias. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Sep 20, 2015 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ The test was replicated in several countries, not only in places when people write using the Latin script. It was also used different words/letters, with the same results. The subject has been proven without doubt altho efforts to get deeper into it seem somewhat shy: depts.washington.edu/uwcl/matrix/sfd/…. The whole area is a very interesting (and underrated) window in language fundamentals. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2015 at 11:48

Any model for language change is going to depend on the rate of change in the surrounding society. Changes in vocabulary can happen much faster than changes in grammar. The degree of social isolation for UnderLondon from London will play a role too. If social isolation is high then UnderLondon is free-r to evolve a new language than it is remains anchored to London's English.

Vocabulary can change very rapidly as shown in this "short" list of words that didn't exist 50 years ago. So when UnderLondon starts, I would expect to see the introduction of several words to describe new circumstances that differ between a common coal mine and UnderLondon. As the rate of new experiences and objects declines, the rate of new words would also slow down.



I believe (and cannot prove) that changes in language will follow the s-shaped curve of the logistics function moving from one state of homeostasis into a period of rapid change into a saturated state with low rates of change. How the various aspects of a language will interact or their rates of change over time, I'm not sure.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The relationship between social change and linguistic change is far from being a straightforward one, there`s plenty of example of similar societies with languages that have very different rates of change (eg: Icelandic and Danish). $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2015 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ ...without what? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Sep 29, 2015 at 16:22

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