The world's the same as in How would the economy of a city whose parent nation was destroyed support itself?

During the same war mentioned in the linked question, a group of people (~300 people) flees to the northern area of the continent, which is a mountain range. For the next 459 years, travel between this area and the southern areas is virtually nonexistent due to a line of tall mountains along the edge of the range. The language spoken by the people is partially inflected (like Greek) but is more similar to English: there are few case endings, and the purpose of words is determined by position. The endings are:

-i plural (nouns)
-ai past tense (verbs)
-u present tense (verbs)
-a future tense (verbs)
They have no means of communication with the original group.

Which vowel sounds/combinations in these refugees' speech would likely change during the next 459 years, and how?

  • $\begingroup$ I mean their language as a whole, not the things that they often say. $\endgroup$
    – Wick
    Nov 22, 2015 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ There is a bit of a joke with the word "suddenly". See the poem Tension by Billy Collins. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Nov 22, 2015 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ Think about how the US English is different than the UK English, even though we come from the same roots, and that's with communication and only 240-ish years. Without the communication and throw in another 220 years, the differences would be staggering. I mean, they would probably be able to figure each other out, but the changes would be huge. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2015 at 3:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Paulster2 and yet, individuals speaking romance languages can still convey basic ideas to each other. This is a tricky question, to be sure. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Nov 22, 2015 at 3:57

1 Answer 1


Languages are constantly shifting and evolving. Just like in normal evolution, isolation can cause linguistic evolution to increase. Sometimes events can spur evolution, whereas sometimes it can just happen. Other times, these changes can happen in the parent population and not isolated one, such as what has happened with American English and British English. (That's right, British English evolved more than American English!)

Vowel Shifts

This is exactly what it sounds like; some vowels can morph into other ones. For instance, the northern cities of the United States are experiencing something called the "Northern Cities Vowel Shift". It makes some words, like "cat" sound more like "kyat." In theory, any vowel can turn into any other vowels, but generally vowel shifts shift, instead of jump.

Another type of of vowel shift is when one vowel influences the pronunciation of another earlier. In German, this lead to umlauts.

In any case, you need to consult a vowel chart to figure out what changes. You should check out a IPA vowel chart, because it's fairly standard. (Wikipedia's is pretty sweet, with sound files included.)

Consonant Shifts

These shifts have been some of the great reasons why languages change. For instance:

(Indo-European)*Pater -> (Old English) Faeder -> (English) Father

P->F and D, S ->T are some famous examples of famous consonant shifts. This is why German Wasser and English Water are different words. (Whereas German Hand and English Hand are more-or-less the same thing: S->T, but H stayed put!)

Finally, sounds can simply be dropped from words. Someone saying the "k" in "knife" or "knight" would get bizarre looks today, but they were once pronounced.

Regularity Vs. Irregularity In Languages

One other thing to consider: languages tend towards conformity in spelling and grammar except when it would be easier. "When it's easier" it determined by the speakers as a whole. Consider:

  • Color vs. Colour (Changes in spelling)
  • Creeped vs Crept "Crept" isn't wrong, but "creeped" isn't wrong either! It's changing from irregular (crept) to regular (creeped).

A Good Starting Point

Wikipedia's article on sound change may help you figure out what sound changes are realistic and which ones are not. Linguistics is a detailed and complicated field, but this should give you a good starting point.


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