Let's begin. Humanity reaches for the solar system, but wants to make sure everyone can talk to each other. A "Solar Language" edict is enacted, making one language the default language for everyone not on Earth (And, eventually, on Earth too).

All goes well. People can talk to each other, as intended. Someone decides to create a generation colony ship to, say, Trappist-1. This colony launches, but it'll take a while to get there. This colony will be referred to as Colony 1, and it will be assumed that their language doesn't change significantly, specifically for the purposes of this question.

Meanwhile, some other idiot creates a bio-plague that almost exterminates the rest of Humanity. Humanity survives, loses pretty much everything, and rebuilds, but over the course of a few centuries. Of course, language changes. This set of humanity discovers a type of FTL drive, and plans another colony. FTL-Seeking Monsters attack and destroy Earth. Three groups splinter off:

  • Colony 2, who escape on a ship with cryogenic suspension, but are awakened and form a colony with most of the tech from Dead-Earth.
  • Colony 3, formed from ships that immediately flee but lack resources to establish technology. After a few centuries, they get back on their feet.
  • Nomad Fleet, people who are picked up by the Friendly Aliens that follow the FTL-Seeking Monsters and save whoever they can. They go on their Friendly Alien way for the next few centuries.

So, a few centuries down the road, everyone comes together. We have Colony 1, who although they are the oldest colony, haven't changed their language. Their language is the original, which all others branched off from. Colony 2 has the least divergent language from Colony 1, and theirs is the basis for the language of Colony 3 and the Nomad Fleet. Colony 3 has diverged a lot from Colony 1, and a bit from Colony 2. They have the same base as the Nomad Fleet, but it's been a while. The Nomad Fleet's human population has the base language from Colony 2, derived from Colony 1, but only the same base as Colony 3.

How difficult would translation be between these groups? Would Colony 1 even recognize the language of the Nomad Fleet? Would Colony 2 be able to go "Hey, guys, I got this" and whip up a Rosetta stone for everyone? Would the Nomad Fleet and Colony 3 be able to talk to each other without much difficulty because they have the same base, or would isolation cause them to diverge too much?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ High rates of literacy tend to slow (not stop) language drift. Also, some languages (like Latin) include more error-correcting grammar than English. Considering that the English drift over 200 years has been fairly minor (read Bronte, Poe, Hawthorne), I think that after a thousand years written communication should still be fairly easy to understand. Verbal, though, is a different story. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ A good point. We can read a lot of things that we wouldn't be able to hear nicely. A few of my cases do involve literacy tanking and being rebuilt (Earth after the Bio-Plague, resulting in Colony 2, and Colony 3), but others, such as Colony 1, are high literacy and wouldn't necessarily change. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ Example: Two thousand years of low-literacy have split Latin into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, etc. Translating among them is usually not a tremendous challenge. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733: Make that 400 years. Shakespeare and contemporaries are readily understandable, except for a few vocabulary items that have fallen out of use - and that's more cultural than linguistic. (And, of course, non-standard spelling.) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ “a while” is not enough to suggest an answer. How many generations? Are they taught from original lessons and textbooks? What was the extent of population bottlenecks? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 6:08

1 Answer 1


Translating between "distant" languages is a common practice on Heart since the mankind has developed.

The word "barbarian" was used by the Greeks to indicate languages different from Greek which sounded like babbling or stuttering to their ears. Nevertheless they were able to set up trades and relationships with these "babbling savages", like then it happened between the Europeans and the Africans, Native Americans and Asians all along the centuries.

Moreover, philologists have been able to reconstruct a more or less reliable evolutionary tree for languages, indicating how and when a language developed.

Therefore I would say that there will be no big assle to set up a translation scheme between these Colonies and the Nomad fleet.


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