In my not-too-far-future world, under a treaty from the U.N., participants from several nations (less than 10,000 total, from mainly France, the U.K., the U.S.A., alongside minor contributions from other countries) will travel by spaceship to a very far distant planet, taking maybe thousands of years to travel. When they arrive, they will use the built-in Terraforming unit to transform the terrain and vegetation to better match earth biomes.

The reasons for this are to increase trust and unity between the nations participating, to explore different environments and planets, and to develop better technology as a result of the mission.

Naturally, the organization coordinating the entire mission has developed an international language (think Esperanto) with phonemes that are most common within the languages of the people selected and are easiest to pronounce, no complicated orthography (selected characters from the Latin alphabet with one accent mark), simple grammar structures that are easy to learn and use, limited verb tenses (only past, present, future, interrogative, maybe a few others depending on necessity, but no preterit vs. imperfect like in Spanish), etc.

Everyone participating in this mass migration will have to learn the language and be willing to speak it as a main language.

My question breaks down into 3 categories:

  1. Is the creation of this international language realistic as opposed to maintaining the original languages? (obviously, communication and unity would be increased, so I'm thinking most likely yes)
  2. Will the people on the spaceship revert back to speaking amongst their own groups with their original language, or will they speak the unified language? (the organization will encourage usage of the language but never enforce it)
  3. (possibly a duplicate of 2) Will this result in there existing several main dialects which eventually break apart into pidgins and eventually break into their own rehashed versions of the original languages?

Thanks in advance! Comment/edit if it needs more explanation or clarity.

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    $\begingroup$ 1. not really - select native languages they are better and a lot of non obivious work was put in their creation 2. without significant events not reason for that - people are lazy and language change is a hard work. 3. depends on size of the group, more than 300 millions - yes they will begin to split. billion - yes they will be significantly different. Take look in google "dialects of US", "china dialects". $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 27, 2017 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg If you have an answer, post it as an answer rather than a comment, please, as comments can not be voted as the answer. Note: in question 2, there already exist groups greater than 1000 that share an original language. It doesn't take much to speak a language that you already know, especially when you're a native speaker. As to question 3, the initial population was stated as 10,000. This is nowhere near to 300,000,000. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2017 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ Writing a good answer to the question, even at WB level of things is quite a work, which I have no wish to do in the case because I find the question and premise of it flawed on different levels. However, I'm interested in the languages in general, and I had some observations which I wish to share in the short form of a comment. "It doesn't take much to speak a language that you already know, especially when you're a native speaker." - how many languages do you know? I know 4. One of which I knew(at some point in the past) and used almost as good as my native language. There are some problems. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 27, 2017 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ You are stating that it is harder to speak your native language than a language that you have learned along the way, if I'm reading this correctly. I honestly have no idea where that is coming from. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2017 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ Not necessary it can go both ways. I have spoken with people, who immigrated as grown adults to another country and they haven't spoken their native language for 10-15-20 years. Some of them barely can speak(it depends). Bilanguage people who practice native language but speak mostly the language of the country they are in, have difficulties to speak the native language and begin to mix words. To keep the skills it requires constant practice, and if there are no reasons to do so - skills degrade. Try to find emigrants from your country as an example on YT and see how good do they speak now. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 28, 2017 at 0:29

5 Answers 5


1. Is a manmade international language more practical than a natural native one? Probably not; a lingua franca will be easier. If you're set on a non-existing language, it would be best to base it heavily on existing ones and have it be very simple.

You mentioned that France, UK, and USA are the main countries in this effort. French and English are already very broadly taught and spoken. At least half of your participants are probably going to be able to use one or the other for day-to-day conversation. Additionally, I'd guess that your participants aren't going to be picked off the street; they're going to be educated and have specialized knowledge, so the people in charge might make language a prerequisite too.

If you had more diversity of native language (say a mix of French, English, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, and Portuguese), then you'd have more of a problem. But a manmade language is still not particularly efficient. There's a lot of manpower that's going to go into teaching the participants this language; there's no reason to waste effort creating a language from scratch, just teach them an existing language.

If you're determined to make a new international language, you could just simplify and combine the more common languages. Say you've got mostly speakers of Romance and Germanic languages. English is a tasteful mix of the two; take some grammatical patterns and root words, simplify them, and as you say, use common phonemes and Latin characters. This will lessen the effort of creating and learning a language. There are already some conlangs designed with simplicity in mind. Check out Toki Pona; only a couple hundred words and supposed to be able to say anything. Now, since redundancy and subtlety are important for communication, this might not be effective in real life, and it would make talking about specialized things like mechanics or botany more difficult. But it's an intriguing experiment, and specialized topics are going to be your main obstacle anyway.

2. Will people left to their own devices speak their native language among other speakers of their native language? Probably, at least for the first few generations.

You THINK in your native language. It's easier to speak the language you were raised with, even if nobody's listening.

If you want people speaking the common language among themselves, you're going to need to really immerse them. They're going to have to spend a lot more time using the common language than their native one. You'll want signs and media all in your new language. Get them thinking in that language. Some people will be harder to do this with than others.

Also, while the first few generations of your group will retain their original languages, future generations will trend towards speaking the common language more. Like immigrants to America, second gen kids will grow up speaking their parents' language at home, but the common language in public. They'll know it from a young age and be more comfortable with it. Then their kids will be more comfortable with it and so on, especially if you have people with different native languages in the same household.

3. Will the new language differentiate and develop back into the original languages? I don't see how or why they would.

Your new language might gain slang, grammar, pronunciations, etc from the original languages. Maybe like the mix of Mandarin and English in Firefly. But if the participants trend towards their original languages, they'll just speak the original languages. If they develop new dialects, they'll be based on differences in their new environment, not their languages of heritage, and even that probably won't be for a good few centuries at least. Language takes a long time to change, and in that time, your diverse group of participants will probably mingle and homogenize linguistically unless something separates them.


No, yes, unlikely

  1. Is the creation of this international language realistic?

    No. Creating a half-decent artificial language is hard. The closest we have is Esperanto, and it took Esperanto more than half a century to evolve to the level where it could even attempt to express literature; if you look at Esperanto dictionary even today you will be struck by how bare of nuance it is and how underspecified the meanings of the words are.

    The most rational decision is to adopt an existing language, such as English or French or Spanish. English has the advantage that it's well known, and anybody who has an interest in off-world expeditions probably has decent English; it also has the advantage of having very little morphology. Spanish has the advantage that it's really easy to learn (says a native speaker of a Romance language) and has very regular spelling. But in any case, having a few thousand people learn English or French or Spanish is much much very much easier than attempting to create an artificial language able to express what can easily be expressed in any well developed natural language.

  2. Will the people on the spaceship revert back to speaking amongst their own groups with their original language, or will they speak the unified language?

    Yes, they will.

    First of all, how many years of language training are those people going to get? Will there be ample reading material and lots of movies in this new language? Otherwise, how could you possibly expect them to reach near native fluency so that they could consider using the new language in everyday life?

    The major problem of artificial languages is that they have very poor ability to express shades of meaning and are very poor vehicles to express feelings. This comes from their lack of history: artificial languages are born at a specific point in time, and their creators don't even attempt to endow them with the richness of meanings carried by words in natural languages.

    For example, for the word "akvo" the quasi-official Plena Ilustrita Vortaro de Esperanto (Complete Illustrated Dictionary of Esperanto) gives 6 (six) meanings:

    1. Dihydrogen monoxide, H2O.
    2. The liquid which lakes, rivers and seas consist of.
    3. The liquid used by humans for an ample variety of purposes.
    4. A component of the names of various liquids.
    5. A liquid secretion of the body.
    6. The transparency and purity of a gem.

    Now compare this poverty of meanings with the pages dedicated to the English word "water" by the OED, or with what a French dictionary gives for the word "eau". (Not to mention that the 6th meaning, "transparency and purity of a gem", is far from being universally understood.)

    When using an artificial language people have a natural tendency to attribute to a word the whole set of meanings which it has in their natural language. This is not conducive to clear communication. And if they restrict their speech to the official definitions, then why don't they just adopt a pre-existing rich natural language?

    As an anecdote, at work we don't speak English among us although we all know English and most of us are perfectly able to carry conversations in English painlessly.

  3. Will this result in there existing several main dialects which eventually break apart into pidgins and eventually break into their own rehashed versions of the original languages?

    Dialects form when a language is spoken over a large territory so that speakers from one place are isolated, or almost isolated, from speakers from another place. For example, when the Roman empire broke down, the Latin language split into many dialects, eventually resulting in the three dozen or so Romance languages we all love. Dialects can evolve in a small community if it is divided into even smaller subcommunities; however, this can be avoided quite easily. Schools and social media come to mind.

    A pidgin is a rudimentary language (with limited vocabulary and trivially simple grammar) serving as a means of communication between two communities which don't have a language in common but need to interact, usually for the purpose of trade. It is not a dialect of any language, and may evolve towards a full-fledged language, usually because mixed couples teach it as the first language to their children. I don't see any chance of a pidgin emerging within such a small community.

P.S. No preterit vs. imperfect like in Spanish.

Depending on what specific grammar one reads, English can be said to have five past tenses: a preterite ("I tried"), an imperfect ("I was trying"), a present perfect ("I have tried"), a pluperfect ("I had tried") and future in the past ("I would have tried"). Of those, the first four correspond almost exactly to the Spanish tenses with the same name. In other Romance languages the form corresponding with the English present perfect (for example, French "J'ai essayé") is called a "compound perfect" and conflates the meanings of the English preterite and present perfect.

  • $\begingroup$ good answer. As for isolation and media, you might find that video interesting American English is Changing Fast. Will to interact and limits of the interaction of one human with others might be sufficient to have movements in the language. however, standards, schools, literature and other things help to keep the deviations. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 27, 2017 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ I am very confused on why you explained the English tenses to me, but I was just stating that if I were to create said constructed language that it wouldn't have much more than the past, present, future, interrogative, etc. It wouldn't have anything like the preterite, imperfect, etc. as can be seen in Spanish. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2017 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ @DrewChristensen: The point of enumerating English past tenses was to show that a language does not need complicated morphology to express them. English verbs (with the exception of "to be") have a maximum of five forms, e.g., "go", "goes", "going", "went", and "gone", of which two are made trivially from the infinitive, and the other two are usually identical and also made in a simple way; yet with this small number of five regular forms English is perfectly able to express all the tenses of languages with much more complicated morphology. Tenses in themselves are never the problem. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 28, 2017 at 4:51
  1. Not really.

Your "obvious" assumption of communication and unity improving is actually almost certainly false. That is the real reason interest in having "world languages" never took off. It is not nations with distinct languages that cause nationalism and wars. Rather nationalism is used to get support for wars that happen for other reasons. So having everyone use a single language would not really help unity in any way.

Modern UN would simply require everyone to be multi-lingual. Everyone would get to keep their native language and culture and everyone would get to share their culture with others as well. This is generally seen as superior to trying to enforce cultural unity. It would absolutely certainly be seen far superior when planning a millennia long mission to colonize new planets. You'd want as much cultural diversity as possible for such mission.

1: But sure, it can be done

People have much better understanding how languages work than what was available to people behind Esperanto or Volapük. A practical consequence of this is that computers can now understand and translate human language well enough for it to be useful. If we assume current trends continue your colonists would leave Earth with huge libraries of digital content machine translated to their new language and an environment full of appliances and services controlled with speech input. Only one language accepted, of course.

2: No, why would they

You only need ten thousand people out of ten billion or so. You'd easily be able to find people willing to commit to speaking your new language. Later generations would not even get a choice since they would not know any other languages.

Note that the language people speak would diverge from plan quite soon. New words would be adopted. Old words would drop from use or drift in meaning. Basically, even if your language started as artificial, it would rapidly start acting as a natural language if people actually used it. You can see such effects with native Esperanto speakers speaking language slightly differently despite Esperanto not being used that widely.

Additionally your near future spaceship would be full of computer systems that use your new language and will not accept any others. You probably would let the systems adapt to natural evolution of language, but in theory you could force the language to freeze. It would be stupid, but you could do it with people trapped inside a generation ship. Certainly it would trivial to enforce that everyone uses only one language and you would have mission leaders committed to that ideal as well, so it would be done, if somebody suddenly realized that forcing everyone use an artificial language was stupid.

3: Seems unlikely

Split along the old language lines would require people to decide forcing unified language was a bad idea and trying to reverse it within the first generation. This is unlikely to happen as the first generation was presumably committed to the idea for some reason.

It could happen later as part of some sort of cultural revival with languages and customs revived from data banks. If your data banks have such data. It is common for modern documentaries to have re-enactments where people speak English and most anthropological or linguistic data would be useless to the colonists, so there is no reason data banks would have any such data, really.


English or French would become dominant over time. You main populations speak them natively and whatever ideals the UN sent them out with 1000 years ago would long have fallen by the wayside. No artificial language is expressive enough for everyday communication in comparison to a living language, and the useful ones are things like computer languages which you don't chat to each other in.

Your artificial language is an unneeded burden which would be ignored. There is no clear overriding reason to adhere to it or use it, so I would think that by second generation it would be of minor historical significance if not erased from memory entirely.

If for some reason you need it to endure, then write all the ships manuals and other literature in it. Then there will be an actual reason for it's survival.

There are a couple of ways to learn a language, you can learn listening to native speakers, or learn from books. But when you learn from books, you actually have to already know a language, the normal person cannot learn a language from a book that is written in an unknown language.


The United Nations is unlikely to engage in such an endeavor. One of their organizations, UNESCO, is involved in the preservation of endangered languages and languages not often used in "Official" use.

The "official" languages of the United Nations are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic, corresponding to the permanent members of the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Russia, and China, along with Arabic being convenient because there are a lot of people who speak it.

The above reasons make me suspect such an endeavor as contrary to the United Nations style. So my answer is, I don't think such an idea would pass among the UN. It might even be considered offensive.


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