My space colonists (160 people) are mostly scientists with at least two advanced degrees and some research experience. They all speak English because it is a language of science today. However, the majority of them are not native speakers of English. The languages that have the most native speakers are English, Russian, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, and French.

The ship's data banks contain knowledge in many languages, including dead and not spoken by the colonists. The AI is fluent in all the languages that the crew speaks and is capable of learning any language in its database. The AI is sufficiently advanced (there is still a debate whether it is truly sentient, though) to tutor all willing to learn a new language. It proved to be very beneficial for romantic relationships, quality leisure time, and mental health.

I am wondering how the language would shift, drift, or mix over years. I suppose that the first generation will stick to English as a lingua franca, but the following generations would change it to adapt to a new world and to accommodate new cultural concepts. I need some help with general language drift direction and maybe some references I could check for similar existing linguistic phenomena.

EDIT: As @AlexP noted, the question is quite broad. However, since the dialogue should remain understandable for the average readers, I am looking into changes that would be noticeable and comply with general linguistic trends, yet, not dramatic enough to make the text incomprehensible.

For example, I think that articles might disappear quite early because they are one of the hardest to master concepts in English for speakers of languages that do not have articles, e.g. Russian, Mandarin, and Japanese. Russians and Chinese will comprise a significant part of the crew.

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    $\begingroup$ In linguistics, "language shift" has a specific technical meaning, and it's not what you seem to believe; it refers to "the process whereby a community of speakers of a language shifts to speaking a different language", for example we say that after the Roman conquest, the Gauls went thru a language shift, abandoning their Celtic languages and adopting Latin. And it is debatable if languages ever mix; if possible at all it is in any case exceedingly rare. See sound change, lexical change. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 1 '17 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ As I understand the question invites speculation about the evolution of the English language in small isolated community. There are entire books dedicated to studying the tendencies of change in English and other languages; and this is about real actual real-life tendencies. Speculating about a hypothetical community is pure speculation; why don't you just make up your sound change laws, imagine some tendencies of grammatical change and, for added spice, some semantic shifts and borrowings from, for example, German or Russian or Mandarin? It's not as if there is a right answer. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 1 '17 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, language shift is an actual possibility since language communities (albeit small) can abandon their native languages and switch to English completely. And I am asking for an advice on those books since I am not a linguist. Any information would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP What about creole languages? And the French influence on English following the Battle of Hastings? Not to mention the slew of loanwords adopted into English. Is "English" as we know it not how linguists actually define English, and whenever we make venison jerky we're actually just dropping into French? $\endgroup$ – Michael Sep 1 '17 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael: A mixed language is not a creole; there are few uncontested examples. A creole is self-standing language developed from the adoption of a pidgin as an L1 language; that is, a creole is a grammaticalized pidgin. English is not a mixed language in any sense; it is a West Germanic language through and through, albeit with a massive vocabulary of French / Latin / etc. origin. But that's just vocabulary, and after all, words must come from somewhere. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 1 '17 at 20:20

Speculation ahoy!

Here are some possible, likely or very likely directions of immediate language change in a community of people with diverse monther tongues who use English as their medium of communication. As the question indicates, most of the members of the community speak English as a second language; very likely the varieties of English used in the community are not uniform, with some members approximating British English/RP because they had learned English in Europe, and others approximating General American.

We can safely assume that:

  1. There will be an immediate and general loss of the aspiration of voiceless stops. Native English speakers pronounce /p/, /t/ and /k/ as [ph], [th], [kh] when they occur alone at the onset of a stressed syllable. (Slashes // indicate a "broad" or phonemic transcription, brackets [] indicate a "narrow" or phonetic transcription.) Native speakers of most other European languages do not hear and cannot reproduce this pronounciantion reliably.

  2. It is highly likely that there will be a loss of the English system of verbal aspects. English has an indefinite aspect and a continuous aspect; these don't map well to the verbal aspects of other languages, and many languages (such as the Romance family) don't have verbal aspects at all. It is probable that as speakers of English as a second language the members of the community have a rather imperfect grasp of the difference between the two verbal aspects of English, and they use the continuous aspect rarely if at all; it is very likely that by the third generation the continuous aspect will have dissapeared.

  3. It is highly likely that the English preterite will be abandoned in favor of the present perfect; the latter has the advantage of being a clear formation, formally identical to the compound perfect of Romance languages and similar enough with the way Mandarin indicates that at action has taken place in the past. Hurray, one less principal verbal form to learn!

  4. In phonology:

    • By the second or third generation everybody will speak a rhotic form of English; that is, they will pronounce words like "hard", "court" or "work" with an "r" sound, /hɑrd/, /kɔrt/ and /wɜrk/; forms like /hɑːd/, /kɔət/ and /wɜːk/ will no longer be heard or understood. There will probably be a variety of realisations of /r/ -- some will pronounce [ɹ̠] (a postalveolar approximant, the common American "r"), others [r] (a dental or alveolar trill, a common form or "r" in European languages other than English and French), ...

    • There will be a general simplification of the vocalic system, abandoning subtle distinctions which are hard to maintain by second-language speakers, moreover since the second-language English spoken by the members of the community is very likely not uniform in this respect; it is probable that the bewildering variety of English vowels will be simplified to a system approximating the cardinal vowels present in most languages, possibly with long and short, or maybe tense and lax varieties.

  5. In morphology:

    • It is possible that the historical tendency of English to abandon grammatical gender will be taken to its ultimate conclusion, generalizing the pronoun "they" in the third person after the model of "you" in the second person, maybe retaining "it" (and the corresponding verbal form in -s) for inanimate subjects.

    • It is likely that the synthetic English possesive in 's will be abandoned in favor of the more clear analytical possesive with of. Most languages don't have two forms for the genitive/possesive, and the distinction between the two English forms is much too esoteric for second language speakers. (For my life, I wouldn't be able to tell what the distinction is; I generally try to parrot what I have hear or read, and in most technical writing I use the 's form sparingly if at all.)

  6. The most dramatic changes will occur in the lexical sphere, as always. There is no way to prevent immediate change in the vocabulary, because with most members of the community there is simply too much variation, each speaker unconsciously attributing to English words the full set of connotations in their mother tongue.

It is quite likely that the immediate change will be to adopt an approximation of one of the varieties of controlled English, modeled on the controlled form of English used by the official regulations and technical manuals governing the space colony, most probably a form of the Simplified Technical English used by the aerospace and defense industries. STE simplifies English vocabulary with the aim of reducing ambiguities. For example, in STE the word "close" is always a verb, meaning to move two or more objects together or to operate a circuit breaker so that the circuit is established; the adjectival meaning of "close" in unrestricted English is assigned to the word "near". (A copy of the ASD-STE100 specification can be obtained from the official website after jumping through hoops, or, unofficially, from elsewhere.)

Since actual living linguistic communities don't like controlled natural languages at all, it is highly likely that there will be a phase of massive semantic shifts and vocabulary enrichment through derivation, composition, straight borrowing or calquing from the native languages of the first generation colonists.

How to convey linguistic change

Don't overdo it. Limit the direct representation of Nyoo Inglish to the minimum necessary to convey a flavor; don't attempt to write the whole book in it. Even a book such as A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess tries to avoid overwhelming the reader with the Nadsat spoken by the characters.

For those sentences, phrases and words in New English / Nyoo Inglish you may want to use a form of (relatively) easy-to-read phonemic spelling such as Axel Wijk's Regularized English; this will serve as "eye dialect", indicating that some new form of the language is used without actually compelling the reader to learn a new language.

You may also want to apply selectively some of the grammatical changes, either limited to the direct speech of the characters or not.

To get a flavor of a plausible non-English English, besides the above mentioned Clockwork Orange you may want to read Poul Anderson's Uncleftish Beholding, a short exposition of basic atomic (un-cleft-ish, a calque after Greek atomos, "uncut, indivisible") theory (be-hold-ing, a calque after Greek theôreô, "to look at, to behold"), written in a hypothetical "Anglish", that is, pure Germanic English without the massive Latin / Romance / Greek vocabulary.

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    $\begingroup$ Wish I could up-vote you twice! Excellent answer. I don't understand all of your phonetic spellings though. Maybe you could add references so I know how to pronounce [ɹ]? $\endgroup$ – wackozacko Sep 1 '17 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ This is brilliant! I have a question, though. Do you think it would be possible for T-V Distinction to make a comeback? While it is long gone from English it is common in Slavic and European languages. It is also culturally more suitable for people born and raised in Asian countries. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Olga: No, I don't think so, mainly because English no longer has the morphological devices needed for expressing such a distinction. My experience is that under the influence of English the T-V distinction is losing steam in other languages; see for example here for the situation in French. Amazon.fr still maintains the conservative "vous" forms, but Amazon.it uses the "tu" forms exclusively. In my own language, Romanian, which in principle has an elaborate set of polite forms, the vast majority of ads use the "tu" forms... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 1 '17 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ English is perfectly capable of expressing the T-V distinction, by addressing people with their first names or Mr/Ms last names. There will be no pressure to (re)introduce another methods to express the same concept. $\endgroup$ – followed Monica to Codidact Sep 1 '17 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ Past perfect will be quickly and most certainly lost, too. Most languages are quite happy with simple past/present/future tenses. $\endgroup$ – followed Monica to Codidact Sep 1 '17 at 21:25

There would be no need to drift from English on a whole since everyone can speak it. They may pick up words from the other languages though since other languages have words for concepts or feelings that aren't directly mapped into English but English, as a language has been doing that for a long time now. So, it would be more of the same. If you know a non-English language and know words that would work better in a space setting that some that we already have, stick them in. Also, ask around for people who natively speak the other languages you will have on your station for words that they think fit situations better than the English equivalent.

I can't give an absolute here but, typically, people with science and engineering training are all about precision of thought and precision of language. They have no problem making up words that more precisely define a new concept (usually out of Latin but not exclusively). This goes against a general trend to make language simpler and faster (just look at modern slang, "meh" as an example). Any long, often repeated, process will end up being described in 1 or 2 words related to some part of the process.

So, you will have two opposing trends: making the language more complex/precise and making the language simpler/faster.

For example: if the bulkhead doors all have a small port that can be opened that will make a whistling sound if there is a pressure difference (ie: pressure leak) and everyone is trained to always check the whistle port before opening an bulkhead door (and they are smart enough to have a lot of bulkhead doors in the station), the language may pick up a term like "whistle through to..." when talking about going through one or more bulkheads since checking the port for pressure leaks is so important for the safety of everyone.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, but to get into the spirit of this incredibly broad question, the issue is that most of the members of the community are not native English speakers; their knowledge of English is imperfect, their pronounciations are all over the map, they may well assign connotations to English words after the model of their mother tongues... There is ample room for linguistic change. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 1 '17 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP, Yes but without knowing those other languages as a native speaker, it would be hard to come up with reasonable shifts. Also, you don't want the spoken language to drift so far that the reader can't figure it out. Right now, a realistic "spacer language" would probably be a mashup of English, Russian, Chinese and a smattering of other languages. However, if the reader doesn't know all three of the main languages, they won't be able to follow the dialog. So, it doesn't make sense from a story telling standpoint. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Sep 1 '17 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat, I loved the "whistle through to..." idea. Thanks! You also make a good point about keeping the dialogues understandable. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Olga, just think of any multistep process that is repeated so often that they think of it as a single thing. Those will get their own words. Also, phrases tend to become words or you get meta references. You also end up with meta references (references to a past event or story to describe something). Calling someone a Romeo or a Juliette would be an example of this. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Sep 1 '17 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense. I guess I will need to work on world details and mythology to come up with a colony slang. I should start writing a dictionary. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 18:51

This does actually happen. The teams that constructed the chunnel running from England to France worked very closely together and by the end of the project spoke a mixture of the two languages since some terms are more accurate in one language than another. When you're discussing a particular subject in one language, it is natural for prepositions, pronouns and other words from that language to creep in, even if the overall conversation is being held in a different language. And this was over the course of just a few years. I imagine over the course of generations the effect would be far more pronounced.

Also consider the change from old English to middle English. With the Norman invasion in 1066, French became the language of the wealthy while English remained the language of the poor, and both were adopted for specific situations and adopted divergent meanings. The poor who worked the farms called the animals cow, sheep and pig and the wealthy who ate the meat called it beef, mutton and pork and the language transitioned so much that old English is unrecognizable from middle English. Also consider house vs mansion.

I think that if the majority of colonists are not native English speakers, a transition to a language that is a mix of all the spoken languages would happen fairly quickly.

Now the question is how would it change. For scientific and relational concepts, the most accurate word to describe the situation would be adopted. English only has one word for love, other languages have multiple words depending on whether you're describing the love for a spouse, the love for family, the love for a pet or the love of a pastime. For day to day conversation, you may find the shortest word wins out or the most common cognates (words in different languages that sound similar and have the same meaning). For example, mom and dad would probably be dropped in preference of some form of ma and pa as those are more widely understood (though technically they are false cognates). Chai would be used instead of tea, and something like sukar instead of sugar.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the channel reference. Is there a book or an article I could read to get some inspiration? $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, nothing has been written on the subject as far as I know. My information comes from a discussion with one of the engineer's nephews whom I met overseas. But you can do some research on [interlanguages][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interlanguage] and [creole][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language] languages if you'd like to read more on very similar phenomenon. $\endgroup$ – wackozacko Sep 1 '17 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Also, chunnel is a shortened form of 'Channel Tunnel' and references the tunnel under the English Channel specifically, as opposed to any other channel. $\endgroup$ – wackozacko Sep 1 '17 at 19:13

In the second generation all children would likely be taught English first, and the reason for this is simple. If your child speaks a different language then all the other children on the ship, they could feel isolated, they could have difficulty communicating with the other children and not have access to children of their age that speak their language.

Consider that with only 160 people starting, you are probably looking at a lower number for children of the same age, as not all of the 160 will have kids at the same time. The ability of these children to socialize is already fairly limited by their limited access to other children, teaching them different languages and further limiting their ability to socialize is just bad parenting.

English or any other common language would also be dominant by the 3rd generation. A major reason for this is because of marriages. If a French and English speaking man has a child with a German and English speaking woman, they will almost certainly teach their child English as a first language. Now in the first generation it is possible that they would sign up for the colony ship in pairs, and thus all speak the same first language as their significant others, and teach that language to their children. But beyond that people would likely have children with people who did not speak the same languages as them, besides the common language, in this case English. Thus by three generations it would be highly improbable a significant number of children would not speak English first.

You also have to consider that all adults are already likely fairly fluent in English in order to be able to survive on this colony ship. This might not be true if it simply flies itself to its destination without needing maintenance. But if the crew were required to work together, fairly decent English would be required.

Because of these reasons the influence of multiple languages would likely be reduced.

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    $\begingroup$ You are forgetting parents' innate desire to maintain their own language and culture through generations. Look at any expat's kids and they are almost universally bilingual, learning their parents' language and the language(s) of their host country. $\endgroup$ – wackozacko Sep 1 '17 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @wackozacko Expats have communities full of expats, they don't need to learn another language to communicate, and can keep their language as primary. This is a question about only 160 people from a large amount of backgrounds. They would not have a large enough expat community to keep their first language as their primary language. The need to socialize will overpower the desire to keep their native languages. Further the claim that the children of expats are almost universally bilingual is just simply lacking in evidence. Also bilingual doesn't mean English second. $\endgroup$ – Braydon Sep 1 '17 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ I grew up in an 'expat' community from about half a dozen different nationalities and everyone I knew learned their parent's language as well as English and most tried to learn the language of our host country as well. Keeping their parent's native language never limited their ability to socialize. A parent is a child's primary source of verbal communication up until about the age of 3 as they socialize with other children their age before then without meaningful verbal communication. By this point their parents' language is solidified as their primary language. $\endgroup$ – wackozacko Sep 1 '17 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @wackozacko. I lived in several expatriate communities and I rarely saw parents teaching their children a host country language as a first language. However, I regularly saw children talking to parents in their native languages and using a host country language to talk among themselves. I agree that children's native language proficiency is frequently much lower than their parents', but very often it results from a lack of stimulation and teachers' requests not to teach children their parents language(s). $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Braydon, I can see where you are coming from. And I think you are right about the third generation. On the other hand... I can imagine all of them growing as polyglots since they are surrounded by native speakers of many languages and the ship has enough learning and entertainment material in all those languages. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 20:32

I do not think the language will change significantly. Most of the written material is in English. Ship manuals are in English. Children are tought to speak the right English with the right grammar. There is not enough people to write books in the new language. I think that how schools teach and how much time children spend learning the right language is very important. Of course there will be a few new words coming from other languages, but as they are not present in the books how to teach English they will be considered slang at least at the beginning.

  • $\begingroup$ Why do you assume that most of the written materials and instruction manuals are in English? ISS has manuals in both Russian and English and astronauts are required to have at least upper intermediate level of Russian. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ Because you only need one language to write manuals for new equipment if everyone speaks that language. And Russia like all the other world is moving toward knowing English by everyone. Programmers without English cannot read manuals. My master degree in Economics in Moscow was 70% tought in English. $\endgroup$ – keiv.fly Sep 1 '17 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ In Japan, English-language education is compulsory starting from the middle school (5th grade). Despite that, only a small percent of the population can say more than "speak Engrish, no". Predictably, everything is in Japanese. They are struggling to prepare Tokyo for the Olympics and nowadays I see a lot of 'English' translations done by Google. I also do not see Russia giving up on Russian. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 1 '17 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Children in the German speaking part of Switzerland are taught to speak "right" German (Hochdeutsch), and they are able to understand it without difficulty, but they'll stick to their own variant of the language for the rest of their life. People on the ship will be able to understand proper English, but there will be no incentive to be able to speak and write it. $\endgroup$ – followed Monica to Codidact Sep 1 '17 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ If the school education will be in English on the ship they will speak fluent English. In Germany some schools teach in Hochdeutsch and some in regional dialects. Children from the first schools speak Hochdeutsch. In India all higher education is in English and all Indians with higher education speak fluent English. Their pronunciation is hard to understand for europeans but they are nevertheless fluent in the language. $\endgroup$ – keiv.fly Sep 1 '17 at 21:53

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