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If such a thing would even be possible.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by dot_Sp0T, sphennings, Frostfyre, Monica Cellio Nov 12 '17 at 3:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Why not English? This seems rather broad at the moment. We don't know anything about your merpeople's culture or physical capabilities. The traditional assumption is that merpeople have the same kind of vocal cords as humans and could learn any human language. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Nov 11 '17 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Yes; too broad to answer meaningfully. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 11 '17 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ We need to know more about merfolk and the world they live in to give you a good answer. As it is now, everything is possible. $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 12 '17 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ Why do many Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, &c speak English? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 12 '17 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf To be able to talk to native English speakers who are too lazy to learn Japanese, Chinese or European languages. Also, non-English speakers have a wonderful fluency in learning other languages, so why not English too. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 12 '17 at 8:20
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All you need for this is proximity to English-speaking people. If there's proximity, there will be conflict, or potential conflict which can be avoided through communication.

Some thoughts:

  • Merfolk might be very territorial about their favorite fishing grounds. "You can fish here, but not there, landlubbers!"

  • Merfolk might have a habit of rescuing shipwrecked sailors. Over time they've learned to communicate with these flotsam-folk so as to not freak them out.

  • Could be they desire trade with the humans. They could trade shipwreck treasure, exotic corals, or heck, fish to the humans in exchange for metals and ceramics.

  • There could be a protection racket going on. "Nice ship you have there, human. Be a shame if something ... happened to it."

  • Might be that merfolk all know English, but nobody on land knew, because merfolk lore maintains that "the men up there don't like a lot of chatter"...

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice Ursula reference! $\endgroup$ – Willk Nov 12 '17 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Will I tried to resist putting in that last bullet point, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. ;D $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 13 '17 at 3:35
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I see several.

  1. Merfolk are magically transformed (english speaking) humans.

  2. Merfolk could have no useful language of their own, and have discovered english, and have adopted it. The same could be true of clothing, makeup, and Viagra.

  3. akaioi's answer.

  4. Coincidence.

  5. English speaking humans captured pet merfolk, taught them english, and then released them, much as dolphins in Day of the Dolphin were taught certain sounds.

I think it is more of a problem to have verbal language underwater in the sense you are asking for an air-driven mechanism to exist, where air is absent. But you don't seem to be asking about that very basic problem. So, they likely have english, and viagra, and boob jobs too. Why not.

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  • $\begingroup$ DPT, traditionally merfolk are supposed to be (ahem) beautifully proportioned, hence not in need of either plastic surgery or viagra. More realistically, to survive that cold ocean merfolk should have a glorious, thick layer of blubber! Like almost all marine mammals. $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 11 '17 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ The blubber is good. They damn well better be able to sing. $\endgroup$ – DPT Nov 11 '17 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ I bet they can, but with our luck it'll be in super high-frequency sonar ranges that humans can't hear... ;D $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 11 '17 at 22:50
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Sirens.
If you want sailors to jump overboard when they hear you, it helps if the sailors understand what you are singing.

Ulysses and the Sirens. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Herbert_James_Draper Drapers Ulysses and the sirens

http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.12.xii.html

If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men's ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster.

Look at Ulysses. He definitely hears them. I wonder if later in his life he ever dreamt of that song and woke up as he was walking down the road to go to them.

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