I'm planning an English-speaking apocalyptic world, where only a handful of survivors exist and serve as anchors for past culture. Interestingly I've lately noticed how strange the language in many apocalyptic works is (for example people that do not have even a concept of God uttering "oh God"), so I'm interested in the topic.

Understandably this question is incredibly wide in scope, but any kind of details or guidelines on how the language could possibly develop while denied most of the links to past would be at least a step towards coherence in my world.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Ash, Mołot, L.Dutch, MichaelK, Frostfyre Nov 15 '17 at 13:08

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  • $\begingroup$ Not an answer by any means but for those interested in a good post-apocalypse read that happens to pay some attention to this issue, in the later volumes, S.M Stirling's Emberverse is brilliant. $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 15 '17 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ I always ask the same with these kinds of questions, but I never seem to get an answer: What would an answer look like? What kind of statements do you expect with the information you provided? What do you expect people to base their answers on? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 15 '17 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Practically anything is valuable. Ideal answer could be anything from wild speculation to for example studies on how language historically has developed. I'm not expert on language so I don't exactly know what kind of answers to expect and to what people studying subject base their speculation on. As I admitted the scope of question is very wide, but anything can prove valuable. $\endgroup$ – JDoe Nov 15 '17 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ The simple answer is that it cannot. The english language developed as it did through a series of Latin, French, and Germanic influences over a vast period of time. Many of the expressions were borrowed from other languages and the ones that weren't would likely not be used in a post-apocalyptic era such as "don't throw out the baby with the bath water" wouldn't make much sense if for whatever reason, you don't give baths to babies (radioactive water?). Better still your example of "oh god". You may get a similar language of course, but there would be a lot less irregular verbs and such. $\endgroup$ – Neil Nov 15 '17 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Dds So you see that you are basically asking for people to write a book for you about language in general. Here are some ways to focus the question: Give a time frame (e.g. 100 years after x), say what has happened in that apocalypse, state what has changed in the daily life of the people, say how much cooperation is between how many different people and over what distances, say which English speaking country, state what you have researched so far yourself (I'm sure you did google this). See, just simply asking if "oh god" survives in a godless society is a question on its own $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 15 '17 at 12:56

If by "English" you mean "US-English" (as most of the world do) then you should take into account fact it already is a very mangled and simplified language due to the sheer amount of people that talk it as "second tongue" even in the US.

A couple of centuries of continuous immigration from the farthest corners of the world produced a language that is much simplified (with respect to the "original") and easy to use mainly in everyday exchanges, but lacks in depth.

As an example: all Philosophical discussions are done using German words.

The major anchor to keep a language fixed are the recorded fonts.

Without such anchor languages drift quite easily (and fast!), especially if groups are small and with infrequent contacts.

Some expressions lose completely their original meaning; the cited "oh God!" might have become a generic interjection with no link to the Almighty (and probably spelled as "oggod!").

This happens continuously in "live" languages and especially so with US-English which is open to all influences.

One example also here: "placebo" original meaning ("I take the place of") has been forgotten to the point it acquired a "beneficial" role, so much so a new word was coined to express the "negative counterpart": "nocebo".

In general, depending on the amount of book/video which survived apocalypse (and ability yo read/play them!), you may bet on a further loss of many words not representing something some aspect of the current life and birth of specific "slang" words to detail something important for survival (Inuit don't have a word for "green", but have more than 20 to represent different kinds of ice).

Some words, now common, could become used just in fairy tales for kids.

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    $\begingroup$ Words for colors are a difficult topic. Also this might interest you: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Several cultures lack(ed) words for several colors we have now. Depending on your background, you might be surprised to find that other cultures can name more colors than you can. Attributing something like names for colors to necessity of survival is a very bold statement. Even though it sounds intuitive I dare say it is wrong. The complexity of the question currently is overwhelming, I don't think it is a good idea to provide answers currently $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 15 '17 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35: I know I'm oversimplifying. Color was only for counterbalance. Having multiple names for (apparently) the same thing as, in the example, "ice", for an Inuit, surely has "survival" aspects because it gives more depth to your thoughts and precision to your speech. The same could be said for the same piece of "rope" a sailor will call with umpteen different names according with usage. Every trade ends up having specific names for (apparently) slightly different things the layman would call with only one generic word. This is what I was trying to say. Please correct me as necessary. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Nov 15 '17 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ Not all the rest of the world means U.S. English when they say "English". For example, in many European countries we are taught English English in school with some lessons dedicated to the weird spelling and pronounciation of Americans. And oh God! "placebo" never ever had the meaning of "I take the place of"; this is a fantastic piece of folk etymology. "Placebo" is Latin for "I shall be pleasing", with the medical meaning "a harmless substance fed to hypochondriacs who insist that they need medication"; it does not mean "something beneficial". "Nocebo" is Latin for "I shall be harmful". $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 15 '17 at 15:25

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