The English language in 3000 AD

Here's a 2003 article by linguist Justin B Rye that looks at how the English has evolved over the centuries, and offers an example of what English could sound look in a thousand years.
2000 AD: We children beg you, teacher, that you should teach us to speak correctly, because we are ignorant and we speak corruptly...

3000 AD: *ZA kiad w'-exùn ya tijuh, da ya-gAr'-eduketan zA da wa-tAgan lidla, kaz 'ban iagnaran an wa-tAg kurrap...

FUTURESE: The American Language in 3000 AD (via The Presurfer)

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  1. Cute, but moot.

    By 3000 AD, anybody who is anybody will be speaking either Mandarin or Hindi.

  2. @#2 Amen to that!

    (English will probably lose apostrophes, dashes, etc and not gain any diacratical marks. Language evolution goes to simpler and more useful, not to wackier.)

  3. Anybody click the link and look at the examples on the bottom? It’s like the author just translated everything into baby talk with some Zs thrown in for good measure:

    George Washington > *Jwohj-wAjandan
    Pronounced: [z.woj”z. ‘wOzn-dn-], i.e. “zhwohghzh WAWZH’n’dnn”

    Color me unimpressed.

  4. I don’t really get the gist of the article. So in 3000 AD we are all going to be speek text shorthand and leet speak?

    I don’t think he is taking into consideration that you know have global (and instant) communication now, particularly written. Sure not everyone knows how to write or read, but in general everyone in America spells the color red, R-E-D….

    I don’t really see the basics changing much.

    Just cause people are lazy and walk around, “Axing whatch you doin'”, doesn’t mean that ask is going to be replaced by a sharp metal object.

    I think I see more new non-standard words created, than classic words changed. Crump, bling, just about anything out of popular/rap culture.

  5. I agree with #2, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic (a billion followers of Islam with a single ecclesiastical language, though there are local variations) will be massively influential. In addition to Spanish, which already has mixed in giving us Spanglish.

    It’s a fascinating thought experiment though.

  6. I’d argue that not having accent marks and other garbage punctuation is one of the best features of written english. I don’t really see why having thrown off those shackles we should be expected to put them back on.

  7. @#3

    Language evolution goes to simpler and more useful, not to wackier

    That’s a nice assumption, but it is not always the case.

    Scouse dialect, for example, has been noted as becoming more ‘wacky’ in recent years as succesive generations seek to celebrate their cultural identity.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/15/international/europe/15liverpool.html
    I would imagine that other communities feel the same what about their lingo.

    I think the language entropy idea is nice but not always correct. When I was a youth and my mother asked me why I spoke in such a strong accent I told her that it was “easier” to talk that way. I actually found it simpler to speak with a heavy accent. What’s simplicty to one is complexity to another.

    I still speak with a distinctive northern (UK) glottal stop.

    an’ t’language i’nt ge’in simpler ‘n tha’

  8. Funny how some commentors are making statements, like “I don’t really see the basics changing much” and “It’s like the author just translated everything into baby talk with some Zs thrown in for good measure” which seems to show they didn’t actually read the article.

    The authors takes pains to explain how language WILL continue to change and why, and the methodology of how he came to his so-called “baby talk” (which it’s not)…and most importantly, how his is just an exercise in the evolution of language and the author fully believes his “prediction” won’t come true as he explains it.

    As a student of linguistics I found the article to be very interesting and informative in regards to how language changes, more than any predictive value the article may have–which is mostly a MacGuffin for teaching morphology and pronunciation evolution.

  9. “I consider it my moral duty to give the Natives every opportunity to improve and practice their English.”

  10. Reply to the article and #3, also my 2 cent:

    I think it’s taking ridiculous assumptions to consider the language that existed 1000 year AGO could be called English. And then to consider a derivative of the language English too… Silly.

    What I did notice was that “future” english compared to contemporary english looks is similar to comparing Dutch and its derivative South African(infact very similar for anyone who also speaks both).

    Firstly South African is not called Dutch eventhough the languages are 99% mutually intelligable, it’s a different language (and written it’s hugely different).

    A lot of the sounds are simplified in South African, example : the Dutch “G” is harsh and in S.A it has been simplified to a hard “K”. Written stuff like “hebben” (to have) turns to: “hê”. The n is hardly pronounced in dutch, the B letters are left out and the e sound is extended.

    Conjugation of verbs in S.A is also left out I have Dutch: “Ik heb” S.A: “Ek hê”. A much more simplified version, written it may seem odd, but spoken it sounds virtually the same.

    Anyway tl;dr: It’s not fair to call “future english”; english, and the changes over 1000 years will be much larger than those described in the article as they’re similar to the changes from Dutch to South African which happened over a much shorter period.

  11. What is it with apostrophes and crazy capitalization that makes native English speakers to put them in fictional futuristic languages (e.g. Klingon and the above example)?

    You people can’t agree on the few cases where they are used now, and you vision languages where every other word has at least one apostrophe and capitalization somewhere.

    During the next 1000 years I expect us non natives and your native simpletons to abuse English into something simple with no agreed punctuation, capitalization or spelling rules.

  12. @#9 I hadn’t read the article yet.

    What was in the excerpt was the author’s quasi-phonetic spelling. I don’t think the author intended to represent that as the *written* English of 3000 AD.

    So what I said about diacritical marks was merely a reaction to the quasi-phonetic text. Apologies.

  13. I sincerely doubt that, in 1000 years, cockroaches will write in any form of the English language…

  14. @#9: As a native speaker of both Mandarin and English with some knowledge of Chinese dialect (most of which are linguistically snapshots of various eras of Chinese language), I can say that in general the trend holds true: grammatically and phonetically the older a language is the simpler it is.

    Take Chinese (Mandarin), one of the prime examples. It’s one of the oldest language families, unifying around the time of the Qin dynastic conquest and subsequent writing standardization. It has no grammar, and while tonal in a way unlike most western languages has very few synonyms and many words that mean the same thing that originally had divergent meanings. I’m no linguist, but I’m pretty sure that’s the result of linguistic evolution.

    Also, since I at least understand some dialect, I can say that it’s phonetically and grammatically far more complicated than modern Mandarin.

    English is less than 2000 years old, if I remember correctly, and traces its roots to Anglic German roots following the fall of the Roman empire (with the injection of French, and, by extension, Latin after the Norman conquest around 1100). It still has a relatively complex tonality and grammar.

    The opposite end of the spectrum I believe is Finnish (correct me if I’m wrong), which had its origins in the 1700s, making it one of the youngest widely used natural (as opposed to constructed, a la esperanto) languages in the world. It is also one of the most tonally and grammatically complex.

    While neologisms or local trends might take languages briefly in the opposite direction, the trend of languages is definitely towards simplicity.

  15. “Nowadays it is thought that speakers of a Finno-Ugrian language have been living in the area of present-day Finland since at least 3000 BC, i.e. some five thousand years ago.”

  16. Bloodboiler: The capital letters etc are ASCII representations of IPA symbols (i.e. for pronunciation). They’re not how the language is expected to be written.

    Personally I think all the suggested changes are plausible, apart from the -an and -en verb endings: we had something similar in Old English and I’m not sure why they’d come back.

  17. This extrapolation from English circa 1000AD is ridiculous; there was yet to be a Norman conquest and writing was virtually non-existent! When you compare English near the midpoint of now and 1000AD you get works contemporary to Shakespeare. While the idioms and jokes of his day are largely unintelligible, reading the “base” of the language isn’t difficult.
    I’d say that some portion of this lingual stasis is due to the growth of books and reading in the English-language world. There will probably be even fewer changes in the future as we will then have an enormous backlog of movies.
    Most of the change we will see will likely involve adaptations to new situations and technologies.

  18. #6 “Axing whatch you doin'” isn’t lazy, it’s using a dialect that has very exact grammar rules. If anyone wants to read about this, David Crystal’s a great author on this subject.

    And there’s a mistake in the original, I can’t believe no-one spotted it:

    “Here’s a 2003 article by linguist Justin B Rye that looks at how _ English has evolved over the centuries”

  19. I don’t think the future of language is predictable based on past trends. Observations may not continue to hold true with the widespread usage of the internet and unprecedented literacy levels. With “written” becoming “typed” almost exclusively, English will most likely become easier to type, not harder.

  20. And another mistake that even I (;P) missed:

    “an example of what English could sound like”

    [/pedantry]

  21. I think what’s left out are social influences; or rather, not left out, because the author of the named article is not as silly, but not accounted for yet IMO will play (or already are playing) a major role in this.

    Let’s say that our cultures grow more hostile over and over again, maybe because of density of population (people living back on back), so that it becomes increasingly more important to be quickly able to make a point, then grammar and syntax might shift so that you basically are able to quickly blurt out what you mean with very little fixed grammar, just because our brains have only so much capacity (what i mean is, at a given speed, you might not be able to quickly enough find the right words yet put them into a proper “sentence”, whatever that will mean).

    1. Isn’t Finno-Ugric a hypothetical language that was invented to fill in some gaps in the language tree?

  22. If anyone’s interested in reading some speculative fiction that has this kind of futuretongue as its primary motif, i recommend BOOK OF DAVE, by Will Self. It’s really well executed, and a lot of fun!

  23. First off, English as we speak and write it did not even exist in the year 1000ad. It wasn’t until around the time of Shakespeare that English started gaining hard and fast rules for structure, spelling etc (the great vowel shift). We speak virtually that same language with few exceptions, so a little over 450 years with only some simplicity gained, slight grammar changes, some words changing meaning slightly, and some new words. HOW does anyone figure that we’ll gradually work toward speaking some kind of guttural phonetic Klinglish in the next 1000 years? Does that make any sense given the last 450 years of English? Doesn’t it make more sense, given the instant global communication that is in place that English will probably remain static, as it usually seems to take an upheaval of life to change language?

  24. They were Moderators then:

    Spake the warlike Lemminkainen,
    Handsome hero, Kaukomieli:
    “By such things the children perish,
    Such is not the death of heroes;
    Know I well the fire to manage,
    I can quench the flames of passion,
    I can meet the prowling wild-beasts,
    Can appease the wrath of serpents,
    I can heal the sting of adders,
    I have plowed the serpent-pastures,
    Plowed the adder-fields of Northland;
    While my hands were unprotected,
    Held the serpents in my fingers,
    Drove the adders to Manala,
    On my hands the blood of serpents,
    On my feet the fat of adders.
    Never will thy hero stumble
    On the serpents of the Northland;
    With my heel I’ll crush the monsters,
    Stamp the horrid things to atoms;
    I will banish them from Pohya,
    Drive them to Manala’s kingdom,
    Step within Pohyola’s mansion,
    Walk the halls of Sariola!”

  25. I disagree with what the author is proposing, though I find it a fascinating mental exercise.

    One thing that separates us from all other periods of history is the presence of recorded sound, which due to it’s ubiquity is starting to freeze the sounds and words of English in place. And other languages too for that matter.

    Turn on a TV and watch the “mid atlantic” pronunciations dominate. It’s the same all over the world as dialect is slowly being eaten away by London English Tuscan Italian, Parisian French, High German etc…

    Most of the examples of language quoted here predate the widespread adoption of mass media.

    Words will come and go, but we’re slowly fossilizing pronunciation, and losing dialect.

  26. In 1000 years will there still exist the same problem? Namely when trying to wring out an accent in English it always devolves into a bad Jamaican accent? Because that’s what happened when I tried to read the “3000 AD” English…

  27. We’ll all have brainjacks, rendering spoken language moot, long before 3000 CE.

    This is the linear progress fallacy, much like the Star Trek franchise… all this technology of matter-energy conversion (e.g. teleporters, replicators), and FTL travel (i.e. warp engines), yet humans are still flesh and blood wearing clothing just like now. It’s like watching a hairy caveman with a huge eyebrow ridge flying an airplane. Our future will be much more like the Borg than Starfleet; assuming we don’t nuke ourselves back to Amish country in the meantime.

  28. 2009? Tkn, b ptnt. sspct t wll tk m t lst ntl 2090 t dntfy n scntll f sfl nfrmtn n ths hmg t Th mprr’s Nw Clths.

    Wb

  29. FWIW

    Some (much) of the way we speak in the U.S. comes from reading dictionaries. The dangling preposition for instance. “To go with.” Nowadays a post-position and to a verb no less.

    The theoretical “with” implies a noun that follows. “To go with Harry.”

    But we read dictionaries and see entries such as “to go with” or “to speak up” and we think these are actual English constructs (verbs).

    Now after years of of this, they are English constructs.

    Not a complaint, just an observation.

  30. Man, I forgot how much I like reading the older forms of English. I’d like to see a more direct translation of ‘ungelaérede wé sidon’ and ‘gewæmmodlíce’

    Though it’s still not a modern, proper form, I suppose, in my (almost wholly untrained in these matters) head, I translate the example given as:

    We children biddeth thee, ? ?, that thou teacheth us to speak right, for ? (un-wise?) we are, and ? we speak.

    I like having to tilt my language center a bit to get a feel for what it means, even if the ‘translation’ I come up with is likely wrong.

    …little to do with this article, I suppose, but thanks for giving me the occasion to read some Middle English again!

  31. One of the pleasures of my undergraduate years was learning and using the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for class exercises, resulting in many surprises and much laughter. I contributed an IPA’d speech by FDR which was read aloud by a Missouri boy who usually spoke with a thick corn pone accent; but since he was also IPA fluent, he flawlessly delivered the transcription in the strident voice of that Hudson Valley aristocrat. It occurred to me then that voice impersonators could master their celebrity subjects in one-tenth of the usual time simply by spending the few hours necessary to master IPA. I wonder if any of them do?

    It’s quite possible with IPA to freeze pronunciation in time, for all time; vocabulary, of course, is another matter; and spelling, that bane of English learners, would be finally declared irrelevant, and misspellings impossible. So easy to conceive, yet so impossible to achieve. Language evolves of its own accord, quite free of the wishes of logical, well-educated linguists.

  32. I call bullshit. By the year 3000, the entire world will speak only one language: binary.

  33. -M’sieu, aduanon kovershim angam bitte.

    -He say you under arrest Mr. Deckard.

    -Got the wrong guy, pal.

    -Lo fa, ne-ko shi-ma, de va-ja Blade…Blade Runner.

    -He say you Blade Runner.

    -Tell him I’m eating.

    -Captain Bryant to ka, me ni omae yo.

  34. I guess I have to be impressed with someone that would be interested enough in spoken language to theorize about something as far out as a 1000 years. There must be a breakdown into smaller unites, perhaps in 100 year chunks. English in America has stood up to a lot of presures, but still, once it’s written and rules of grammer are made less flexible by codification, then stability might be expected longer than 1000. Latin held up, and although there are differences between old and new Latin, they are minor. How long has Hebrew been spoken in its present form? Aside from new words being added for new things.

  35. You guys mentioning Hindi and Arabic got it all wrong. English has already absorbed huge numbers of words and even some grammar from both of these languages (well, Sanskit and not so much hindi).

    This is precisely why English remains so powerful: It’s by definition a mongrel language and can be bent and pounded to pretty much anything the human mind can think of expressing, because it has absorbed so much from tons of languages.

    What we might see is English fragment into a host of ‘local’ versions that meld with whatever is already spoken in a locale, and then these various Englishes drift apart over the centuries.

  36. The only thing that makes English any more of a Mongrel language than any other is that it does not currently have strong institutional structures (such as the Academie Francaise) limiting its development. Rather, at this time it is associated with countries that currently have a high level of economic power, and exists in a context where it can be transmitted quite easily to other speakers. At the same time, these modes of transmission go the other way as well, so English speakers are exposed to a large number of non-English elements which can be incorporated into different variants. Take, for example, the influence of Anglophone Caribbean variants on what is sometimes called Thames Estuary English (the variant of southern UK English that includes registers such as Cockney). Due to population movements, class relations, and transmission through popular culture, TEE has absorbed a number of distinctly Caribbean element since the 60s.

    Keeper of the Lantern is correct in one sense, that over time and given the right circumstances, these variants may become increasingly distinct, and less mutually intelligible. However, historically the development of English is not radically different from the divergence of various sub-continental languages, the supplanting of the languages of Gaul with Latin and its subsequent divergence, or even the influence of Chinese on Japanese during the Nara and Heian periods (or the current mechanisms in Japanese for adopting and incorporating foreign words).

    This is why I like the above (completely made-up) example from Bladerunner; and why I feel that while the author employs an interesting methodology for projecting (hypothetical) structural changes in English, he does not go deeply enough into the potential sources (external influence, internal innovation and successful transmission of innovation) of these changes.

  37. Linguist inside humor:

    A year after writing the above article, Justin B Rye said Noam Chomsky should stick to politics.

  38. That “why” in the last paragraph should be a “while”.

    -Linguo dead

    -Linguo is dead

  39. I hope people don’t end up speaking like degenerate simpletons in the future. Hrm. I wonder if we sound like degenerate simpletons to people from the last millennium.

    I agree with #2, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic (a billion followers of Islam with a single ecclesiastical language, though there are local variations) will be massively influential. In addition to Spanish, which already has mixed in giving us Spanglish.

    Pfft. There are not a billion speakers of Arabic and Chinese is so fractured it should be eliminated from our lexicon. Even Mandarin is stupendously fractured with an average mutual intelligibility lower than that of between Spanish and Portuguese. The idea of the Chinese language is mostly to project National Unity, not because these languages are minor dialects like British English and American English.

  40. @17: Ditto for old norse. Modern-day norwegian and danish has lost a lot of grammar, not to mention some extensive simplification of words (both in pronounciation and spelling).

    Which has always made me wonder. If we continue this trend, how did norse grammar look like 500 years before the first written sources? Even more of the information placed in forms and inflexions as opposed to separate words (much like several current languages)?

    And not in the least – if we were to track current norwegian all the way back to the first spoken languges, when was the point of peak grammatical complexity?

  41. OK……
    Firstly, the world and its arsehole is full of people who believe they can accurately predict future events. The sensible amongst us point and laugh at such people.
    Yet academics of whatever level right here on BoingBoing are now suggesting that TH WY W SPK can be predicted THSND YRS N from the globalised 21th century.

    !WLD Y GT FCKNG GRP, PPL!

    Think about what a well educated high class male from 11th Century England could say about life in 21st Century Australia and you’ve got some understanding of how *inane* this exercise is.

    None of you can credibly say what *shape* we’ll be in a thousand years.

    S0^P>T!TW^NK, I say.

  42. Ahh I doubt it. It wont resemble that. It will just get more and more borrowed worlds from tamil/hindi japanese mandarin and spanish. Some languages change fast and some slower. Id guess the script will change more than the pronunciation.

  43. Isaac Asimov has a book of essays and information on Shakespeare’s writings. In it he makes the interesting claim that the reason English hasn’t evolved much since Shakespeare’s time is literally because we do not want to evolve such that we lose the ability to natively understand Shakespeare’s works.

    I like that idea.

    Personally, I don’t think English is going to evolve much. There will be neologisms and such, but it will never evolve to the point shown in this article. Formal English will still be recognized and understood such that we don’t lose access to the immense body of literature that exists in English as we know it today.

  44. Takuan, anti-intellectualism doesn’t inspire me to haul out the Middle English, and this thread has way too much of it.

    The future of English is an interesting question. We have no idea how it will be affected by electronic communications (for instance, having so much of its use written rather than spoken), or by being used as a lingua franca by so many disparate languages.

    Enochrewt @5, are you still forgetting to read the article first? Bloodboiler, you too.

    Back Seat Astronaut @15, feel free to share your expertise with us.

    Membrain @27, it’s an ingenious theory, but plenty of cultures have strong incentives to make points quickly, and their languages don’t evolve in that direction.

    Palindromic @35, I understand there are whole fields of scholarship that specialize in such questions.

    Takuan @37:

    Put the standing order in for
    Lemminkainen’s summer team-up
    With his cousin, Hiawatha.

    Jeff @40: Only the autodidactic sort, I’m afraid.

    Webtrekker @44, 56, you aren’t nearly interesting enough to sustain that level of unpleasantness.

  45. If you want to speak like this, you are either absorbed in too many sci-fi movies, or you are a commmunist.

  46. rlly wsn’t hr t pck fght..jst xprssng my pnn..clrly nt llwd. My mprssn f th rtcl ws tht t ws bsclly mntl mstrbtn. S- sd lttl hyprbl t mk my pnt. t bggls th mnd t thnk t ws t mch t b tlrtd. Hr’s my qstn, thn ‘ll sht p. Hw dd y ll knw tht wsn’t gng t vt fr bm?

    Wb

  47. @ jtf:

    That’s very true. As a language ages, its grammar becomes simpler; more refined, some would say. And yet, in most cases, the older a language, the more extensive and complex its vocabulary.

    Curiously, however, the English language has more words than any other, and it’s very young. It will be interesting for future generations to look back on discussions such as these. One of the more interesting features of our language, I’d say, is the fact that we have roughly double the number of words that are synonymous with “destruction” than we do words synonymous with “creation.” More synonyms for “hatred” than “love,” ad infinitum. Will time restore balance to our language as it seemingly has with others?

    What the future holds for English is anyone’s guess. Spoken English, if extant, wouldn’t even be recognizable to any of us in a thousand years’ time; of that much we may be certain. The written word will be much the same, if history is any indication. Dictionaries attempt to be authoritarian with respect to the culturally biased “preservation” of certain words. See the OED’s etymological take on “OK” and “fuck,” respectively. Due to the ever-changing and unknowable particulars governing “appropriate” use, the William Safires of the world have far less of a say than they think, natch.

    Know-umsayin’?

  48. @70: If we estimate the changes in 1000 years as “roughly twice what has happened since the 1600s” then that doesn’t really add up to something unrecognisable as english.

    Of course, that depends on the rate of change being stable or decreasing, but that’s not a completely far-fetched idea.

  49. @ myself in the previous post:
    I need to start reading what I’m answering to. Especially when it can keep me from answering someone by making their point again in worse style and/or looking like a complete idiot.

  50. An addendum to my remarks to Membrain (27), whose comment really was ingenious: In tight situations, the limiting factor is usually the speed with which we suss out the situation, and then formulate a response. Faster, more compressive grammar and syntax wouldn’t make all that much difference.

  51. Anyone who has ever watched Futurama knows what the English language will sound like in the year 3000.

    Obviously there will be new words invented to describe future technologies and phenomena that we don’t have or experience today. I’m more concerned about how the author came up with his predictions. I mean, did he compare pronunciations from 100 years ago to how those same words are pronounced now? I feel like that might be a more valid base for trying to forecast the future of language. But then, I’ve never been one for cunning linguists.

  52. I was unable to log in a week ago when I wanted to post this, hence the special timeousness* of this comment, but I really did want to say to #12: There’s no language named “South African”. A South African is a citizen of South Africa.

    You are (presumably) referring to Afrikaans.

    @66: I had the same thought yesterday.

    *That’s a reference to “South African” English.

  53. #9 angstrom – with you on banGGinGG the glottal stops (i’m from southport – lancs or merseyside as you prefer)

    one big old world / new world weirdness that can’t be ignored is the ask / axe dilemma – we oldworlders all use ‘ask’, and yet the ‘axe’ varient was common parlance in Elizabethan Britain…. it’s we English who have varied from that one…

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