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Spy_on_the_Inside
03-24-2012, 06:42 AM
In my latest story, I am working on creating a new English dialect. It is spoken by the people of the Yukon after a war completely stop all incoming flights and imports leaving them completely cut off from the rest of the world. Over the course of almost two centuries, the adopted a nomanic and subsistance lifestyle and became completely illiterate.

One aspect I considered was because there was no longer any written language that the pronunciation of words changed little by little over the years until by the time the story takes place that by the time someone from the outside world finds them, they actually notice they don't quite pronounce words the same way the rest of the English world does.

Is this plausible, and what other evolutions of the language could occur given what we know?

FabricatedParadise
03-24-2012, 06:46 AM
I'm not a linguistics expert, but if I'm not mistaken, one of the big ways language changes over time is the meaning of the words. Think the difference between Old English and modern English. There are quite a few words that are the same, but mean something different now.

Your idea seems plausible to me. Way back when "you" used to be "ye" and what not. So it would stand to reason that sort of thing could happen.

Siri Kirpal
03-24-2012, 07:16 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Actually, no. Unwritten languages change much faster than written ones do. Print locks features in, you see. I learned that one while watching The Story of Human Language, a DVD lecture series by John McWhorter put out by the Teaching Company. You can probably get a copy at your local library or on inter-library loan.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Medievalist
03-24-2012, 07:30 AM
In my latest story, I am working on creating a new English dialect. It is spoken by the people of the Yukon after a war completely stop all incoming flights and imports leaving them completely cut off from the rest of the world. Over the course of almost two centuries, the adopted a nomanic and subsistance lifestyle and became completely illiterate.

Don't do this. Really, just don't.

You're better off picking specific kinds of idiom and syntax. For one thing, you want your readers to understand.

(Go read about Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban)

Go watch reruns of Joss Whedon's Firefly, and look at how English (and Chinese) are used in his future universe.

Xelebes
03-24-2012, 07:35 AM
Learn Gwich'in, Tutchone and the Chinook Jargon.

Snick
03-24-2012, 04:03 PM
That's plausible, but it wouldn't even need two hundred years. There are shifts in usage and pronunciation going on all the time, but they don't take hold because of outside influences both print and electronic.

Spy_on_the_Inside
03-24-2012, 04:39 PM
Thanks for all the imput. I'm not planning on writing a whole new language, but I want to show how the English they spoke would have chaged over time. There's going to be a 'control group' of a cult that built a settlement in the Yukon and cut themselves off from the world.

They, however, can read and write, so their English has been more or less unchanged for more than a century.

As far as differing structure, I've already come up with one dea of how adjectives are used. They will come after the subject with a great deal of emphasis.

Ex: I have a ball—red—that is my favorite toy.

What are some other aspects I could use?

ViolettaVane
03-24-2012, 04:55 PM
Chinese is used in Firefly very badly. Everyone who speaks Chinese says the pronunciation is horrendous, and there aren't any actual Chinese (or even remotely Asian) people in the show. The level of thought that went into the Chinoiserie did not impress me.

But when it comes to written media, in both science fiction and historical fiction, I agree that dropping a few unknown-to-the-reader words and having them made very clear from context is almost always the best way to go.

David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas actually did exactly what you're talking about. He invented an entire dialect of English spoken by postapocalyptic survivors in Hawaii, complete with phonetic spellings. I didn't like it, didn't think it felt organically related to Hawaiian pidgin and it made several passages of the book very hard to read, but I persevered with it because the book as a whole was awesome. It won a crapload of prizes too. I would suggest checking it out.

BillPatt
03-24-2012, 07:52 PM
I agree with Siri about the speed of change of spoken versus written languages. I'm doing research in the 1830s, and the written pieces from then are almost completely understandable. However, the slang is completely different.

All you have to do is think about how the word 'gay' has morphed from describing an emotional state to signifying a different lifestyle, all within about seventy years, and you can see that a language can evolve extremely rapidly.

If you want more examples, do a random spin through the Urban Dictionary.

I am not a linguistic expert, more of an observer of the passing scene.

Medievalist
03-24-2012, 08:07 PM
All you have to do is think about how the word 'gay' has morphed from describing an emotional state to signifying a different lifestyle, all within about seventy years, and you can see that a language can evolve extremely rapidly..

Except that isn't in fact the case with gay; gay is used to refer to homosexuals in the 1800s by Oscar Wilde among others, and even earlier, in Middle English and in Anglo-Norman, to refer to homosexuals in a coded way.

Moreover, it's not a "lifestyle," dude. It's a sexual orientation.

Written language does solidify language slightly, but its efficacy depends on literacy—hence the role of register and class.

Medievalist
03-24-2012, 08:09 PM
Chinese is used in Firefly very badly. Everyone who speaks Chinese says the pronunciation is horrendous, and there aren't any actual Chinese (or even remotely Asian) people in the show. The level of thought that went into the Chinoiserie did not impress me.

That's my point. Whedon does a great job with English, and with the use of code-switching to Chinese, as a social signifier, but had insufficient access to Chinese experts and failed, largely, to use Asian actors at all. There are I think a total of 5, mostly in crowd scenes.

Medievalist
03-24-2012, 08:11 PM
As far as differing structure, I've already come up with one dea of how adjectives are used. They will come after the subject with a great deal of emphasis.

Frankly, that's daft given the way that adjectives work in English, and always have.

Why would something so intrinsic to the root grammar of English change?

You need to figure out what the socio-cultural values, and life, and nature of the cultures are, before you modify the language, especially the deep structures.

BillPatt
03-24-2012, 08:16 PM
Chinese is used in Firefly very badly. Everyone who speaks Chinese says the pronunciation is horrendous, and there aren't any actual Chinese (or even remotely Asian) people in the show. The level of thought that went into the Chinoiserie did not impress me.

Violetta, it pains me to disagree with you.

In the DVD commentary to Firefly, Jenny Lynn, a Chinese-American, had a segment where she discussed how she developed the Chinese phrases for the show. In many cases, she said that she called back to friends she had in China (whether mainland or Taiwan is not specified) to get the closest match to what Josh Whedon wanted. It was her job to coach the cast in how to pronounce the phrases.

The DVD shows many outtakes of the cast walking around trying to get it right. They did, in fact, try pretty hard to do it correctly. Of course, the whole production was on a tight budget, so they couldn't spend forever trying to get a minor aspect of the show to work well.

BillPatt
03-24-2012, 08:30 PM
Except that isn't in fact the case with gay; gay is used to refer to homosexuals in the 1800s by Oscar Wilde among others, and even earlier, in Middle English and in Anglo-Norman, to refer to homosexuals in a coded way.

Moreover, it's not a "lifestyle," dude. It's a sexual orientation.

I spoke imprecisely. I should have put in 'primarily' as below:

All you have to do is think about how the word 'gay' has morphed from primarily describing an emotional state to primarily signifying a different lifestyle sexual orientation, all within about seventy years, and you can see that a language can evolve extremely rapidly.

Googling "gay lifestyle" garners 8.9 million hits, "gay sexual orientation" gets 30.7 million. So, yeah, points to you.

SirOtter
03-24-2012, 09:16 PM
I'm not a linguistics expert, but if I'm not mistaken, one of the big ways language changes over time is the meaning of the words. Think the difference between Old English and modern English. There are quite a few words that are the same, but mean something different now.

'Let' being a prime example. As recently as Shakespeare's time, let meant to prevent, rather than allow.

The change in English from the Norman Invasion to Chaucer's time, less than three centuries, was much more drastic than even that, due in part to the widespread but not complete illiteracy of the population. It lost almost all the inflections that are common in other European languages. Spelling only became consistent after printing became widely available, and even that took a couple of hundred years. And given English's propensity to snatch up random vocabulary from any language into which it comes into contact, I doubt it would take even two centuries for the isolated and unwritten version the OP postulates to become mutually unintelligible with the current language.

Spy_on_the_Inside
03-24-2012, 10:00 PM
Frankly, that's daft given the way that adjectives work in English, and always have. Why would something so intrinsic to the root grammar of English change? You need to figure out what the socio-cultural values, and life, and nature of the cultures are, before you modify the language, especially the deep structures.

You said to change syntex and idioms. What would you suggest and can you give me some actual examples?

Medievalist
03-24-2012, 10:17 PM
You said to change syntex and idioms. What would you suggest and can you give me some actual examples?

You've changed grammar by changing one of the basic principles of the language, rather than a smaller change.

You need to have a reason for a change of that sort--what would so influence people and their language to make that radical a change?

For instance:

At the level of syntax:

English usually puts the subject first. The person or thing performing/doing the action of the verb is fronted. English is S-V-O or Subject - Verb - Object

John hit the ball.

If, for instance, for some reason it becomes risky to attribute an action to a social superior, no matter what the action is, if you are a social inferior, perhaps passive voice might become standard in spoken English.

The ball was hit.

It's still standard English, but it could signify a radical change.

Let's say, for some reason, fertile males are rare, and protected.

Perhaps it is rude to directly address a male, or refer to a male directly.

How would that affect spoken language?

If, say, your culture has decided that reference to the sex of an individual is rude, you might:

Have all people referred to as "it" or neuter, or refer to all people using a single gender, or a collocation like the use of "Citizen," or "client," or whatever.

Siri Kirpal
03-24-2012, 10:24 PM
You said to change syntex and idioms. What would you suggest and can you give me some actual examples?

Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Can't speak for Medi, though I agree with her that moving the position of adjectives isn't the best for your book. But by "idioms" I would mean something like a phrase or slang word relating to whatever the cult holds holy and using it in a colorful way.

As examples: Think about where our word "hogwash" comes from. Farmers. Think about the word "silly" that used to mean "blessed" (from the German "selig") and evolved the way it did because it came to mean innocent, then defenceless, then...

So what would the cult folks say on a regular basis and how could they use that to refer to something else?

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Medievalist
03-24-2012, 10:31 PM
Violetta, it pains me to disagree with you.

In the DVD commentary to Firefly, Jenny Lynn, a Chinese-American, had a segment where she discussed how she developed the Chinese phrases for the show. In many cases, she said that she called back to friends she had in China (whether mainland or Taiwan is not specified) to get the closest match to what Josh Whedon wanted. It was her job to coach the cast in how to pronounce the phrases.

But if you talk to native Chinese speakers, they note that she mixes Mandarin and Taiwanese, for instance, and that she literally translates English invective rather than choosing an insult of a similar register—which is probably Whedon's responsibility, not hers. (If you're at all interested, check this out: "Chinese Dialog by Phrase (http://fireflychinese.kevinsullivansite.net/phrase.html)."

What Whedon does superbly well is re-purposing a common word so that it has idiomatic connotations, like "shiny."

Just slightly askew standard usage:

Jane: "She's going to damage my calm."

Book: She don't look like much.
Kaylee: Oh, she'll fool ya. You ever sailed in a Firefly?

Indications of register/social status:

Mal: You will keep a civil tongue in that mouth or I will sew it shut. Is there an understanding between us?
Jayne: You don't pay me to talk pretty. Just because Kaylee gets lubed up over some big-city dandy--



Lund: You know, your coat is kinda a brownish color...
Mal: It was on sale. (calmly sips drink)
Lund: You didn't toast. You know, I'm thinkin' you one of 'em In'e'pen'ents.
Mal: And I'm thinkin' you weren't burdened with an overabundance of schooling. So why don't we just ignore each other until we go away?
Lund: The In'e'pen'ents were a bunch of cowardly, inbred piss-pots. Should've been killed off of every world spinnin'.
Mal: [turns] Say that to my face.
Lund: I said you're a coward and a piss-pot. Now what are you gonna do about it?
Mal: [smiles] Nothing. I just wanted you to face me so she could get behind you.
[Lund turns, and Zoe knocks him out with the butt of her rifle]
Mal: Drunks are so cute.

BillPatt
03-24-2012, 11:51 PM
Remember in the movie "Airplane", when they put subtitles in when the two men were speaking in the 'jive' dialect? All the words were English, but Barbara Billingsly had to come translate for the flight attendant. It was over the top, politically incorrect, but absolutely illustrative of the kinds of language shift that the OP is looking for.

There is one thing you absolutely have to be careful of as you go - don't overuse whatever neologism you create. There have been several works I have read where new language is used to indicate that the given world is different. The most recent one used the word 'joining' as their version of the F-bomb. The new J-bomb was all over the place, and it became very tiresome. A light touch is all that is needed.

ViolettaVane
03-25-2012, 01:18 AM
In the DVD commentary to Firefly, Jenny Lynn, a Chinese-American, had a segment where she discussed how she developed the Chinese phrases for the show. In many cases, she said that she called back to friends she had in China (whether mainland or Taiwan is not specified) to get the closest match to what Josh Whedon wanted. It was her job to coach the cast in how to pronounce the phrases.

I'm still going to blame Whedon, not Jenny Lynn. And that sounds like a very slapdash method.

If anyone wanted me to translate Japanese for them (I'm Japanese-American) I'd call my dad in Japan and bug him about it too, because I don't speak Japanese. And then, because he's not a professional translator, and he's very impatient, he'd probably start making shit up to get me to stop bugging him. The end result would be atrocious, just like the Chinese in Firefly.

But I won't derail this thread by arguing any further along that line. I'll just say that language should always have decent research, whether it's based on a real one or is imaginary.

BillPatt
03-25-2012, 07:41 AM
Back to the OP's original point. Rather than change the language structure, consider what would and would not be available to a subsistance lifestyle in the Yukon. Words for things that are manufactured or transported by an industrialized society would gradually lose their referents. Some words are used in other contexts far removed from the first meaning.

For example, consider 'banana'. We know exactly what it means, for we can go to the store and buy one. In your scenario, bananas would never be seen again. In two hundred years, what would a child think when he heard the word 'banana'? A long 1/4" headphone jack is sometimes called a 'banana plug'. So a child would never associate 'banana' with food, it would always be an electronic component. (keeping it clean here...)

A thousand little things like that would start creeping into the language. 'Protection' for a woman out on a date would probably mean a dirk in her mukluk, if condoms and pills were in short supply.