Predicting the future of the English language is rather easy, in
the short term. The odds are, over the next few decades its
New World dialects are going to gain increasing global dominance,
accelerating the demise of thousands of less fortunate languages
but at long last allowing a single advertisement to reach
everybody in the world. Then after a century or two of US
dominance some other geopolitical grouping will gain the
ascendancy, everyone will learn Chechen or Patagonian or whatever
it is, and history will continue as usual. Ho hum. But
apart from that… what might the language actually look
like in a thousand years time? For comparison, the English
spoken at the turn of the last millennium looked like this:
Wé cildra biddaþ þé, éalá láréow, þæt þú tǽce ús
sprecan rihte, forþám ungelǽrede wé sindon,
and gewæmmodlíce we sprecaþ…
We children beg you, teacher, that you should teach us to speak
correctly, because we are ignorant and we speak corruptly…
(From the Colloquy of Ælfric.) So how far will another
thousand years take it? I've already got pages about
time travel and
languages in SF, plus a
conlang of no very specific origin; this
addition, vaguely inspired by the precognitive Darwinism of Dougal
Dixon's “After Man: A Zoology of the Future”, should fit
in nicely. It has also now acquired companion pages titled
Alternese, and Europan.
2013 POSTSCRIPT: for its tenth anniversary (we're one percent of
the way there already, folks!) I have finally updated this page to
use Unicode for its phonetic symbols instead of 7‐bit ASCII
workarounds. It has taken until now for browsers to support
“stacked” diacritics at all reliably, and the results can still be
rather ugly! In the process I have changed my notation
slightly to take advantage of some of the more appropriate glyphs
LANGUAGE SF – Futurese Bibliography
Before I start developing a “future history” of my own I'll run
through a quick survey of the existing literature. It's a
bit sparse, though, since academic linguists know better than to
try, and nobody else has ever shown much interest –
except of course the supporters of language‐planning projects like
Esperanto or Basic English, which are a bit
off‐topic (though they did inspire George Orwell to produce one
famous vision of the language of tomorrow). Most genre
Science Fiction ignores linguistic barriers between centuries just
as it does all the other kinds – reasonably enough,
since they get in the way of the plot – but a handful
of stories can be picked out as featuring representations of
Next Year's Slang
Most works of SF feature at least a few neologisms, slang terms
for cyborgs, or the like, but few authors take it to the extreme
of writing the whole novel in argot, as Anthony Burgess did for
“A Clockwork Orange” (“viddy this, my droogs”) – and
even he didn't introduce any grammar or pronunciation shifts to
go with the new “Nadsat” vocabulary items.
Heinlein took a more reader‐friendly
approach for the Loonie dialect in “The Moon is a Harsh
Mistress”; it gives a good impression of being slangy and
futuristic, but when you stop and look at it there's nothing
there but a few loanwords and telegraphese mannerisms.
Post‐Holocaust Vowel Mutations
Apocalytic futures and lost‐colony‐world settings are often
studded with suspiciously familiar words (forbidden deserts named
Neorksiti and the like) – which always leaves
me uncomfortably aware that vowels have a short halflife compared
to radioactive wastelands. Hoban's “Riddley Walker”
deserves a mention as another SF novel written entirely in an
imaginary dialect; this time it's a more generally mangled form
of post‐nuke English, though it's still closer to the modern
standard language than plenty of books written in real UK
Space Opera yarns occasionally mention that everybody is speaking
a remote descendant of English, called either (for some reason)
“Anglic” or less often something like “Galanglic” or
“Galach”. The name tends to be as much as we learn, unless
the footnote is bulked out with a claim that some other
present‐day language contributed a lot of vocabulary
items – Russian, Spanish, and Japanese being popular
David Masson's short story “The Transfinite Choice” is the only
one I can think of where the temporal language barrier is
illustrated with a few sentences of vaguely credible future
(British!) English – for instance, the displaced hero
is referred to as an undrowda (i.e. “intruder”).
LANGUAGE CHANGE – Progress and Decay
Let me get one thing clear: there's nothing wrong with languages
changing over time.
When looking at a biological “family tree” (such as the
evolutionary history of the horse), the general public insists on
seeing any movement as intrinsically “progressive”, moving from
“primitive” to “advanced” designs. Yet somehow when looking
at the linguistic equivalent (such as the development of the
Romance languages from Vulgar Latin) they see exactly the
reverse – any change is proof that the language is in
decline. In reality they're just as wrong both times!
The attitude is perfectly understandable; membership of a
linguistic community is an important social marker, so people
often get neurotic about the way they speak, and cling to the
security blanket of vaguely remembered schoolroom mandates,
despising those barbarians who split infinitives or mispronounce
“shibboleth”. Ironically, it's this same group‐membership
effect that's responsible for many of the changes (see
below), but the degeneration the purists warn
against is an imaginary danger anyway. English has gone from
being a minor Germanic tongue on Europe's fringe, with a vestigial
system of inflections signposting case, mood, gender, and so on,
to being a much more weakly inflected language dominating the
global landscape. Every step of the way, old fogeys moaned
that it was going to the dogs; but although the noun‐gender system
of Old English has crumbled away entirely, it turns out not to
have been a structural support in the first place… and the
simplifications have been balanced by increased complexity in
other places, such as in the sheer size of the vocabulary.
Changes can occur in every aspect of a language:
Words can be lost or shift their meanings, and new ones can be
derived from a variety of mechanisms. I could fill a couple
of extra paragraphs with examples of borrowings, acronyms, and
the like, but it would be a waste of effort if you already grok
the way common parlance can be groovy one year and naff the next.
Or in strict linguistics‐jargon terms, morphology (word‐building)
and syntax (word‐arranging), which manage the Escheresque trick
of getting simpler and simpler until they end up just as
complicated as ever – on the one hand “whom” becomes
“who”, but on the other new constructions arise like “y'all ain'
You'll be aware of individual words that have two alternative
pronunciations, one of them “proper” but endangered and the other
“wrong” but spreading (such as
“pronounciation”); but in fact the most significant changes are
the ones that happen to particular sounds right through the
dictionary, like dropping aitches or lengthening stressed
These different types of language change don't happen in
isolation – the blurring of word‐final sounds erodes
grammatical features, the development of new ways of stringing
syllables together triggers shifts in pronunciation, and so
on. Nevertheless, my futurological efforts will be based
purely on projected sound changes, since they tend to be
astonishingly regular and thus offer the easiest opportunities
for mock‐ups of Futurese.
LANGUAGE TRENDS – Causes and Effects
There's a widespread popular assumption that modern technology
(gramophones, cinema, CNN etc.) will stop languages changing in
the new millennium, because these days everybody knows what
everybody else's accent sounds like. But accents such as
Cockney never did arise because working class Londoners were
unaware of how the aristos talked. They knew
perfectly well; but that wasn't the accent they grew up with, and
there was no reason to want to imitate it when their own accent
was a badge of solidarity with their peer‐group. Nothing has
happened to reduce the allure of a distinctive way of speaking as
a badge of in‐group membership; and the more positively people
identify with some particular accent, the more likely that
high‐status speech variety is to drift, as social climbers refine
their vowels while the native speakers react to being imitated by
innovating further. Linguists studying modern “Network
English” find that it has several regional subvarieties, which are
diverging rather than converging.
That's not to say that technology has no effects. For a
start, when the global media bring linguistic communities into
contact with one another, that can have all sorts of unforeseeable
results – for instance, we loaned the Japanese the
words “walk” and “man”, and got them back compounded. The
opportunities for interactions like that will inevitably increase
as the number of non‐native speakers of English continues to rise.
Over the centuries, language change has been affected in various
minor ways by innovations such as the printing press (there were
no spelling‐based pronunciations such as “almond”‐with‐an‐L until
there were misleading standard spellings), and of course Chaucer
didn't have a word for “helicopter”. It's easy to imagine
other technological developments that might have further‐reaching
effects in the future:
Once the rich and powerful routinely live centuries, the split
between conservative formal English and slangy colloquial English
could get absurdly wide.
If twenty‐third‐century computer geeks have cybernetic implants
to let them offload cognitive processes to specialised hardware,
new slang possibilities arise such as inhumanly complex versions
of “ROT13ed Pig Latin”.
In a “world state” with an anglophone bureaucracy of artificial
intelligences, ANSI‐standard English could function as a sort of
unnaturally preserved lingua franca even if the human native
speakers died out.
I'm going to have to leave possibilities such as this for
another day – not only because they
raise questions about the real likelihood of 3000 AD Earth
being inhabited by hominids that still bring their young up to
speak a traditional wild‐grown language but also because they
don't make the language's future form any more predictable.
On the other hand, some factors do show long‐term directional
influences. An obvious one is ease of use: people won't
bother saying “omnibus” when “bus” will do, or “environment” when
their friends are getting away with “emviromment”. But
another factor is that the language has to work as a language; any
change that impedes communication spurs the development of
workarounds – so, for instance, people who pronounce
“pen” and “pin” indistinguishably soon start talking about “ink
pens”. And a third, less obvious influence is ease of
learning. Children forming their initial mental model of how
English works don't want to believe it's a mess of random idioms;
any regularities they notice (like “past tenses end in ‑ED”)
are extended by analogy as far as their peers will let them
(“bended”). All these consistent “trends” in language change
make prediction more feasible, or at any rate, less obviously
Nonetheless, futurology is a mug's game, and I
don't expect my “predictions” to come true. My methodology
consists of nothing more rigorous than applying some of the kinds
of changes that are commonly seen in historical linguistics and
seeing what further development patterns they suggest; it's just a
bit of fun, intended to dramatise the way things might plausibly
end up if things go on the way they always have. You could
come up with something completely different and at least as
plausible by extrapolating from the
Northern Cities Vowel Shift…
I've mentioned the two commonest misconceptions about language
change – that it's a bad thing, and that it has
stopped; but a few other odd assumptions seem to be more
widespread than I'd realised, so perhaps I'd better deal with them
here so I can avoid doing it in email.
“It's changes in vocabulary that matter.”
Monoglots often seem to think of languages as consisting of
wordlists and nothing else! Slang does serve as one of the
most obvious markers of variation; but this is a superficial kind
of change, often reversed a decade later, and rarely extending to
the core vocabulary. Meanwhile, shifts in vowel‐sounds or
verb‐endings attract less attention, but they're cumulative and
systematic; and it's these, not the vocabulary churn, that make
1000 AD English unintelligible.
“All changes can be traced back to the influence of other
After the Norman Conquest, the eclipse of English as a standard
language made it easy for dialectal variant forms to get
established, but apart from a transfusion of loanwords, the
changes themselves were things that had already been going on
before the French‐speakers turned up. Grammatical
“cross‐contamination” between neighbouring languages is the
exception rather than the rule. Indeed, it's rare for
changes to have obvious “causes” at all.
“English is a pidgin.”
No, pidgins arise as grammarless codes for rough‐and‐ready
communication between people who have no language in
common. If it has native speakers, it isn't a pidgin!
English isn't even a “creole”, the kind of language that's formed
when a pidgin becomes a mother‐tongue. However, the trace
of truth in this myth is that being used as an auxiliary language
often seems to trigger languages to become more “streamlined”.
I'm hoping not to have to turn this section into a “Language
Change Myths FAQ”, since that would be a lifetime's work!
INTERMISSION – Notation and Terminology
I've delayed defining some of this glossary stuff in the hope of
suckering people into reading this far, but if you want to follow
the next few sections it's important to understand the difference
Angle‐brackets enclose examples of words spelled in the
language's standard orthography. I imagine by 2200 nobody
will be writing anaesthetise the same way as I do, but
spelling reform is not the topic
here (and nor is the kind of so‐called “bad grammar” that's
really just non‐standard spelling and punctuation).
Square‐brackets mark phoneTic transcriptions,
which give a close‐up view of the sounds involved in terms of the
International Phonetic Alphabet (if your browser can't handle the
Unicode characters, please get a better one). It shows even
the “trivial” articulatory features that aren't used to
distinguish words from one another – necessary because
languages vary in their opinions about what counts as trivial and
what sounds form natural sets.
IPA in slant‐brackets is a phoneMic
transcription, a subtly but significantly different form of
notation which spells things out in terms of the mutually
contrastive sound “building‐blocks” of a particular language and
ignores the irrelevant details. Compare
my own key to my pronunciation of English
(though that accent isn't directly relevant here).
(If you're wondering where the brackets are,
sorry: it'll be because your browser is ignoring my CSS…) Bored already? If you can't be bothered with all this
you can always just take my word for it and skip to the
end where I give examples of the final result. Otherwise
here are definitions of a few phonological terms I'll be using to
Pronounced with or without vibration of the vocal cords.
This effect provides the glottal humming component that
distinguishes (for instance) voiced “V” from voiceless “F” or
voiced “G” from voiceless “K”.
I'm not talking letters here – there are many more
than five vowels! In phonological terms, vowels are the
sounds made up of little‐modified bursts of voiced airflow (like
“AH”), while consonants involve marked narrowing (or temporary
closure, as in “K”) of the vocal tract.
Degrees of interference in the flow of air. Plosives like
“K” interrupt the escape of air through the mouth, fricatives
like “Z” make the flow turbulent, and approximants like “W” only
modify it slightly.
Nasal sounds allow air to escape continuously through the nose,
while oral sounds don't – compare nasal “M” and its
oral twin “B”. The same can also happen in vowels, though
that's never distinctive in twenty‐first‐century English.
This is another way of dividing up the consonants: fricatives and
plosives (“Z”, “D”, “CH” etc.), which involve serious
constriction, are grouped together as “obstruents”, while the
highly resonant approximants and nasals (“M”, “L”, “W” etc.) are
A syllabic sound is one that forms the main peak of a
syllable. This isn't quite the same as
“vowel/consonant”, since vowels (or at least semivowels) can
be nonsyllabic, and consonants (or at least sonorants) can be
syllabic; examples include the initial “W” and final “L”‐sounds
The most prominent syllable in a word is said to be stressed;
other syllables may have some lesser degree of stress or none at
all. The acoustic property involved is a combination of
volume, pitch, and duration.
Rounded vowels are pronounced with the lips in position as for an
“OO” sound (or maybe only an “OH” sound); unrounded ones aren't.
These terms describe modifications in the position of (the
highest point of) the tongue for a vowel; “EH” is a “front”
vowel, “OH” is a “back” one.
…And these describe the other dimension: “AY” is a half‐close
vowel, pronounced with the tongue quite high in the mouth;
raising it gets you the close vowel “EE”, while lowering it
results in half‐open “EH” then fully open “A”.
The “nucleus” of a syllable is its main syllabic element (i.e.
the vowel, usually); any sounds that come before the nucleus are
the “onset”, and any that come after are the “coda”.
The last thing I ought to say before I switch from “documentary”
mode to “speculative fiction” mode is this: if you aren't familiar
with Comparative Reconstruction then my predicted sound changes
are bound to seem wildly unlikely. If I'd shown Julius
Caesar a schedule of the changes that were to turn Latin into
Italian (“PS: beware the Ides of March”) he wouldn't have believed
a word of it either. And yet languages really do behave this
way, with “mutations” in the system of sounds adding up to new
accents, new languages, new family trees of descendant tongues…
witness this Wikipedia entry on one big‐name sound change,
Ye knowe eek that in forme of speche is chaunge
With‐inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yet thei spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do
(From Chaucer's “Troilus and Criseyde”. Note that for
Geoffrey, “do” and “so” rhymed, but “price” and “nice” didn't.)
EARLY AMERICAN – 2100 AD
I'm using a gerrymandered starting point here: please note that
the phonology described below isn't precisely that of any major
present‐day US accent (although it is close enough for
plausibility – close enough indeed that this section is
essentially a summary of existing trends). Instead it's just
one of the accents that will be current in a century or
so: the one that happens to be ancestral to the
Assimilation in Syllable‐Onset
Any syllable‐onset t, d or st with a
following r undergoes assimilation (that is, features of
one sound bleed over into the other); the results are the
clusters tʃɹ̥, dʒɹ, stʃɹ̥.
There is a well established phonetic trend towards the voicing of
any lone obstruent that closes a stressed syllable: e.g.
pick is pronounced pɪɡ (note: the compound
phoneme tʃ as in itch counts for this rule as a
single sound). However, the words pick and
pig are still distinct – see below on vowel
As a special case, d or t between stressed and
unstressed syllables (perhaps with a preceding sonorant) is
phonetically a flap, ɾ – a sound many languages
treat as a form of r. Thus for instance bitty
is pronounced ˈbɪɾi. This “flapping” context
never triggers vowel breaking – bitty and
biddy are pronounced identically.
Nasal consonants in the coda of a stressed syllable drop out in
favour of nasalisation of the vowel; e.g. bond is
pronounced bɑ̃d. Immediately following plosives may
also be nasalised (thus bɑ̃n).
Meanwhile, ld not followed by a vowel becomes l (so
build is now simply bɪl); nd in unstressed
contexts simplifies similarly (thus England becomes
Unstressed Vowel Loss
Unstressed syllables may be lost immediately before or after
stress; e.g. abominable turns into
'bom'nable. Unstressed i, u tend to
become nonsyllabic (turning into the approximants j,
w), and other unstressed vowels reduce towards the “schwa”
Neutralisations (the technical name given to the blurring of
phonemic distinctions) are widespread before
sonorants – fewer vowels are distinguished before
m, n, ŋ, l, w, j, or
especially r. See below for details.
Stressed Vowel Breaking
Stressed vowels begin to undergo a process called “breaking”
before (phonemically) voiced obstruents, becoming generally
longer and more lax; thus for instance pick is
pɪɡ while pig is pɪɪ̈ɡ. See
below for details.
Occurs before a sonorant in beer, beam, bean, and
peel = pill (a recent merger)
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. beat, i
In a breaking context, e.g. bead, iï
Occurs before a sonorant in bring, pin, him,
where it is indistinguishable from ɛ as in pen,
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bit, ɪ
In a breaking context, e.g. bid, ɪɪ̈
Occurs before a sonorant in Mary = merry =
marry and in bale, bane, blame, bang (n.b. that
last is beŋ, not baŋ)
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bait, e
In a breaking context, e.g. bayed, eë
Occurs before a sonorant in bell (and see above on
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bet, ɛ
In a breaking context, e.g. bed, ɛɛ̈
Occurs before a sonorant in pal, ban, bam
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bat, æ
In a breaking context, e.g. bad, ea
ɑ (Already to British ears a triple merger of
Occurs before a sonorant in bar, borrow, ball, pawn, bomb,
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bot, ɑ
In a breaking context, e.g. bod, ɑə
Occurs before a sonorant in for = fore and in
bowl, bone, foam
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. boat, o
In a breaking context, e.g. bode, oɔ
Only occurs unstressed (never a breaking context), e.g. initial
in about; for unstressed syllables involving sonorants see
below on “Syllabic Consonants”.
Occurs before a sonorant in bulk, bun, bum, bung
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. but, ʌ̈
In a breaking context, e.g. bud, ʌ̈ə
ʊ (phonetically quite fronted)
Occurs before a sonorant only as a variant form of syllabic
r̩ or l̩ – see below on
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. put, ʊ
In a breaking context, e.g. good, ʊʊ̈
u (also phonetically fronted)
Occurs before a sonorant in pool, boon, boom, and
woman (a recent shift from ʊm)
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. boot, ʉ
In a breaking context, e.g. food, ʉɵ
Occurs before a sonorant in coin; however, boil is
a disyllable, ɔɪ ɫ̩
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. quoit, ɔɪ
In a breaking context, e.g. void, oɛ
Occurs before a sonorant in prowl, brown
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bout, au
In a breaking context, e.g. proud, it tends towards
aə, becoming indistinguishable from ai as in
Occurs before a sonorant in bile, mime, brine
In a non‐breaking context, e.g. bite, ai
In a breaking context, e.g. pride, it tends towards
aə, becoming indistinguishable from au as in
The distinctive syllabic r̩ in words like fury,
poor, murderer can function as a stressed vowel, varying from
a merely “tongue‐bunched” ʊ˞ or ɚ to a full
Likewise the syllabic l̩ that occurs in
pullable first as ʊɫ and then as ɫ̩.
The nasals m̩ and n̩ can also occur as
syllabics as in Adam, Eden, but are always unstressed.
MIDDLE AMERICAN – 2400 AD
By this time the language has fallen out of fashion; the phonemic
analysis given here is the one used retrospectively in the
subsequent “Classical” period. The vocabulary shrinks and is
later restocked with borrowings, but many of them are returns, and
the basic core of the language remains Germanic.
Lone Consonants in Syllable‐Coda
Most significantly, the post‐stress voicing effect becomes
phonemic: pick is now piɡ, while pig is
piaɡ (see below on vowel‐breaking).
The rule that converts both d and t to the flap
ɾ persists, making the two indistinguishable in that
context (sandwiched between a stressed and an unstressed
Clusters in Syllable‐Coda
Any obstruent forming a cluster with an s or z is
lost; thus six becomes sis (but is not voiced to
Clusters in Syllable‐Onset
The sequences tr, dr, and str become
tʃr, dʒr, ʃr, while θr as in
three shifts to become a new tr.
The sequences tʃj or tj (including such sequences
created by vowel‐breaking – see below) become
tʃ; ʃj or sj become ʃ; and likewise
for dʒj and ʒj.
After any obstruent, former w (but not new w
resulting from vowel‐breaking) becomes v; thus quit
Where a stressed or semi‐stressed vowel is followed by a nasal
consonant without a following vowel, the nasal is pronounced only
as a modification of the vowel. In clusters, mb
becomes mm, or simple m where there's a following
vowel – i.e., ˜m.
Meanwhile mp becomes mb (i.e. ˜b), even
outside stressed syllables.
Equivalent changes happen to nd, nt,
ŋɡ, and ŋk. For (former) nt the
situation is complicated by the fact that nd may be
flapped as ˜ɾ.
The Great Vowel Breaking
There is a major reorganisation and reanalysis of “broken” vowels
as sequences, converting what used to be a feature of the
following consonants into a pattern of new distinctions within
the vowel inventory.
Note throughout that vowels that “want” to gain a preceding or
following w or j don't if one is already there;
weed becomes wid, not wjid. Preceding
r or l has the same effect (reed breaks to
rid), but h gives way itself (heed breaks to
Unbroken i syllable‐finally or before r, l,
or a nasal (bee, beer, bill, peel, bean, beam) is
Otherwise, unbroken former i (beat) becomes
Broken former i (bead) becomes j i
Unbroken former ɪ (bit) becomes i
Broken former ɪ (bid) becomes i a
Unbroken former e syllable‐finally or before r
(bay, bear) is unchanged; before l or a nasal
(bale, bane, blame, bang) it becomes j e
Otherwise, unbroken former e (bait) becomes
Broken former e (bayed) becomes
j e – note that j e is also a
possible broken form for former æ (see a below)
Unbroken former ɛ (bet, bell) becomes e,
which also absorbs former nasal ɪ (him, pen, bring)
Broken former ɛ becomes e a (bed)
Broken former ɔɪ (void) becomes
a (ranging phonetically from æ to ə)
Unbroken former au before a sonorant (bounce,
brown) becomes the disyllable a o
Otherwise, unbroken former au (bout) becomes
Unbroken former ai before a sonorant (pint, brine)
becomes the disyllable a e
Otherwise, unbroken former ai (bite) becomes
Broken former au or ai (proud, pride)
becomes a a
Unbroken former æ (bat, ban) becomes a,
except after k or ɡ (cap) when it
becomes j a
Broken former æ (bad) becomes j a,
except after k or ɡ (cab) when it
becomes j e
Former ə generally merges with unstressed a (and
see an below under “Syllabic Consonants”)
Unbroken ɑ (paw, bot, bar, ball, bomb) is unchanged
Broken former ɑ (bod) becomes ɑ a
Former word‐final ɑ (e.g. the end of beta) merges
with unstressed ɑ
ɜ (former ʌ)
Unbroken ʌ (but, bun) becomes plain ɜ
Broken former ʌ (bud) becomes ɜ a
Unbroken o (blow, boat, bore, bone) is unchanged
Broken former o (bode) becomes w o
Unbroken former ɔɪ before a sonorant (coin) becomes
the disyllable o e
Otherwise, unbroken former ɔɪ (quoit) becomes
ʉ (former u)
Unbroken u syllable‐finally or before sonorants (blue,
pool, boon) becomes plain ʉ
Otherwise, unbroken former u (boot) becomes
Broken former u (food) becomes w ʉ
Unbroken former ʊ (put) becomes ʉ
Broken former ʊ (good) becomes ʉ a
Unbroken syllabic r̩ and l̩ (pert,
fur, wolf, full) become ʉr, ʉl – or
r̩r, l̩l where followed by a vowel
Broken r̩ and l̩ (bird, bulls)
Note that the above syllabic forms, along with syllable‐coda
r and l (but not the syllable‐onset forms), are
pronounced at the back of the mouth.
Former syllabic nasals (m̩ and n̩) are
reanalysed as the sequences am, an (never stressed
CLASSICAL AMERICAN – 2700 AD
Contrary to the impression you'd get from a detailed account of
the chaos the spelling system goes through early in this stage,
the Classical period happens to be one of relative stability in
the development of the language as a whole, and one that Late
American speakers continue to regard as a formal standard.
Nouns (and to a lesser extent other word‐classes, though not
verbs) tend towards regular initial‐syllable stress; thus for
instance millennium shifts from
ma ˈlen jam to
ˈma lan jam.
The phonemes θ, ð (as in thigh, thy),
long gone in related dialects, finally vanish in American,
merging with t and d respectively.
The above changes undermine the rule that used to explain the
distribution of the ɾ sound. It used to be a
post‐stress variant of d, but now occurs where stress has
vanished, and fails to occur where the d was formerly
ð; so it's left as a short‐lived ɾ phoneme in its
The phonemes tʃ, dʒ are lost, simplifying to
ʃ, ʒ. This happens in onset and coda,
including nasal contexts (e.g. inch: ɛnʒ).
The “shibilants” ʃ and ʒ also undergo a phonetic
shift towards ɕ, ʑ (technically, dorsal palatals,
like Mandarin Chinese sh).
In onset, the voiceless plosives p, t, and k
become increasingly strongly aspirated (phonetically pʰ
etc.) except after s (or ʃ); the phoneme h
itself is lost unless preceded by a vowel, where it becomes a
voiced approximant articulated almost anywhere from the soft
palate back (labelled ɦ here).
The nasal ŋ, now uncommon, loses its phonemic status;
bang, formerly beŋ, is now interpreted as ending in
a nasalising n which has assimilated in place of
articulation to an otherwise silent ɡ –
bɛnɡ, pronounced bæ̃ŋ.
Remaining consonant clusters are reduced; where there are two
obstruents in the coda, the second tends to be dropped
(apt becomes ap); but between vowels, pt or
kt become tt.
Syllabic r̩ and l̩ are lost (see below);
syllabic nasals are still equivalent to unstressed an,
Former syllable‐coda r becomes ɦ in inherited
American vocabulary, while new loanwords use
r – thus beer has become biɦ
while the equivalent Brazilian import is bir.
Former syllabic r̩ always becomes ʏɦ;
syllable‐onset r remains unchanged.
Former syllable‐coda l is lost: il becomes
iw, el becomes ɛw, al becomes
aw, ɑl becomes ɑw (pronounced ɔw),
and ɜl, ol, or ʉl becomes o.
Former syllabic l̩ also becomes o.
Except before l as noted above, former ʉ becomes
ʏ (still never quite a fully fronted y).
Former e becomes ɛ.
Former ɜ is lost, merging with a; however, in the
case of the common sequence ɜa, an intrusive ɦ is
inserted and the unstressed vowel then drops out –
thus bɜad (bud) becomes baɦad and
By the late Classical period the nasal vowels are more or less
separate phonemes in their own right; phonetically they tend to
be more open than their oral counterparts, with ĩ becoming
ẽ, ɛ̃ becoming æ̃, õ becoming ɔ̃,
and ʏ̃ becoming ø̃.
LATE AMERICAN – 3000 AD
The language represented by the examples in the final
section. By this point the Great Wheel of Morphology has
come round from a thoroughly analytic to an increasingly
agglutinative grammar, but there isn't room here to cover the
complexities of Late American verb declensions.
When they occur immediately before a stressed vowel, the
aspirated plosives p, t, k tend to become
the affricates pɸ, ts, kx.
On the other hand, plosives after s (or ɕ) are
unaspirated, and thus come to be regarded as voiced; former
sp becomes sb, st becomes sd, and
sk becomes sɡ.
The voiced ɦ settles down as ʁ: phonetically, a
uvular approximant (ʁ̞, which is a sort of gentle “ugh” at
the very back of the mouth). When k or ɡ
come in contact with it they themselves become uvular (q,
ɢ) and the ʁ may approach a gargled “French
The flap phoneme ɾ is lost, turning into r before
an a or ʏ, and simply disappearing elsewhere.
Coda Approximant Loss
Syllable‐coda j tends to be lost or moved. First,
js or jʃ assimilate to ɕ and jz or
jʒ to ʑ; then j tends to switch places with
a following consonant (e.g. jɡ becomes
ɡj), even when that consonant is preceded by a nasal
and/or followed by r or l (jɡr becomes
ɡrj); however this switching (or “metathesis”) does
not occur with heavier consonant clusters or word‐finally.
Remaining cases of aj become ɛ; otherwise the
j is just dropped.
Syllable‐coda w behaves similarly. First, wn
assimilates to m (and wnd to mb); then
w undergoes the same kind of metathesis as j (e.g.
wɡl becomes ɡlw). Remaining cases
of aw become ɔ; otherwise the w is dropped.
Syllable‐coda ʁ is slightly different, in that it may
assimilate to a following sonorant: ʁl becomes ll
before a vowel, l otherwise, and ʁr likewise
becomes either rr or r. In ʁw and
ʁj the ʁ is always dropped, and the same happens
with ʁn or ʁm if the nasals have not themselves
been lost to nasalisation. Elsewhere, metathesis occurs but
is more easily blocked – non‐final ʁɡ may
become ɡʁ, but ʁɡr or ʁɡl is
unchanged. Leftovers keep the ʁ, which lowers
preceding vowels just like a nasal (so i before ʁ
is e, ʏ is ø, u is o).
The distinction between (e.g.) former bean and beam
is lost. It was already blurred, since both are pronounced
in isolation as bẽ, but when the word is immediately
followed by a syllabic sound as in beam of light, which
used to revive the final nasal consonant, it now always inserts
the same one – thus bẽnəlɛd.
Syllabic nasals are unaffected, though being unstressed they do
tend to reduce to plain n or m alongside a
vowel. Plosives nasalised as a side‐effect of a preceding
nasal vowel also escape the neutralisation: sɛ̃ɡ
(sing) is still pronounced sæ̃ŋ, not sæ̃n.
Back Vowel Raising
Former ɑ becomes ɔ (weakly rounded if at all);
former o becomes u. Note that as a result
American at last has a more‐or‐less evenly spaced vowel
inventory: front i and ɛ, central ʏ and
a, and back u and ɔ (plus their nasal
EXAMPLES – Words and Phrases
The examples given below are selected largely on the basis of
semantic stability; there's no point using a word like “computer”,
which means different things from century to century. It
also simplifies things to start with nouns, which have no
confusingly mutable inflected forms. The spellings used are
the closest transliteration I can manage within the limitations of
a twenty‐first‐century characterset; fortunately by the
thirty‐first century storing information as strings of written
words is something of a fossil handicraft anyway (much like
calligraphy in the present day), so an “anachronistic” font is as
good as any.
If you're wondering about the leading asterisks, those are a
slightly warped application of the convention used for “real”
reconstructed languages like Proto‐Indo‐European, where the star
in front of *oinom is a warning that it's an unattested
“best guess” at the PIE for “one” arrived at by deducing the
sound‐change rules that separate it from modern languages.
American language › *myeghan lengvaj
Early American ˈmerkn̩ ˈleŋɡwədʒ
Middle American ˈmjerɡan ˈleŋɡvadʒ
Classical American ˈmjɛɦɡan ˈlɛnɡvaʒ
Late American ˈmjɛɡʁan ˈlɛ̃ɡvaʑ
Pronounced: ˈmjɛɢʁn̩ ˈlæ̃ŋvəʑ, i.e.
George Washington › *Jwohj‐wᴀjandan
Early American dʒordʒ ˈwɑʃəŋtn̩
Middle American dʒwordʒ ˈwɑʒandan
Classical American ʒwoɦʒ ˈwɑʒandan
Late American ʑwuʁʑ ˈwɔʑandan
Pronounced: ʑwoʁ̞ʑ ˈwɔʑn̩dn̩, i.e.
Abraham Lincoln › *Yebraham‐lengan
Early American ˈebrəham ˈlɪŋkn
Middle American ˈjebraham ˈleŋɡan
Classical American ˈjɛbraɦam ˈlɛnɡan
Late American ˈjɛbraʁam ˈlɛ̃ɡan
Pronounced: ˈjɛbɹəʁ̞m̩ ˈlæ̃ŋn̩, i.e.
William Shakespeare › *Wiyam‐xexbih
Early American ˈwiljəm ˈʃekspir
Middle American ˈwiljam ˈʃejspir
Classical American ˈwiwjam ˈʃɛjspiɦ
Late American ˈwijam ˈɕɛɕbiʁ
Pronounced: ˈwijm̩ ˈɕɛɕpeʁ̞, i.e. “WEE‐ymm
Pronounced: sis ˈsɛəβm̩ ɛd ˈnɐ̃æ̃ tsæ̃, i.e.
“cease SEH‐uv'm ed NUH‐a(ng) tsa(ng)”
California, Texas › *Kyafwonyᴀ, *Tesas
Early American ˌkæləˈfornjə ˈtɛksəs
Middle American ˌkjalˈfornjɑ ˈtesas
Classical American ˈkjawfoɦnjɑ ˈtɛsas
Late American ˈkjafwũjɔ ˈtɛsas
Pronounced: ˈkj̥afw̥õjɔ ˈtsɛsəs, i.e.
Mercury, Venus › *Muhgyurri, *Vinas
Early American ˈmr̩kjr̩ri ˈvinəs
Middle American ˈmʉrɡjr̩ri ˈvinas
Classical American ˈmʏɦɡjʏɦri ˈvinas
Late American ˈmʏʁɡjʏrri ˈvinas
Pronounced: ˈmøʁɢjʏɹɹi ˈvinəs, i.e.
Earth, Mars › *Uhd, *Mᴀahz
Early American r̩θ mɑrz
Middle American ʉrð ˈmɑarz
Classical American ʏɦd ˈmɔaɦz
Late American ʏʁd ˈmɔaʁz
Pronounced: øʁ̞d ˈmɔəʁ̞z, i.e. “öghd MAW‐ughz”
Jupiter, Saturn › *Jubwatuh, *Sarun
Early American ˈdʒupətr̩ ˈsætr̩n
Middle American ˈdʒʉwbatʉr ˈsadʉrn
Classical American ˈʒʏwbatʏɦ ˈsaɾʏɦn
Late American ˈʑʏbwatʏʁ ˈsarʏ̃
Pronounced: ˈʑʏbwətøʁ̞ ˈsaɹø̃, i.e. “ZHÜBwatögh
Uranus, Neptune › *Yurranas, *Nettun
Early American ˈjr̩rənəs ˈnɛptun
Middle American ˈjr̩ranas ˈneptʉn
Classical American ˈjʏɦranas ˈnɛttʏn
Late American ˈjʏrranas ˈnɛttʏ̃
Pronounced: ˈjøɹɹənəs ˈnɛttø̃, i.e. “YÜRrranas
The rough pronunciation guides above have deliberately not been
made too simple – that would risk leaving
readers with the impression that Futurese was just a lazy, garbled
version of Presentdayese. In particular those umlauts should
serve to remind readers that our successors will have different
ideas about what sounds are “basic” and “easy”, and which are
“subtle” and “exotic”.
2016 POSTSCRIPT: thanks to A. Z. Foreman for articulating,
recording, and publishing some fantastic audio file versions of the above!
And finally: to give an impression of how much else has been
going on besides regular sound‐changes, here's a Late American
rendition of the Colloquy of Ælfric (as seen
previously), followed by a word‐by‐word
analysis. 3000 AD American has metamorphosed into
something that is clearly a new language, yet recognisably a
descendant of English – sentences even have a familiar
Mind you, if you've been skipping over the phonetics and only
looking at the spellings, you'll get an exaggerated impression of
the differences between 2000 AD and 3000 AD, since our
present‐day standard orthography is basically mock‐Chaucerian (for
instance, we still write knight the way they used to say
it: as nit with extra consonants). As a
counterbalance to this, instead of repeating my
sample text's 2000 AD version spelled as if
it was Middle English, I'll do things the other way round and
write it according to Classical American conventions here:
Wi txìldran beg yu, titxar, đat yu xùd titx as tu spik karektli,
bikaz wi ar ìgnarant and wi spik karàptli…
*Zᴀ kiad w’‐exùn ya tijuh,
da ya‐gᴀr’‐eduketan zᴀ da
wa‐tᴀgan lidla, kaz ’ban iagnaran an
*zᴀ, pronounced “zaw”
“Us‐all”, analogous in form to the second‑ and third‐person
*kiad, pronounced “KKHEE‐ud”
“Kid”, obviously enough.
*w’‐exùn, pronounced “weSHÖ(NG)”
Pronominal prefix (“we”) and finite verb‐stem; a
twenty‐fifth‐century slang term, origin unclear.
*ya, pronounced “yuh”
*tijuh, pronounced “TEEZH‐ögh”
From “teacher”, now restricted to meaning specifically a
*da, pronounced “duh”
“That”, as a subordinating conjunction.
*ya‐gᴀr’‐eduketan, pronounced “yagaw‐RED‐üket'n”
Pronominal prefix, auxiliary prefix (from “gotta”) and
subordinate verb (“educate” – note the preserved
*wa‐tᴀgan, pronounced “wuh‐TSAWG'n”
“Talk”; pronominal prefix and subordinate verb.
*lidla, pronounced “LEEDla”
A back‐loan from Central Hindi, where English “legal” developed
the specialised sense “linguistically well formed”.
*kaz, pronounced “kkhuzz”
*’ban, pronounced “bnn” (unstressed)
Irregular particle derived from the verb “be”.
*iagnaran, pronounced “EEugnurr'n”
Regularly derived from “ignorant”.
*an, (still) pronounced “'n”
The coordinating conjunction “and”.
*wa‐tᴀg, pronounced “wuh‐TSAWG”
As in the previous clause, but this time in the