The creation of "Generation Ships" or Interstellar Arks has been the subject of many scientific studies and proposals that can accommodate multiple generations of human beings and take them to a distant planet or could help to colonize the known universe.

But during such a long journey from earth to another habitable planet in the universe, multiple generations will be born and raised inside a closed environment which could lead to several kinds of biological issues or mutations. However, as per a new study, a team of linguistics experts said that there is something else that will be subject to mutation during such a long voyage and it is their language.

Andrew McKenzie, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Kansas and Jeffrey Penske, an assistant professor of linguistics at Southern Illinois University, both involved in this new study have discussed how languages evolve over time whenever communities grow isolated from one another.

Interstellar Travel
Interstellar Travel Pixabay

In the study, the researchers explained the consequences of long space travel that might trigger changes in the languages of crew members during the journey in space or interplanetary settlement. Their research revealed that the long isolation of a traveling community may lead to enough difference to render its language unintelligible to the original community it left. This issue may compound as later vessels bring new crews with their own changed languages to mix with those from earlier crews.

It is a fact that language barriers have always been a hurdle for human interaction, especially in terms of long stretches of time and space. So, if humans plan to "go interstellar" boarding a huge spaceship, there is no doubt that we'll be taking that hurdle to a whole new level.

Understanding the Consequences

The story of Caxton's "eggys" would be the best example in this case. In the preface to Virgil's Aeneid, the author tells the story of a group of merchants who are traveling down the Thames towards Holland. But due to poor winds, they are forced to dock in the Kent, 80 km downriver, and look for something to eat.

As per the story, one merchant went to a house and asked for meat and, specifically, he asked for eggs ("eggys"). But a woman answered that she could speak no French and that made the merchant angry as he could not speak French either. He said he wanted eggs and she could not understand him. "And then, at last, another person said that he wanted 'eyren' and then the good woman said that she understood him well," read the story.

This example showed how during the 15th century in England, despite living in the same country, people faced a language barrier. So, if we multiply that to 4.25 light-years to the nearest star system, it will be easier to understand how language could become a major complication in terms of interstellar travel.

space
Space Ship Pixabay

McKenzie and Punske have used examples of different language families and how new languages emerged due to distance and time. In a statement, McKenzie explained that if people have boarded a vessel for 10 generations, new concepts will emerge, new social issues will come up, and people will create ways of talking about them.

As per McKenzie, these will become the vocabulary particular to the ship but people on earth might never know about these words unless there is a reason to tell them.

"The further away you get, the less you're going to talk to people back home. Generations pass, and there's no one really back home to talk to. And there's not much you want to tell them, because they'll only find out years later, and then you'll hear back from them years after that," he added.

The Examples Will Help to Understand

The researchers used the example of the Polynesian sailors who populated the South Pacific islands between 3,000 and 1,000 BCE. Even though the roots of these sailors are traced to Taiwan, the process of expansion led to the development of completely new cultures by the 1st millennium BCE.

The study authors also noted the language changes that take place within the same language community over time. As per the researchers, "uptalk" has only been observed in the English language within the past 40 years. Even though its origin is unclear, its spread has been noted, particularly.

As per the study authors, another issue is sign language, which will require adaptations from the crew as some of the members of the interstellar voyage crew could born with hearing difficulties.

Mars colony
Representational image Team SEArch /Apis Cor’s 3D modeled design

They also explained that when the subsequent ships from Earth reach the colonized planets and meet the locals, new waves of immigrants will encounter a language barrier that may cause discrimination. They said,

"We strongly suggest that any crew exhibit strong levels of metalinguistic training in addition to simply knowing the required languages. There will be a need for an informed linguistic policy on board that can be maintained without referring back to Earth-based regulations."