Languages could change once interstellar flights, arks become a reality, study proposes

Researchers cite examples of Polynesian sailors, who populated the South Pacific islands and founded entirely new cultures after 3,000 BC.


A new study conducted by a team of linguistics professors now looks at how languages evolve over time when communities grow isolated from one another.

According to a Phys.org report, while the concept of creating an interstellar ark, filled with humans, flora and fauna seems fascinating, there are downsides to the proposal. As per study authors, multiple generations of people will be born and raised in a closed environment, leading to varied biological issues and mutations.

The study conducted by Andrew McKenzie, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Kansas, and Jeffrey Punske now sheds more light on the effects on language during interstellar journeys.

The study titled "Language Development During Interstellar Travel" appeared in Acta Futura, the journal of the European Space Agency's Advanced Concepts team.

The Phys.org report says that in the study, researchers discuss how language might evolve in the case of a long interstellar voyage and/or as a result of interplanetary colonization. According to them, this could lead to an eventuality where the language of the colonists would be unintelligible to the people on Earth, should they even meet later.

An interstellar ark concept from Jeff Bezos's 2019 talk on his vision for the future of spaceflight. Image: Blue Origin

An interstellar ark concept from Jeff Bezos's 2019 talk on his vision for the future of spaceflight. Image: Blue Origin

During the course of the study, McKenzie and Punske used examples of different language families on Earth and how new languages emerged due to distance and time.

They used the example of Polynesian sailors who populated South pacific islands between 3,000 and 1,000 BCE. While the roots of the sailors were traced back to Taiwan, the process of expansion led to the creation of entirely new cultures by the 1st millennium BCE.

The language that emerged was far removed from that of their ancestors.

According to a statement by The University of Kansas, the scientists say that any future interstellar missions should include linguists who are trained in what to expect. They also recommend additional studies of likely language changes abroad interstellar spacecraft so that people know what exactly to expect, well in advance.

The authors conclude their study saying that given the certainty that these issues will arise in scenarios such as these, the crew should exhibit strong levels of metalinguistic training.

“There will be need for an informed linguistic policy on board that can be maintained without referring back to Earth-based regulations," they added.


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