The variations of time travel and language

time travel languages

Now if I did go to another era, I’d probably spend some time hanging out in a study like this! Image courtesy of stux, Pixabay.

I saw a video on YouTube the other day that posed an interesting question: How far back would you have to travel in time before you wouldn’t be able to understand English? (See video below.)

It’s an intriguing thought. Although H.G. Wells has explored time travel in The Time Machine, his main character went to the future rather than the past. Time travel’s also been explored in the BBC series “Lost in Austen” (where the main character went back and forth from the Regency era), the Outlander series, the TV show “Sleepy Hollow,” among others.

My practical mind wonders about all the practicalities of going to another century. There would be the culture shock you’d face in actually arriving in another era, obtaining clothes so you’d fit in and acquiring enough cash of that era in order to stay somewhere (unless some kind person helped you out). There would be the regular tasks of everyday living, made different from this century by the lack of technology in the past or improved technology in the future. I’d probably struggle at first with reading and writing in that era, depending on which era it was.

Maybe one of these days somebody will build a virtual reality world that we could all visit with VR technology. Wouldn’t it be fun to go through a Gilded Age mansion or a castle, and actually see people moving around and conducting the activities of daily life?

I’d like to think that the basic character of people would still be the same, whatever era you went to, so that would help the transition. There would still be the kind and the evil, the powerful and powerless, the haves and the have-nots, the active joyseekers and the dreamers. While attitudes shift from society to society and era to era, I’m thinking that the basic character of people probably wouldn’t change very much.

But as the video points out, being able to communicate would get tricky the farther back you went. Words go in and out of fashion. Languages change as new words are added to the vocabulary, so you’d have to become familiar with all of that era’s language as it changed and grew. That would be fun to experience.

But mastering Geoffrey Chaucer’s English — hoo boy! That would be a challenge. I notice some of his verbs end in -en, just like German does. A sign of common roots?

Readers, ever fantasized about going to another era? What would you go to see? Let’s discuss.

(Video credit: Yestervid, YouTube.)



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24 responses to “The variations of time travel and language

  1. I prefer armchair time travel. I do appreciate indoor plumbing and going about without a corset.

  2. Servetus

    Germs, germs, germs — it would be deadly. I don’t fantasize about traveling to the past (despite or perhaps because of studying so much history). This is the best century for a woman to be living in.

    re: basic character — this is a matter of debate among historians. Most these days agree that there was a shift in personality structures that began in the West around 1300 or so — the “birth of the individual.”

    • Given how unsanitary Civil War medical operating conditions were, it’s amazing anybody survived!

      • Servetus

        They had exposure to different bugs than we do and developed immunity. (It’s just like when you go to México — you and I shouldn’t eat from street vendors, but Mexicans do it all the time.) I think the research emerging on how the numbers suffering from asthma are increasing due to our extremely high levels of cleanliness is really interesting, as is the possibility that our antiseptic / antibiotic practices are creating superbugs.

      • Interesting, that some cleanliness practices could create superbugs. Little bit scary, too.

  3. I’d go back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries to mix with my forebears in order to understand what has come down through the generations to make me what I am today!

  4. I love time travel books! But I’m not sure I would like to travel in time myself… The more history I read, the less inclined I am to go back to a time before modern medicine! I joke that if you do travel in time, no matter what era you travel back to, it’s best to be rich – the Victorian era, for instance, seems to have been much easier for the landed gentry on up the social ladder. I think I could handle being a duchess in the 1800s (or even earlier)… haha!

  5. What an intiguing question! I’m not sure I’d want to time travel, but it’s fun to think about.

  6. I’m pretty sure our version (?) of English really got cooking in the latter part of the 15th century. The Normans by then had become more Anglia-ish and fewer people spoke French. And, also, the English ownership of much of France was closing down. How it would sound to our ears?

    I can barely understand modern Scottish … so i’m a bad one to ask. It’s a great question!


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