How long do I need to influence language development?

Constructed Languages Asked on August 20, 2021

Taja is a language with Verb-Subject-Object word order. However, emperor Kai wants to always be the first, so, he wants all sentences where he is the subject to have a Subject-Verb-Object word order.

Obviously, people at the court follow this rule. Farmers in a remote region probably not that much. If Kai dies a few years later and his successor goes “Stop this stupid word-order thing” this would be forgotten quickly.

If, however, Kai lives long enough (or his successor also likes it this way), other nobles would start to require their servants to put them first as well, eventually even remote regions would pick it up. Finally, it becomes part of the language.

How long does this need to stay in effect until language development integrates it into the language? Such that even after replacing monarchy with democracy, the “Subject-Verb-Object” word order is still used when the subject is a person, and the speaker wants to express his/her respect?


Let me answer the questions in the comments.

  • First of all, Kai is not planning to systematically change the language. He is just pleasing his ego. So while he will punish people who do not do it (if he notices), he is not going to start a large-scale education program.

  • If the emperor is the object of the sentence, the sentence stays as it is. So “peasants must pay taxes to the emperor” stays unchanged.

What is the equivalent Earth date for technology?

agricultural, probably medieval.

How physically and demographically large is the country?

An entire continent. Think about the Roman Empire.

How much trade is there with other countries?

I haven’t given this one any thought. I guess less trade helps, so, let’ say very little.

How strong is/are the religious influences (a big deal with language)?

weak to medium

How effective is the collection of taxes and the dispensation of justice?

Things are quite organized, however, this is a personal spleen of Kai. A judge (or policemen) in a remote province is very unlikely to sentence/imprison someone for not following this.

2 Answers

Control the schools and the culture

Education and culture are critically important to language development. Children of immigrants generally speak the local language, including the local dialect and slang, even if their parents struggle with it. If you can control the schools and the culture, you can force a new speaking style. It's tough to know exactly what this would look like without knowing the technology level of your world, but since you want a timeframe, let's say 50 years. That works out to one or two generations (one generation in the modern world is between 19 and 31 years).


Require that "Modern Taja" be used in all schools and forbid the use of "Traditional Taja" in education. Send all teachers to mandatory continuing education classes about how Taja is to be written and spoken. Rewrite all educational materials. Emphasize the importance of education and build schools in areas with poor literacy rates.


It sounds like not everybody in your world attends formal education, even with the expanded schools. The king should sponsor great cultural initiatives, including theaters in the cities, the publishing of books, and traveling theater groups that venture deep into the country. In every instance, emphasize Modern Taja and either don't use Traditional Taja or only have the dumb country rube characters use it.

Several studies (example) emphasize the importance of what a child's friends and parents speak in determining how the child speaks. If Modern Taja is all that someone has seen in school and culture for her entire life and it's primarily what her parents have seen for their entire lives, Traditional Taja will sound really weird.

Answered by Andrew Brēza on August 20, 2021

Assuming emperor Kai puts a strong pressure on his subjects, having the change permanent would be a matter of one or two generations. Once one generation is brainwashed and use naturally the new form, and that there is no backward trend (emperor Kai's death penalty may be a strong incentive to avoid such trend), consider that adoption should stay.

This however assumes that language is mostly spoken and not written (or you need to change writings as well), that teachers are supportive of Kai and teach the new proper way of speaking to all, etc.

Answered by Uriel on August 20, 2021

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