In the show "The 100", the Grounders speak a language called "Trigedasleng". This language is intended to be a descendant of modern English, and we are to understand that it arose through natural linguistic drift.

Over the course of 97 years (between a nuclear apocalypse and the beginning of the series' run), Trigedasleng has evolved into a language with a lexicon and grammar that varies so much from modern English as to sound unintelligible to modern English speakers.

How realistic is it that the Grounders would have developed their own, distinctive language within such a timescale?


There may be a real-world example on Quora from Don Grushkin, Professor of Deaf Studies (Ph.D. in Language, Reading and Culture).

I've added the bold.

I'm not sure anybody's ever conducted any research on rate of linguistic drift. As Joachim Pense notes, languages can be created in one or two generations. But you're talking about linguistic change from one form, say, "Old English" to a newer form, say "New English".

One example that we can look at to see linguistic drift occurring is in the case of American Sign Language. ASL was created in 1817, with the establishment of the American School for the Deaf, where French Sign Language was imported and likely blended with Martha's Vineyard Sign Language, and possibly some American Indian Signs, or some local Deaf community signs (there were a few Deaf communities emerging in the early NorthEastern United States).

In 1880, the use of signed language was officially banned within Deaf educational settings, and the language started to go underground, to some degree. In 1913, the National Association of the Deaf, fearing the death of signed language, commissioned a series of films (around 6 or 7 films) in order to preserve the history and the language. Most of these films survived today. You can watch one of these films here:

To modern signers of ASL, it is difficult to understand the signs (I can, but only because I've seen a translation and have watched the film many times). Our difficulty shows that the language has undergone a significant drift in about 100 years, or about 5 generations. This drift might have been accelerated by other factors such as invented signed systems, the banning of ASL in education (causing some areas to invent their own sign language or variation of ASL), and the lack of a written form of ASL.

Given a small, isolated community after a catastrophe, I think it is quite plausible to find a new, unintelligible language evolving in that short a time.


It seems plausible. According to the Wikia entry on Trigedasleng:

  • Trigedasleng is desended from a heavily-accented dialect of American English
  • Trigedasleng developed partially due to natural linguistic drift, but also because there was a pressure for the Grounders to develop code-terms and euphemisms that their enemies, particularly the Mountain Men of Mount Weather, could not readily understand
  • Trigedasleng underwent extreme phonological simplification during its descent from English, resulting in numerous homonyms.

Combined with the relative isolation, it's quite plausible that the language would have changed as it did. Imagine that you started with a group of people who speak African Vernacular (Ebonics) who develop additional slang terms to hide meaning from others and also start to blur together the phonetics of similar words such that they knew from context both others from outside might not. Isolate them for a hundred years and it's very plausible that, after that time, it's very likely we'd have some trouble. Just look at how unintelligible some of the slang of the 50s is to people of today.

David Peterson, the linguist who created the language, speaks more at length about it in his blog.

  • nice answer. I just realised that your wikia link contains citations linking to a blog post written by David J. Peterson, the linguist who created the language. In which he explicitly answers this question! It is an interesting read. I'll edit the link into your answer: dedalvs.tumblr.com/post/104195916604/… – The Giant of Lannister Mar 16 '16 at 20:29
  • I think non-written languages change extremely quickly relative to written languages. – Paul Mar 17 '16 at 1:44
  • @Paul Sometimes, sometimes not. Writing (or rather: ubiquitous literacy) does have a conservativising effect, but there's no true causation in it. Finnish, for example, seems to have changed more in the 500-odd years it's been written down than it did in the 500 years before that. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 17 '16 at 9:57

I think the best example of how quickly language can evolve is to look at religious cults. Within many of them words are used in different ways that newcomers very quickly adapt to.

  • Welcome to Linguistics! This post would benefit from adding further details. Being a one-line post, it may attract downvotes and criticism. Please edit it to add further relevant information — preferably with references to credible sources. – bytebuster May 21 '20 at 20:22
  • But you're talking about a small proportion of the vocabulary, which is itself only one component of a language. The question was about a language which had changed much more. Compare reading Shakespeare (Early Modern English, some of the vocabularly is unfamiliar, and some of the grammar a bit difficult, but the core vocabulary is mostly unchanged, and we can read it), Chaucer (the grammar is rather more different, and some of the everyday words are strange - much harder) and Beowulf (a foreign language to modern English speakers) – Colin Fine May 23 '20 at 19:15

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