Language constantly varies and evolves to fit the needs of its community—think about how different Shakespeare’s English sounds compared to English today!
It's clear how much English has changed over time… but what will English be like a century from now? There's no way to know for certain what pronunciations, words, and grammar 22nd-century English speakers will be using, but we may be able to make a few predictions based on today’s trends and behaviors. 👀
Here are 5 changes we might see in English in 100 years!
🔮 Prediction 1: To whom it may concern: Whom is out the door!
Whom dates back to a time when English had noun cases—nouns changed form depending on where they occurred in a sentence. We still do this in English with pronouns, for example—we use he and she differently from him and her, but we stopped doing this with most nouns centuries ago. Whom was one of the (many!) versions of who, but people have been replacing whom with who for at least 700 years.
With more and more people ditching whom for its multitasking cousin who, we predict whom will completely disappear in the 2100s—going the way of ol' hwone (the accusative form of who in Old English).
🔮 Prediction 2: You might need a drink for this one
You can think of English verbs having 3 basic forms: present (go), past simple (went), and past participle (gone). But verb conjugations don't always stay the same over time, and one verb that is in the middle of a big change is drink: I drink today, yesterday I drank, and everyday this with I have …? Drink? Drank? Drunk?
Historically, that third form was drunk, and there was no hesitation or question about it. But the past participle drunk is used less today than in previous decades, and instead, people are using the regular past tense form drank: Sentences like No, I've never drank at that bar before might sound completely normal to you!
This sort of change is pretty typical for English verbs—the past tense of bake used to be boke, the past tense of dive used to be dived (dove is currently taking its place!)—and we predict that have drunk won't make it another century.
🔮 Prediction 3: Movin' ahead
The verb ending -ing (as in, I am talking on the phone while walking to the store) has had quite the evolution: It started as the Old English ending -ende, it acquired a -g because it was so similar to a totally different ending -ing, and its pronunciation has been similarly mixed up. For a long time, it was pronounced with both an "n" and a "g," then with a combined "ng" made in the back of the throat, and now that "g" sound may be on its way out again. You're readin' that right!
Since the -ng sound is being used less, we expect it to be goin’ completely out of style in the 22nd century.
🔮 Prediction 4: Dialects diversify
The difference between what counts as a dialect versus a language is more about prestige, politics, and power than linguistics—a language is really a group of dialects that are mostly understandable to the speakers. And once 2 dialects become so different that speakers of one can no longer understand speakers of the other, we might start thinking of them as separate languages!
In the next century, we predict we'll see even more exciting changes among English dialects. New ones are evolving, especially in places where English comes into contact with other languages, and dialects that have existed for centuries might grow increasingly more distinct. If you're already watching The Great British Bake Off with subtitles, then you won't be surprised when "British" and "USian" become recognized as their own languages in a hundred years!
🔮 Prediction 5: #RIP
That criss-cross number sign # has been a button on telephones for decades, and it was born with the name pound sign. But social media has ushered in a new era for this little guy, renaming him the hashtag. Its ubiquitous use on social media continues with no end in sight, even if its heyday of being spoken aloud is behind us, and it's doing far more on TikTok videos than on our phones. (What’s it even there for, anyway? Occasional interactions with automated customer service?) We predict that next century’s English speakers will stick with hashtag as the name for the tic-tac-toe symbol. #languagepredictions
The English of the future 🤖
While it’s impossible to really know what English (or any language!) will be like in the 2100s, the kinds of language variation that we see today give us a glimpse of what changes may be just around the corner. After all, change is part of life… and language!