According to Wikipedia, the plot goes as follows:

In the near future, after humanity abandoned Earth after cataclysmic events, they re-established society on the planet Nova Prime, light years away from Earth. Abandoned, Earth continued to flourish on its own.

One thousand years after the departure from Earth, the Ranger Corps, a peace keeping organization established shortly after colonization of Nova Prime, is led by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a wise but cold and emotionless father. His teenage son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is a recruit of the Ranger Corps, but his knack for mischief frustrates Cypher.

Urged by his wife (Sophie Okonedo), who sees Kitais behaviour as a longing for his father's love, Cypher takes Kitai on a mission trip to Earth. The ship travels into an asteroid field and crashes on Earth, killing everyone except a critically injured Cypher and Kitai, who are forced to embark on a perilous journey across uncharted terrain, coming across evolved animals that now dominate the planet, as well as an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash, to signal for help.

The characters communicate in English (apparently), with some sort of UK-ish accent (although I'm uncertain about that). I consider this problematic, and I'm wondering if I'm wrong for believing so. The reason I consider this a problem is that:

  • The plot takes place 1,000 years after humans left Earth.
  • Languages generally have a way with changing considerably on a very regular basis.
  • The characters may not have been the original Earthly migrants.

These are what make my problem because, respectively:

  • The humans who left Earth must have been far more advanced than we are. Intergalactic travel is far from possible at the moment, and it won't be for centuries (if ever possible). Therefore, if we say that the migrants left Earth 1,000 years before these characters met their natural adversaries, we'd have to assume that these characters are 2,000 years more advanced than we are if we assume it'll take another 1,000 years (until the year 3,013) to travel as far as the migrants did.
  • If we make an example of Old English, it only took 1,000 years for Old English to become what it is today. There appears to be no change in the language throughout the movie.
  • The characters may not have been the original migrants, so the likelihood of them adapting English as we know it is desperately slim, just considering how trends normally work. I doubt that linguistic recycling of modern English as we know it was an issue. I'm positive there will have been special adaptations made.

Okay, so this question has come up with regard to Star Trek -- "[how do all of the aliens speak English?]" A common answer: the proverbial 'universal translator' translates everything for us because the aliens don't actually speak using English. That would be a great, normal possibility--the presence of a translator, at least--but in this case, it'd leave a space to beg the question of why the main characters would need to translate anything to English, because there's no other human/humanoid around to translate for.

So, is this a flaw?

  • 10
    What about the actual language being "translated" for the benefit of the audience? Aside from the extra effort of developing a new language (perhaps an amalgamation of English, Chinese and other languages) and the difficulty of actors learning lines in this new language, it is more difficult to enjoy a movie--especially an action-rich one--with subtitles. The accent may have been used to hint that the actual language is foreign.
    – user11683
    May 9, 2013 at 12:22
  • 1
    I wonder why this received so many downvotes.
    – Mr_Spock
    Jun 9, 2013 at 2:51
  • 3
    I too was a mite puzzled that the characters in Troy all spoke English, a language that didn't even exist yet at the time the movie was set in. Honestly - you're over-thinking it.
    – user8719
    Nov 30, 2013 at 0:10
  • @Mr_Spock - Good question, bad movie. Hence downvotes.
    – Valorum
    Jan 22, 2017 at 0:00
  • @PaulA.Clayton - You are correct, sir.
    – Valorum
    Jan 22, 2017 at 0:01

3 Answers 3


it only took 1,000 years for Old English to become what it is today

True, but in the last 100 years, we’ve invented technology that records speech (and distributes those recordings worldwide), and most English societies have become universally literate.

I’ve nothing to back this up, but I think the rate of language change during the previous thousand years had a lot to do with language being transmitted directly, person-to-person - like a very long and extensive game of Chinese Whispers (or, for you bloody colonials, “Telephone”).

Whereas these days (and presumably into the future), we grow up hearing and reading examples of speech from the past, and imitate that. Listening to recordings from, say, 1920, I don’t hear a lot of difference in how we speak.

Having read your linked article on the evolution of English, bear in mind that all our ideas about how Old and Middle English sounded when spoke are pretty much based on surviving poems. We look at words that should rhyme based on where they are in the poem, and extrapolate from that. We don’t really have much idea how people actually sounded when they spoke.

Note also that much of the development of English came when parts of our fair island were taken over by invaders from other countries. There’s a sort of similar thing these days with kids adapting slang and accents from migrants (e.g. the slang referred to by some as “Ja-fake-an”), which reminds me a bit of the Russian slang used in A Clockwork Orange.

That’s not necessarily something you'd expect to see from humans who fled earth.

  • 2
    Another point to add as well, they wouldn't have been able to bring everyone from earth in the first place, meaning that for the most part, the first colonists of Nova Prime would've been the "best and brightest": scientists, scholars, doctors etc, and their offspring would've been brought up in a highly intellectual society. This solidifies what you've said about our societies being almost "universally literate"
    – Robotnik
    May 9, 2013 at 10:39
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    Note to others: "Chinese Whispers" is called "Telephone" in the US
    – Izkata
    May 9, 2013 at 12:07
  • This immediately brings to mind the language changes we see in Firefly/Serenity. It's mostly still English, but the slang alone has changed greatly.
    – Omegacron
    Mar 24, 2015 at 21:50

I don't don't know squat about the movie, book, or other fictional thing in your question, so I can't address what the scriptwriter, author, musician or artist could have had in mind.

It's plausible linguistically, using Modern Icelandic and ancient Norse as the comparison, which also are separated by 1000 years (and documented change at that) if:

  • the community is isolated & has no significant contact with others.
  • The community is homogeneous and no part of the community by choice or circumstance fails to interact with other parts of the community

In those situations, languages still change, but the drift is much slower (Icelanders can read Norse with far less difficulty than we can read Old English) and has fewer kinds of change (i.e. no loan words, no massive revolutionary changes like we had when French speaking Normans took over English speaking England leading to a massive shift in vocabulary)

Another natural experiment we have to show how much a language is likely to drift in isolation is the comparison between Faroese and Icelandic, which both had about 1000 years of isolation and the same starting point. I can read a some Icelandic but spoken Faroese is barely recognizable to me-- native speakers can learn the other remarkably fast and in written forms, you can match up the words. The most noticable difference for native speakers is the semantic drift, Farosee Fótbóltur vs Icelandic Knattspyrna (or fótbolti), things are still recongizable, just the preferred word among available possibilities for a thing is different.

  • 1
    You "saw the movie a long time ago"? The movie isn't out yet.
    – phantom42
    May 9, 2013 at 14:19
  • 2
    oops sorry, I was thinking of Titan AE (After Earth). I'll remove that sentence. May 9, 2013 at 14:27
  • The fact that the Icelandic language hasn't changed a lot in the past 1000 years is a plot point in Poul Anderson's story "The Man Who Came Early".
    – user14111
    Nov 30, 2013 at 1:52

While the characters do speak modern English (presumably for the convenience of the audience), the makers of the film did give serious consideration to the idea of linguistic drift 1000 years into the future, especially given that Kitai is supposed to come from a mixed colony world.

Dialect coach Joel Goldes credits himself as having created an entirely new accent specifically for the film.

"I invented an accent of the future for After Earth, reflecting the sounds of the dominant world languages coming together in the 1000 years since people left Earth"

The Accent I Created for After Earth

This was backed up by screenwriter Gary Whitta in an interview for Blastr

What the makeup of this society would look like. Will and Jaden are speaking in kind of polyglot accent. They worked with a dialect coach to come up with an original accent, because the idea of the characters speaking with an American accent or a British accent one thousand years in the future, after you’ve left Earth would seem kind of preposterous.

There’s actually different versions of the accent based on your position in society. So there is people lower down in the social order have kind of a working-class, a more guttural version of the accent. And Will’s character in the movie is of a higher order; an almost aristocratic level of society has a more refined version of the accent. So there is a tremendous detail that went into that.

Screenwriter reveals After Earth wasn't meant to be a sci-fi movie

  • 1
    I think this is a very valid answer as it explains both in-universe and from a filmmaking perspective. The final accent used in the movie is also more convenient as opposed to something like Cloud Atlas... which while more immersive was rather difficult to follow especially since the reveal was very late in the movie.
    – SaltySub2
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:29
  • 1
    @SaltySub2 - Glad you approve. Alas, this answer swims with the fishes.
    – Valorum
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:35

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