It lacks the drama of a shape-shifting alien creature, but another threat looms over the prospect of generations-long, interstellar space travel: Explorers arriving on Xanadu could face problems communicating with previous and subsequent arrivals, their spoken language having changed in isolation along the way.

Therefore, a new paper co-authored by a University of Kansas professor of linguistics and published in a journal affiliated with the European Space Agency recommends that such crews include, if not a linguist, members with knowledge of what is likely to occur and how to adapt.

Associate Professor Andrew McKenzie of KU and Jeffrey Punske, assistant professor of linguistics at Southern Illinois University, co-authored the article "Language Development During Interstellar Travel" in the April edition of Acta Futura, the journal of the European Space Agency's Advanced Concepts Team.

In it, they discuss the concept of change over time, citing such earthbound examples of long-distance voyages as the Polynesian island explorers and extrapolating from there.

It might seem far-fetched, but the authors cite even during their own lifetimes with the rise—no pun intended—of uptalk.

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