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Patrick Zoch
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How do you feel about settings with a Common language ? Do you think it is always a practical solution, or do you prefer several different languages?

Do you have a question you want asked as QOTD? Post here!

And if you want to find an old QOTD: The big QOTD Summary and Subscription Thread Volume 3
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Speaking for fantasy or historic settings only. For me, the question in modern and sci-fi is moot.

I feel like they are always practical, although perhaps not always desirably in any given group. For all the bonus languages scribbled at the bottom of the wizard's sheet we have never spent a lot of time with gnollish, bugbearian or Tri'keenese. It is just not especially interesting past giving the PC a little (very little) bit more depth. It is doubly practical for encounters with new tribes that only have one or two common speakers and thus simplify negotiations at the table level. Playing languages straight would mean note passing or personal asides, or just having the PC translate everything for the group in real time, in which case the effect is the same as if everyone spoke the same language anyway.

From a realistic perspective I think that RPG language diversity and common sit in the uncanny valley. It is unlikely that even closed cultures will maintain a uniform language through out. Things like Hebrew are an exception, but this is a very specific diaspora that is not oft replicated with other expatriate groups. Likewise, it is certainly not the case that dozens of different races and ethnicities would adopt a common tongue unless education was wide spread and uniform. No ruleset I have read gives any time to pigeon languages but this would likely be the norm in the worlds of D&D.

From a design and DM perspective, the diversity of language would appear to be a barrier to knowledge that can be placed between the players and the game, and this is anathema to my sensibilities. While there are certainly occasions when this tactic can be artfully employed, it is usually frustrating and boring.

I think language in the fantasy setting is best used for flavor and to signify a culture in context, eg Dwarfish runes decorate the alter. They can also be used by PCs to communicate in secret amongst one another. Common is best hand waved and then ignored, as I imagine it is at almost every table.
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Unfortunately not all of us can be Tolkien, so a common language is a necessity, but I do enjoy adding encounter bits that are tailored to a character who can speak a language that nobody else can as it can be fun to mess with them and/or allow them to mess with their teammates.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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In the D&D campaigns that I've played the language used most is common. But sometimes other languages are used and if a PC doesn't know it then our cleric uses the spell comprehend languages to solve the problem.
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A common language is certainly easier, and I would use it in most one-shots to save time.

But I learned RPGs with Bunnies & Burrows, which was unique at that time for having over 30 "races," pretty much all known to the players without any explanation, and only one monster. That is, the rabbit PCs could communicate intelligently with dogs, cats, foxes, deer, cows, boars, etc., etc., but not the one monster: humans, whose thought processes were usually alien to the PCs.

So it had a lot of languages, and the rabbits could learn two different levels of each: a pidgin version and the full version. So Dog and Fox were two different languages, but both spoke Pidgin Canine.

It was a lot of fun to play those languages out, as people got very creative using a pidgin language, in which the most common word is "thing." So you had "big pointy thing" and "round hard thing" and so on. The players really got into it. In fact, in my Bunnies & Burroughs scenario (Edgar Rice, that is) one rabbit could communicate with Tarzan in Pidgin Carnivore, a *very* primitive language, a step down from Pidgin Canine, Pidgin Feline, etc. Still, it was the first time the rabbits could ever communicate with a human and they were blown away.

Likewise, when I run a Three Musketeers game, it's fun to use the various languages of the enemies of France: English, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, etc. It's fun to give a different language to each PC in a convention game so they can all shine at different times in espionage.

But I admit, a common language is easier. BTW, never having played D&D, I have no idea how it is used in that game.
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Roger Hobden
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The Language Question in RPGs is a very important issue as far as I am concerned.

For starters, ponder this knowledge that widely known around the world, in different languages:

How do you call someone who speaks many languages ? A polyglot.
How do do you call someone who speaks two languages ? A bilingual.
How do do you call someone who speaks only one language ?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
An American.


A very high number of citizens around the world commonly speak two or more languages. For instance, in Canada, the two official languages are french and english, and a very high proportion of the population speaks both languages. There are also two or more official languages in countries like Belgium, Switzerland, the Philippines, Finland, Belarus, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. and the list goes on.

As for countries where personal and regional multilingualism is practiced on a daily basis, the number is far too great to enumerate, but can be found here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_multilingual_countries...

The fact that most RPGs determine that their characters can only "know" one language from the start makes absolutely no sense to me.

In some games, the players has to spend skill points to acquire other languages, even if they are commonly spoken in the country where the character lives. The points are then deducted from the skill pool, and so has a negative impact on the possibility of acquiring other skills.

This, as a bilingual person, I find greatly insulting.

I am very offended by such design decisions, which naturally don't come out of thin air, but have a very specific social and historical background that I am not inclined to comment on furthermore for the moment.

As a GM, you can be 100 % sure that I will never force any of my players through such a process.

The approach I use for the moment is to permit players to choose 2-4 mothers tongues that they would reasonably know in the area where they live.

This will usually exclude languages spoken in foreign (to them) countries, unless there is a family connection, and also (nearly) extinct languages like latin, unless they would have been raised in an orphanage where for example latin was still spoken by members of a religious order.

There is a lot of place for creative linguistic diversity within RPGs, and it is a very sad state of affairs that such a potentiel wellspring of human expression has been stunted by narrow design decisions for so long.

TL;DR:

Players should be able to freely choose any reasonable number of living languages that their characters may have, at no within-game costs whatsoever.
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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Roger, you're showing your own bias: urban dweller. I lived in Europe for over two years, mostly in the country and smaller towns. Hardly anyone in small French towns spoke more than fifty words of another language. The same is true for the Italian villages I've visited. And Quebec small towns, honest.
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Chris L
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I think that in a roleplaying game anything that deliberately impedes communication and the flow of information is more trouble than it's worth.

Maybe throw in a language barrier as The Complication for an occasional session, but not as a thing that has to be dealt with regularly.
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According to statistics published in 2104:



More information here:

http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-...
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Bruce McGeorge
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Mallet wrote:

According to statistics published in 2104:


Time travel is not permitted in the QotD.
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Language isn't something that our group cares too much about. A common language is preferred.

If I notice that someone has taken a variety of languages, I'll use them. The same holds true of any subset of skills though.
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brumcg wrote:
Mallet wrote:

According to statistics published in 2104:


Time travel is not permitted in the QotD.

Exactly. I don't play any games set in a world where even 5% of the population is urban, let alone half. (They estimate only 3% of the world population was urban in the year 1800.)

(And in my personal life, I only spend about two weeks a year in urban environments. I live in this area: )

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sos1 wrote:


(And in my personal life, I only spend about two weeks a year in urban environments. I live in this area: )




We are practically neighbours !

There are definitely advantages in living in a town of 5000 people, for sure.

For my part, I wouldn't want to live in a megalopolis. cool
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I think we need to think about what purpose would having multiple languages serve?

Functionally, it is to impede the flow of information. It becomes a challenge that the PCs now must overcome. Whether or not that is desirable depends on the type of game one likes to play.

If one has a lot of languages and the PCs speak a lot of languages, then this raises the point of, why are you bothering with multiple languages? Communication is not impeded so there is no challenge for the PCs to overcome. At this point, you would be better off with there being a common language.

In terms of game design, I think the issue is if you want languages to be a challenge for the PCs to overcome. If so, then you need to put that into the game design.

People only know a language if it is useful. When peasants would only travel a couple of miles in their entire life, there is limited use of multiple languages. Those involved in trade may know multiple languages. However, it is more likely a pigeon language developed.

Then there are also Lingua Francas in history. Greek, Latin, French, and now English has served that role.

Adding flavor or realism may be nice, but one needs to think about how the game is intended to be played and what role language(s) has in game play. Then build around that. For the most part, I find nothing lost in most genres with there just being one language.
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Roger Hobden
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dragoner3 wrote:
Another interesting historical factoid is that "Lingua Franca" or common language among speakers of different languages, is a Byzantine dig at Romans who were under the thumb of the Franks, which also is the Byzantine word for Germans, and ie Barbarians. It is humorous that over a millennia later, the dig at the Romans the Byzantines were able to slip into language, still exists.


I had never made the connection. Thanks for pointing this out.

I just love all these historical tidbits which, put together, give us a better idea of how people reasoned and interacted in the past.

"The past is a foreign country", as the saying goes.

For some reason, this discussion makes me think of the book Timeline, by Michael Crichton, a superlative SF novel on Time Travel to the Middle Ages that I can't recommend enough (apparently the movie has to be avoided at all costs, though).
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Roger Hobden
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Q: How do you feel about settings with a Common language ? Do you think it is always a practical solution, or do you prefer several different languages?

A: As you may have guessed, I much prefer that characters can have the option of speaking different languages. It makes for a culturally richer environment, and could lead to very interesting interactions.

The notion that something important is going on, yet you have no clue what the characters are saying to each other, was brought home to me in a very forceful manner when I watched the TV series Shogun for the first time when it came out in the 80's.

A masterful artistic decision, which unfortunately would probably be unthinkable nowadays.

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For game design, I go for Common (or whatever) as the only spoken language, so that the GM can simply convey information, and working around verbal communication is never fun. Often the GM forgets we know the languages or tells everyone what the NPC said anyway. And Comprehend Languages and Tongues are lowish level and swiss-army-knife versatile to solve the problem in a boring way. So it is a conceit to play.

Now I like having multiple written languages, so that the issue comes up only when the GM wants it. Without multiple spoken langs, the players are happy to state that the above spells don't exist; so ciphers and skill rolls are involved. The player who reads it determine what everyone else is told.
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William Hostman
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pdzoch wrote:
A question suggested by

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How do you feel about settings with a Common language ? Do you think it is always a practical solution, or do you prefer several different languages?

Do you have a question you want asked as QOTD? Post here!

And if you want to find an old QOTD: The big QOTD Summary and Subscription Thread Volume 3


In the years about 100 BCE to 400 CE, Latin was almost universal around the Mediterranean...Even the Saxon cultures usually has a few who spoke it... Along the borders, at least.

In the late 19th to present, English became the "international language"...

So I don't find it a verisimilitude issue. If it doesnt already, I normally give it a name in setting, tho.
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Roger Hobden
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aramis wrote:


In the years about 100 BCE to 400 CE, Latin was almost universal around the Mediterranean...Even the Saxon cultures usually has a few who spoke it... Along the borders, at least.

In the late 19th to present, English became the "international language"...



And, probably the most likely candidate for international and interstellar common language in the XXII and following Centuries would be Mandarin. arrrh


But, who knows, maybe Esperanto will eventually catch on ? Apparently, it is a language that is very easy to learn, both from the point of view of grammar and vocabulary.

Their upcoming World Congress in 2020 will be in Montreal, my home town, so I might be tempted to learn a few words and sentences to communicate with the attendees.

https://www.noslangues-ourlanguages.gc.ca/en/blogue-blog/esp...

I wonder if they will be providing simultaneous translation ?

EDIT:

Here are a few links to learn Esperanto for free:

https://lernu.net/en
http://kurso.com.br
https://en.duolingo.com
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Oni povas lerni Esperanton tre facile! I can vouch that it is easy and fun to learn. I started learning it as a lark about four years ago and picked it up very quickly. I’m a little out of practice, but was good enough at one point to think in it, and read translations of Tolkien, Milne, Carroll, and Vance. If you are curious then the (free) Duolingo app is the best place to start.

Unfortunately, a more likely future scenario than everyone speaking Esperanto, Chinese, or anything else, is that in-ear buds will provide real-time translation into the listener’s native language.

Re: common, sure. There’s a limited space, both mental and rules-wise, for things to deal with at the table. Making everyone deal with different languages and dialects might be appropriate for some games, but it always comes with an opportunity cost. If people like exploring linguistic differences then that’s their business. For me it means giving up valuable orc-murdering time.
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William Hostman
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Mallet wrote:
aramis wrote:


In the years about 100 BCE to 400 CE, Latin was almost universal around the Mediterranean...Even the Saxon cultures usually has a few who spoke it... Along the borders, at least.

In the late 19th to present, English became the "international language"...



And, probably the most likely candidate for international and interstellar common language in the XXII and following Centuries would be Mandarin. arrrh


But, who knows, maybe Esperanto will eventually catch on ? Apparently, it is a language that is very easy to learn, both from the point of view of grammar and vocabulary.


You're utterly failing to account for inertia in both cases.

The most important of which is that most of the world already speaks English.

Sure, in China everyone's taught Mandarin. Almost half the country also speaks their local langauge (which may or may not be cross intelligible with Mandarin). All Chinese pilots are required by Treaty to speak English. Also their Air Traffic Controllers, Port Controllers, and shipping crews. And deep ocean fishermen bridge crews.

Chinese, however, is hard to speak, hard to learn, and outside of China, Taiwan, Singapore, and some neighborhoods around the pacific rim, pretty random which language of the group, or specific dialect within it (5-8 languages and 30-50 dialects are the range of numbers I"ve seen for Chinese...)

Esperanto has it harder still. It's "user base" is functionally too small to get the traction needed to get adopted anywhere, and without having been adopted for significant uses anywhere, no one's going to switch the curriculum to include it, because there's no point in learning a language no one is going to actually use. Plus, it's close enough to the other latin derived languages to hit the "uncanny valley" of similarity.

Now, some other top 10 languages have strong use...
Spanish. The reason it's not already the world language? England Beat Spain. Again and Again. The British Empire was faster, larger, and more obnoxiously insidious than Spain in its colonial practices. English has a whole lot of Pidgin versions, but a lot more teaching of "The Queen's English"... Meanwhile, most Spanish speaking nations are at least a dialect difference; a few border on different languages. Plus, there's turmoil about the Ethnic languages in Spain, so even the "Spaniards" don't all want to speak it. A few differences in the past, and the world might be speaking Spanish instead of English. (About 1 in 10 people world wide are at least conversationally proficient in English. About the same for Spanish. But for English, that's 3 broad dialects - UK/Carribean, A/NZ, and US, each with dozens of local accents and a few minor dialects. For Spanish, that's 20-some broad dialects, and many with regional accents, too, and dialects made by importing local native language elements. (English imports what it likes from the locals. Spanish merges with the locals.)

Arabic has a quarter billion first language speakers, and another 1.5 billion who can at least read, write, and pronounce it, and know a few phrases. (All 1.8 million muslims are required to pray in Arabic.) Now, the problem is much like Spanish - local dialects are merged with local semitic and local African languages, so actual use is much harder to generalize. Written is, however, usually in a particular dialect for the region, so not as varied as the spoken.

The combination of installed userbase and administrative use in international travel makes it have a huge inertial power - so much so that many local languages are dying out where English is strong. (The Irish work very hard to keep Irish a thing. The Scots, too, with both Scots and Scots Gaelic... but Scots is close enough to not sound foreign to English speakers, and vice versa... but the lexicon is actually quite different. (Try reading some of Robert Burns in untranslated editions...)

The next world war's winner will likely determine the language... provided it's one that is readily learned and imposed. Now, if an Esperanto speaking cabal of evil geniuses manages to win WWIII.... Then, maybe, Esperanto.

Russian, or a Simplified Mandarin/English pidgin are likely. (No tones, and can be written in a fairly easy unicode block....)
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Roger Hobden
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The worldwide desire for peace in these troubled times can be a much greater motivator than war will ever be.

Since Duolingo added Esperanto in 2014, more then one million people have signed up to learn that Language.

The Wikipedia page has about a quarter of a million articles written in that language.

More information can be found on this BBC reportage that came out this year:

"The invented language that found a new life online".

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180110-the-invented-langua...

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Looks like the short answer for everyone is "passionate."


I use language as a natural cultural barrier. Generally, anywhere where there is heavy commercial enterprise or international traffic (pilgrimages, trade routes, etc), I employ a common language to the world setting. As soon as one gets off the beaten path, the language becomes locally restrictive.

An exception would be areas that have been occupied or ruled by a foreign culture, then a region would support two languages, but not necessarily common.
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I'm not fond of the idea of language being a barrier to overcome in an RPG. A common language that "everyone" speaks is the in-game fix for that.

That being said, I once played in a game where we ended up in a foreign country. There were some people who spoke our language, but it was often interspersed with words in their own language. What was cool is that the GM used Nepalese for that foreign language, and so as the sessions went on, we started recognising some words and grammar structure, so we could start interacting with more and more people in their own language.
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I have a preference for common language settings, but I have no problems going with multiple language settings as well, depending on how smoothly the added complication is handled and it is not overly cumbersome for individual scenarios.
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