While starting a new game, we (my group and I) started to talk about languages. I’ve always thought that fantasy languages were pretty useless, at least the way they are used in Roleplaying Games. Sure, the Core Rulebook describes the most common languages under the linguistic skill and offer some options under each of the races, but these are far from the only languages in the system. I mean, what about languages such as Aboleth and Boggard, are these not possibilities for PCs? Also, aren’t some languages built on the same foundation? For me, it is never easy to pick a language, as I am not sure if I will ever get to use it.
What if there was ONE language that were the first language? The original language of the universe? Lets call this Ur-speak. Then we could say that some of the oldest languages were built from that one language, meaning that they probably had something in common (languages such as draconic, celestial, giant, sylvan and the demonic tongues). These languages would become sort of our base languages, together with the first language, the Ur-speak. All other languages spoken, would then be connected to each of the base languages, sharing basic traits, meaning that if you knew one, you could probably understand and even speak some of the others as well (although hardly with the same skill as your primary language).
In this system, we operate with primary languages (the one you speak and can read and write), the secondary languages (the language or languages that is directly tied to your primary languages), lastly we have the tertiary languages (the ones that are connected to your secondary languages). This means that for instance, if you choose Sylvan, you get the following languages as your secondary languages (centaur, drow, elven and halfling). Of course, one of these could still be taken as one of your primary languages, meaning that you have a greater understanding of that particular language.
Also, in this language subsystem, you can only read and write your primary languages. Your secondary languages can be understood and even spoken, but you can only understand your tertiary languages.
This may not make perfect sense right now, but I am currently writing a short pdf that will eventually be released as a free download. Everything will hopefully be much clearer by then!
Below is an example of how this system will probably end up looking.
Scholars and linguists often refer to Sylvan as the ‘Language of Trees’, and it does indeed has its roots in the fey realms of the ancient forests. It is one of the oldest languages in the world and, together with Draconic, has the strongest ties to the primal language known as Ur-speak. Sylvan has changed little over the centuries and remain one of the most beautiful and poetic languages, often used by elven minstrels and poets to express feelings that their elven tongue can not capture.
Sylvan is the native language of the following races and creatures: dryads, gaiants, gnomes, mites, nymphs, pixies, satyrs, sprites, treants and unicorns.
Centaur: Centaurs are known as a a reclusive race that tend to keep to themselves and for this reason has developed a language that seems farther from Sylvan than any of the other sylvan tongues. The language of the centaurs is further divided into two dialects, those that roam the plains and those that hunt in the great forests.
Drow: Drows share a bloodline with elves, but has developed very differently in two different worlds, one above ground and one below. However, there is still a strong linguistic connection to the sylvan tongue of their ancestors.
Elven: Elven is derived from Sylvan and considered to be the oldest tongue of the mortal races. It is a far more complex language than Sylvan and elves from different communities tend to speak with their own dialect.
Halfling: The language of halflings shares its base structure with Sylvan, but since halflings are known to be a traveling folk, also borrows from other languages such as the human tongue. It is a very carefree and optimistic tongue which is said to have a thousand words to describe traveling and the road.
This is the language most often used by the races that live above ground. It was developed by travelers and merchants who needed to understand the races that they met on the road and needed to trade with. For this very reason, Common is also referred to as either the Traveler’s Tongue or Tradespeak. Common is only directly connected to Undercommon, but carries within it many words and phrases of all other languages spoken above ground.
While Common is the language spoken on the roads above ground, Undercommon is the language commonly spoken below ground. Some, mostly outsiders, calls this language Underspeak. It is only directly connected to Common, but carries within it many words and phrases of all other language spoken below ground.
Of course, with such a language subsystem, we need to look at every language and make an entirely new structure. As you can see from the example above, gnomes now speak Sylvan and not gnome, also, drows have their own tongue which is connected to Sylvan and only has elven as a tertiary language (drows understand elven, but can’t speak it nor read and write).
It still makes sense to take ranks in the Linguistic skill, because if anything, there will be more languages available in this system. For instance, in this system, Celestial will have a Higher Celestial language (spoken by the gods), Celestial (spoken by the gods’ avatars) and Lower Celestial (usually spoken by the clergy of the gods). We will do the same with the Giant tongue and we are even planning on dividing Draconic into several classes, such that the metallic and chromatic dragons get their own sub-language.
Any ideas/thoughts will be appreciated! Even if you just have a question, don’t hesitate to ask it.