Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Goblinoid, Orkish, and Artificial Languages

I have some interest in Esperanto (I wonder if JR has seen this video?), and have been wanting to incorporate it a little into my game as an example of what Common looks and sounds like. Aside from whatever flavor it could add, it might be helpful in actually picking it up a bit more... I imagine a game entirely conducted in it would be quite surreal. The Common tongue in D&D seems similar to Esperanto (or what it wants to be) in the sense that it's a universal language in most settings , albeit a natural one. Having individual human languages or Common dialects might add some twists to game play and be justified by there being human inhabited but extremely remote or culturally backward locales to explore. It might be a great way to incorporate a quick game of charades into a session!

Marc Okrand created an artificial language of the Klingons from Star Trek - I think it’d be cool if there was something similar for Orcs or Goblins. I was looking around for a translator of some sort (I wanted to add some "real" goblinoid into a room description) and didn't find much, but stumbled on a number of fascinating articles on Helge Kåre Fauskanger’s site having to do with Tolkien and the languages of Middle Earth. Especially interesting was an article on “Orkish and the Black Speech”, which might contain a "reason" if you will for why nobody's devised a dictionary for it.

It seems a shame there's not any true or complete artificial language (AFAIK) for any of the various monster species in our favorite game. Linguistics student needing a project? Get on this! You’ll be famous.

Update: Fauskanger mentions that there appears to be modern usage of Orkish and bat has brought to attention the band "Za Frumi" which led me to an online tutorial of a home grown dialect.

11 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

Interestingly, I use Esperanto as a stand-in for humanity's universal language in a science fiction game I wrote. I found it's familiar enough that most people can vaguely figure out the meaning of random words and phrases and exotic enough that it seems plausibly "futuristic."

ze bulette said...

It definitely doesn't sound natural! I'm willing to overlook that for the same reason you mention (familiar enough to figure out words & phrases).

Timeshadows said...

I've commented on this before:

* The 'common tongue' is misinterpreted as a universal language, when, in the earliest RPG materials I have seen, it is identified merely as the 'common tongue of the region' --that is, the campaigning area.

ze bulette said...

Maybe so and I don't doubt it, but for game play purposes, what difference does it make? As ethnocentric as it may be, from the PC's point of view, it might as well be universal. Unknown languages (extinct or exotic) are hinted at existing in spells and thieves' abilities (AD&D), assuming the rules aren't just referring to monsters and demi-human languages. Beyond that, wading deeply into a large territory that speaks an unknown language seems like it would become a drag on game play (after the novelty wears off). At which point players will either return to their own land or else pick up the new language, so it might as well be Common again. Maybe it's not so much as misinterpreted as it is a matter of semantics or just simplification for purposes of gameplay.

ancientvaults said...

Za Frumi is a weird band that performs in Tolkien's orc language. I only have two of their albums so far, but they are very moody and strange. The language is sometimes a bit unnerving, yet, I don't know, magical?

Tim said...

I've always envisioned "common" as being whatever language was most commonly used. Obviously, for my games in Ohio, it's English. Where Esperanto may come in handy would be as a Thieve's Cant, perhaps?

ze bulette said...

@bat - thanks for the heads up, I updated the post with a link I found after reading up on Za Frumi.

Don Snabulus said...

You might look into the Europeans who settled into the Western US and their forms of communication with local Native Americans based on their existing languages and jargons.

The Chinook Jargon used between fur traders and Northwest Native Americans serves as an interesting example.

(The comments on the dispute section of the wiki page look quite interesting as well)

Timeshadows said...

ZB: I think you poked holes in your own point. After all, someone would still need to learn Common at some point, wouldn't they?
--To think that monsters, humanoids, demi-humans, and humans could all make the same sounds and be understood in some sort of Universal language seems like a bigger stretch than having Fragish being the Common tongue of Greater and Outer Fragia.

> shrug <
Game on!

ze bulette said...

Again, as I said, I think it's largely a matter of semantics. If as you say, "common tongue of the region' --that is, the campaigning area", then all you're saying is that everyone speaks the same language. Nitpicking over the term "Universal" maybe? Even a universally understood language needs to be learned, I never said it didn't. I also said that it's "a universal language in most settings" and went on to suggest the use of dialects and other languages as plot twists, and that the game itself implies the existence of other languages via Read Languages or spells. I'm aware that Greyhawk (for example) refers to different langauges (as perhaps does your Urutsk). I dunno, seems like there will always be fine points to discuss in this game (even decades later) and break down into the smallest units possible, maybe that's where this has gone... ;-)

Don Snabulus said...

As luck would have it, Wired ran a little piece today on constructed languages...

Top 10 Geekiest Constructed Languages

Post a Comment