Friday, November 30, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Common Tongue

Its occurred to me that the common tongue, as often used in fantasy RPGs, is one hell of an unrealistic crutch. Just look at Europe. How many languages are spoken there? Well, according to Wikipedia, the European Union has 24 languages designated as "official and working": Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. Trust me, there are others that are spoken.

So, obviously "common" is used so player characters can travel the world without having language difficulties, but is it taken too far?

In my mind, "common" should be to a fantasy setting as English is to much of the real world - a language of international trade and business. Yes, many if not most of Europe  (if not the world) speaks English as a second language, but that's the catch - it is a second language. At home, on the streets, in personal interactions among locals, it is rarely used. Such communications use the native tongue, not the common tongue.

Now, for those that the so-called common tongue is their native tongue, they may not have even bothered to learn another language. Sound familiar to anyone? ;)

Anyhow, just something to chew on when I run my next Swords & Wizardry Campaign...

If you want, I have some further thoughts and observations on tonight's episode of The Tavern Chat Podcast.



  1. it's just like English.
    If the person you're speaking to doesn't understand, simply speak louder and slower until they do!

  2. I rolled American just so I would start with Common.

  3. Where I am from there is a language called Chinook Jargon. It is a mix of Chinook, English, Chinese, Hawaiian and probably others. Was used by locals and traders who visited the area.

  4. When my players enter a dwarven citadel, an elven city or whatever other race inhabits that primary region, some will speak common but often times most of what they hear is in the region's "native" tongue. Same as with orcs, kobolds, etc. We do it with monsters all the time, why not do it for the rest of the world?

  5. An idea for Common I once had: https://geekechoes.blogspot.com/2017/04/a-funny-little-thought.html

  6. There is a historical equivalent to "common".

  7. The Common Tongue comes from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Westron, or the Common Speech was inserted into D&D along with other popular Tolkien creations.

  8. Koine Greek, the language spread throughout the Med by Alexander the Great and the language used to write the Gospels was literally means “common.” Plus, all those Romance languages have Latin as a root which is far more important than non-romance speakers realize. My wife’s native tongue is Romanian and she can understand most other Romance languages without much effort, especially Italian and French.

    1. Another historical example is the Chinese written language. Being pictographic, the same written word can be used by the more than 20 languages spoken within China to mean exactly the same thing. While not exactly the D&D version of Common, it demonstrates that the idea of a common language is far more realistic than one might expect.


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