The Common Tongue

The idea of having a language in common is widespread in fantasy literature, and indispensable in fantasy gaming. We call it the Common Tongue, and I believe that J.R.R. Tolkien may have been the first to use it. I noticed that no matter how far Bilbo and his friends travelled, they were still able to talk to the locals. Tolkien is quite distinct in noting that the Elves have their own language, and the Orcs have the Black Speech, but when an Orc wants to tell the Hobbits to move or die, he has no trouble communicating. Sam and Frodo have no trouble listening in on Orc conversations, and this could only happen if they’re speaking the same language–ergo, it seems most of Middle Earth speaks the same tongue most of the time–the Common Tongue.

I do the same thing for Trollworld. Somewhere I once said the Common Tongue is your own native language–for most of us that would be English, but it could be French or German or Japanese or anything, depending on what part of the world you live in. The important thing is that player characters have some means of communicating with each other across geographic and kindred based barriers. We call it “the Common Tongue”.
And you knew all that . . .

I looked up English this morning. There are hundreds of different dialects and versions of the language–major versions. There are eleven distinct varieties within the United States alone. And yet we all “understand” each other. Heh!

Do you understand me?

Do you understand me?

I’m mentioning this because The Man Called Bear and I are writing an adventure set in a different part of Trollworld, one set on the Eagle continent. But we want the players to be from Rrr’lff. How do they communicate? The Common Tongue. It exists even on different continents, just as English exists on different continents in our world. To make this difference come across, I’ll be using some creative spellings when writing the solo version of the adventure. There will also be a GM version, and we plan to make the GM work. The GM will be instructed to pick some other version of English (or whatever your common tongue is) and use it when roleplaying the natives. Speak Australian, mite! Or suthen lahk the gud ol boyz du. Or igpay atinlay. But pick a dialect and stay in it when setting your adventure in a place far from home.

Having fun with the Common Tongue should make the game more entertaining for everyone involved.

How does your version of the Common Tongue differ from mine, podna? Leave an example in your comment.

The Common Tongue
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3 thoughts on “The Common Tongue

  1. It’s funny . . . Tolkien was a language maven who took immense pains to create elvish languages and alphabets. I’ve read that his fiction was an excuse to publish his fictional languages.

    And then he throws in a barely-described “common tongue” and has all of the characters understand it and talk it! I can’t think of a particular case where a newly-met character shrugs and scratches his head when the heroes meet them, because he can’t understand them!

    I know that there’s a little more detail in the appendixes. For example, Tolkien reveals that the “Shire” is actually pronounced “Suza” (with a dialectic mark over the z) and Sam’s name is actually “Bam!”

    But that-all said, I think the “common tongue” is a very useful notion. If the GM wants to go into detail, she or he could give it a name, and make up other human languages and dialects to go along with “racial” tongues.

  2. The Common Tongue makes the game ‘playable’ – I like the notion that just about all the common kindreds are passable in it if they have ever lived outside their own kindred settlements.
    Still, we’re all trying to learn a bit of Spanish so of course I have npcs at the moment who use Spanish nouns rather than their English equivalents. Another sales pitch for dT&T: it’s the best way to learn new languages!

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