Selected Jargon for the Linguistic Adventurer In You.

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Selected Jargon for the Linguistic Adventurer In You.

Postby Andy » Mon Aug 24, 2009 2:48 pm

There's a particular tone to the way characters tend to speak in fantasy fiction. It's not old English, or contemporary English. It seems to be mostly contemporary English made to sound slightly more stuffy and old-fashioned by removing contractions and slang. It works well enough to mask a sense of place so that readers feel like things are happening somewhere unfamiliar, but I find it a kind of dull way to have a character talk, especially if the character is a multilingual, rough-around-the-edges traveler, as adventurers tend to be. (Unless they're dwarves, who are apparently Scots.) I believe we can do better.

In that spirit, I've brought my powers of google-fu to bear on the issue of linguistics.

Are you, or someone you know, an elf? Then you're lucky! Because elfish exists, courtesy of Grandpa Tolkien. Here (link) is a list of common elfish phrases. You can find a pretty exhaustive Sindarin (low elfish) dictionary here (link) and more information than I could process on Middle Earth linguistics here (link.) Sindarin is not, of course, Forgotten Realms canon. It's just awesome. For the purist, a D&D oriented lexicon is hosted at (link.)

A D&D style dwarfish dictionary can be found at epiceXtreme (link) but I personally prefer the Tolkien take on that as well, which you can find at LOTRPlaza under Dwarven Lore (link.) Khuzdul is a secret language though, so be careful who you show that one to. Gimli is not a dwarf to be trifled with. Those dwarfs who find themselves in Waterdeep would probably get more mileage out of this fun little guide to Scottish slang that I found on Wiktionary (link.)

Now, that's certainly a good start. Dwarfs and Elves are pervasive cultures on Faerun, but what about humans? They run Waterdeep, represent the majority of our PCs, and certainly have their own languages, dialects, cultures, and subcultures as well. Each of those must have their own catchy little turns-of-phrase to go with them.

Thieves Cant, an acrobatic language-within-a-language designed to code meanings so organized criminals can speak without fearing eavesdroppers, seems so outlandish it must be a game construction based off of rumors so that Thief PCs can have a bonus ability to add to their arsenal, right? Well, maybe, but here's the real thing (link) reprinted from an 1811 text called "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence," which I'm disappointed in myself for not having on my bookshelf. I suspect it was ghostwritten by a young Fagin a few years before recruiting Dodger and Oliver.

Like 19th century London, Waterdeep's a city by the sea, and with the ocean as its constant companion, it's naturally full of sailors. You can find a fun glossary of sailor terms hosted by Privateer Dragons of the Caribbean (link) which focuses a lot more on nautical terms and functional sailor speech, beyond the basic shivering of ones timbers. As a bonus because I thought it was cool, here's a list of sailor terms and slang from World War II (link.)

But maybe the water's not your thing. Is your character a course, hard-bitten outdoors man? A card-shuffling outlaw? Maybe they come from a sheltered farming community and grew up on the ranch? Have a gander at Legend's of America's Western Slang and Phrases (link) for some cowboy language that might fit them.

Oh, I'm sorry. Of course not, you're high society. Do you hobnob with the movers and shakers, and talk politics over cocktails? Do you stay out late dancing and sharing drinks in the Castle Ward, throwing around more coins in an evening than most of the rabble makes in a month? Consider a Flapper's Dictionary, compiled by Ella Hartung (link.) and a slightly more complete Roaring 20s one hosted by the AACA (link.)

I've also had a lot of fun playing with "A Clockwork Orange's" Nadsat dialect, which I found an appropriate fit for my own character, a teenage ex-con whom I wanted to speak an awkward pidgin of Chondathan, Dwarfish, and Elfish. You can find the lexicon from Anthony Burgess' book reprinted online here (link) if you'd like to use it, too.

Since we don't really have the benefit of being able to see one-another's body language, much less that of our characters, and we don't always have the time to go into full, flowery descriptions of actions and mannerisms, I find a choice of a colorful linguistic style can make up for a lot of the depth that we miss in a chat. I certainly don't post these so everybody in a medieval fantasy can sound like a cowboy or a Jolly Rodger deckhand, but because I think linguistics are an important and often overlooked aspect of fantasy fiction which deserve as much consideration as the nation of your character's birth, or the deity they follow. It certainly does take some extra space of attention to throw in words that are outside of your own vocabulary, but I find it to be worth the work.
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Re: Selected Jargon for the Linguistic Adventurer In You.

Postby ilanian » Wed Aug 26, 2009 9:28 pm

While I haven't looked at the links yet, this is pretty cool. Thanks.

*made a sticky so we don't lose it*
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Re: Selected Jargon for the Linguistic Adventurer In You.

Postby coughingpuppy » Wed Aug 26, 2009 9:46 pm

This is really cool, Andy, and a good way to insert a little character and realism into a fantasy setting. Thanks for doing all the research!
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Re: Selected Jargon for the Linguistic Adventurer In You.

Postby Azmon » Sat Jan 09, 2010 4:13 am

Maybe you're a drow? or just like undercommon [here]
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