Sunday, August 26, 2012

Praise for Two Dragon Articles

They're probably my favorite articles from all of Dragon*.  "Even Orcish Is Logical," by Clyde Heaton, and "All games need names," by Katharine Kerr.  They both appear in issue 75 as "language Lessons I and II.  And they were lessons for me.

Kerr's article is about creating realistic sounding fantasy names for people and places, but to get there she basically lays out a primer on language.  I was 13 when it was published and it was the first I'd ever heard of isolating, inflectional, or agglutinative language types.  You might consider it my first linguistics lesson.
Choose your sounds.

Heaton's article is basically a primer on how to make your own language.  He uses Orcish as an example.  Maybe none of either article seems surprising these days, but his suggestion for picking sounds for a language and then putting them in three columns to create words, blew my young mind.
Mix-n-match to make a reasonable language facsimile.

I went on to partially construct two of my own languages-- one a courtly language meant to be spoken when you didn't want to be overheard called Noom, the other my version of Ent, of which I only remember one word, resketlek (don't remember what it meant).

What I want to praise these articles here for is not the seriousness they took simulating a subject for a game, but how they gave me a simple tool.  Combining Kerr's phonemes and language types and Heaton's three-column matrix made a tool that anyone could use to make a reasonably unique sounding constructed language with relative ease.  So, thanks to them and the Dragon editor.

Now, I think it would be cool to have a list of basic vocabulary to help anyone doing this kind of exercise.  Maybe to be more specific, a basic dungeon vocabulary.  If your players are going to encounter someone speaking this language underground, what basic words would you want covered as a DM?  I'm thinking things like attack, run, surrender, sword, gold, etc.  In a brief poking around the internets, a lot of the conlang links are subject to link-rot and the language-learner type sites had huge lists of words in the thousands.

What if we worked together to make our own?  If you're interested, leave a few words you consider essential to a basic dungeon lexicon in a comment.  I'll look them all over and trim the list to fit on a single-page before year's end. (or if someone's already done this links would be appreciated.

*Well, maybe excepting some articles in the Best of Dragon Vol II which I've already written a bit about.

Update 8-28-12:  I was thinking that I'd probably use language most often as inscriptions in my game-- notes, dungeon graffiti, instructions for weird devices-- and that might require a different lexicon than language spoken to hirelings and such.

Also, check out this post by Quibish, where he does something very similar to Heaton's approach.


  1. Replies
    1. Friend
      (like you said: attack, run, etc.)
      Some items like: rope, armor, weapon, food, water

  2. I was twelve.

    A great issue all 'round, what with "Mutants, Men(?), and Machines" and the first installment of "The Nine Hells". A real mind opener.

  3. Thanks, to both of you. Yeah, imperatives seem useful: Duck!, Jump! Watch out!

    Another approach would to be a list of common dungeon nouns: door, lock, stairs, chest, secret door, wall, altar, etc.

    1. Yeah, a dungeon argot would be develop around information which dungeoneers want to exchange.

      Now, here's another idea: how about making an alignment language?

  4. Yeah, you could do an alignment language the same way. I think what might even be more interesting, though, is if alignment languages aren't actually different languages but passphrases and responses in Common. Something that matches up with the philosophy of that alignment, like, you ask an npc a question and they answer "Sure, sure. Mother always said birds are safer in flocks." And the knowing person with the same alignment says "That's true, and why sparrows nest in the cliffs together." Then they both know they are of the same belief system and act appropriately.