Author Topic: Languages Learned  (Read 112 times)

Offline narphoenix

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Languages Learned
« on: January 10, 2021, 07:36:57 PM »
In which I attempt to adjudicate one of the most ridiculously minute and unimportant rules in DFRPG. You may freely choose to ignore this entire thread and replace it with “Compel characters if there are difficulties understanding a language they have on their sheet” with minimal gameplay impact.

Languages are super weird and different from each other, and what it means to be fluent and literate in a language can actually change more drastically than a monolingual speaker with no language background might first assume. For this reason, I thought it would be a good idea to specify a set of rulings for what it means to “know” different languages: what dialects and writing can you be assumed to know? What is the scope of your fluency/literacy? I’m mentioning the subtleties of languages I know of here, but invite others to post as well if they have exposure to the subtleties of languages.

General rules:

-Intelligibility. Two systems of communicating, or “idiolects”, are considered mutually intelligible if a speaker in one system can understand the speaker of the other system and visa versa with minimal to no difficulty. However, this is a spectrum, not a clean division: certain idiolects can be more easily understood than others, depending on their closeness. Further, the level of the comprehension between two idiolects may be asymmetrical. If a dialect is somewhat but not fully intelligible to you, then understanding that dialect may require a Scholarship check, with difficulty scaling depending on the level of difference. You may even get a Fate Point for being unable to understand a dialect of a language you have taken if it impedes your comprehension enough. For example, a baseline speaker of General American English would face no difficulty understanding a speaker of Received Pronunciation, may occasionally face an Average (+1) difficulty check understanding a speaker of African American English thanks to AAE’s more complex verbal aspect system, should face a roughly Fair (+2) level of difficulty comprehending Shakespeare, may face either a Superb (+5) difficulty or a compel when trying to understand Scots, and should be unable to understand German without a separate language slot. However, in contrast, a speaker of AAE should generally face no difficulty understanding GAE. These difficulties are merely baseline suggestions, and may go up or down depending on the aspects and background of specific characters. 

Specify what dialect you know when specifying your knowledge of a language.

-Fluency vs Literacy. In general, familiarity with any spoken dialect of a dialect should imply literacy in the written language that dialect falls under. If this is not true for your character, they should have an aspect which can be compelled accordingly: ILLITERATE or similar may work as a catch all, but something like CHINESE AMERICAN IMMIGRANT can also work if that aspect implies specifically that you grew up speaking a Sinitic language in the home, but never learned Chinese characters, without impacting literacy in other languages. In general, mutual comprehension of writing is higher than mutual comprehension of speech: written language changes more slowly than spoken and tends to be more standardized. However, if multiple written standards for writing exist, this generality changes—indicate the standard(s) of writing you’re familiar with if your language has such distinctions. And while some languages have several standards of writing, others have no writing system at all, and such languages confer no literacy.

Signed languages: You must spend a language slot for each sign language you know, identically to spoken languages. For example, if your Scholarship score is Fair (+2), your native language is American Sign Language, and you would like to know both English and British Sign Language, you can have no more languages on your sheet without increasing your scholarship score or taking the linguist stunt. In general, signed languages do not confer literacy outside of very specialized exceptions: many native signers are also familiar enough with a spoken language with a writing system to get around this, even if they are physically incapable of speaking and/or hearing it, but this costs a language slot.


These are by no means comprehensive, and necessarily make divisions at higher levels than actually exist between dialects. For example, British Englishes or Levantine Arabic are each one category, even though much more precise dialectal variation exists between speakers of each of them. This is necessary to limit the explosion of this list to a ridiculous degree.


Writing system: Modern English has a single writing system that all speakers of modern dialects of English can comprehend with no difficulty. Elizabethan English has enough spelling differences to warrant a Fair (+2) check to understand without consistent exposure to it (for example, if you are a SCHOLAR OF SHAKESPEARE, your comprehension would be unimpeded). Understanding written Middle English or earlier requires a separate language slot.

Dialect groups:

Modern North American English (NAE), Modern British English (BE), Australian English (AE), African American English (AAE), Elizabethan English (EE), others.

NAE, BE, and AE have perfect mutual intelligibility with no difficulties unless a speaker is very deliberately using high idiomatic terminology. These three dialect groupings are also perfectly understood by AAE speakers, but may have difficulty understanding AAE (Mediocre (+0) to Average (+1) for NAE, Average (+1) to Fair (+2) for BE and AE). All modern dialects face a Fair (+2) understanding Elizabethan English without specific prior exposure, though this tends to matter more when dealing with Fae.


Writing system: Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is also spoken in highly formal contexts such as the news or scholarly discussion. Everyone who takes a spoken dialect of Arabic can be assumed to understand this dialect even when it is spoken. There is also Classical Arabic (CA), the Arabic of the Qur’an, which is more flowery and difficult to understand: difficulty Average (+1) to Fair (+2) to understand writing in CA.

Dialect groups:

Levantine Arabic (Lebanon, Syria) (LA), Egyptian Arabic (EA), Peninsular Arabic (the Arab peninsula) (PA), Maghrebi Arabic (Northwest Africa) (MA), Iraqi/Mesopotamian Arabic (IA). EA is easily understood by most Arabic speakers, as is LA. EA and LA speakers face minor difficulties understanding IA (difficulty Average (+1)) and more major difficulties understanding Peninsular Arabic (Fair (+2)). All other speakers face intense difficulty understanding Maghrebi Arabic (difficulty Good (+3)).


Writing system: Several. Traditional and Simplified are the standard two: most speakers of a Chinese language can be assumed to be familiar with one of the two, and face an Average (+1) difficulty understanding the other most of the time. Specify which of them you know when you take a Chinese language, but you may know both without penalty so long as your character can justify exposure to them. Classical characters also exist, but face a Fair (+2) to Good (+3) amount of difficulty to be comprehended, in general. Pinyin and bopomofo are pronunciation systems, but not usually used for writing and depend on which Chinese language you’re writing in.

Languages: Mandarin, Yue, Cantonese, Taishanese, and other so called “dialects” are considered separate languages, and need a language slot apiece to comprehend, but each one confers literacy in the same Chinese character set. Mandarin, the most “standard” language in use, has true dialects which can be classed broadly as “North” and “South”, but these dialects have little difficulty understanding one another, in general.


Writing system: Two (Devanagari and Nastaliq), neither of which is understandable if you only know the other. Specify which you know, but you may know both without penalty. Being literate in Arabic or Persian automatically confers knowledge of Nastaliq if you know Hindustani.

Dialect groups: Modern Standard Hindi and and Modern Standard Urdu are the main two, and they face no intelligibility difficulties unless the topic of conversation is highly religiously specialized for Hinduistic religions or Islam (respectively). There are other less broadly distributed dialects, with asymmetric comprehensibility: people who speak those dialects will understand either of the standard two easily, but the reverse is untrue, in general.

Plains Indian Sign Language

I include this because it is EXTREMELY important if you’re setting a campaign in the middle Americas prior to or at the start of colonization. It was the lingua Franca between an incredibly diverse group of speakers from west to east in the southern half of modern Canada, down to modern Texas and across the part of the United States west of the Mississippi River (all the way to the Pacific), with some bleed over to the east of the river as well.

Writing system: Did not exist until the after colonization, but had more progress in its writing than modern ASL.

Dialectal variation: Existed, but was to some extent “deliberately” minimized, inasmuch as linguistic variation can be regulated. The language existed to be as mutually comprehensible as possible across all four compass directions of most of a continent. There were probably enough variations to make that occasionally difficult, just because of the sheer size of its spread, but I don’t know enough specifics to say with confidence.

Anyway, that’s my way too much thought into a really minor rule in the DFRPG. Please feel free to add any additional languages you think need clarification, or quibble.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2021, 09:10:58 PM by narphoenix »

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Offline Taran

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Re: Languages Learned
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2021, 12:00:38 AM »
takes a power that lets character understand all languages....