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© 1998-2001 Dru Pagliassotti
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Talking the Talk


I was paging through my folders of "use someday" D&D papers—old xeroxed articles, scraps of paper with ideas scribbled on them, email messages from other D&D players, and so forth—when I ran across the Drow Dictionary, downloaded from the web. I'd forgotten that I had it! "Perfect," I thought to myself—"just what I need to give some flavor to that Drow adventure I have planned."
As I paged through the Drow word list, it occurred to me how many fantasy languages there are out there in cyberspace.My own humble attempt at language-building is Kh'indaranya, but it pales in comparison to the creations of the really serious language-builders out there—the most well-known of which are those who work on Tolkein's languages of Middle Earth and on Klingon.
Using other languages in D&D is great for roleplaying—it's easy to have your Elven or Drow or Centaur character walk the walk, but how many of you have them talk the talk? At the most basic level, a list of foreign words is useful for constructing names of people, places, and things. When I started running my Al Qadim game, my husband bought me a pocket dictionary of Arabic to use for finding names and terms. In my more European Cislunar campaign, I often use Latin roots for spell names and ancient inscriptions.
In other games I've given my players documents written in constructed languages and challenged them to figure them out (this works best for low-level characters who don't have access to translating magics, and is particularly fun if you have one or more players who enjoys codes and puzzles). Moreover, as a dungeonmaster and a player, I've found it entertaining to throw foreign comments and exclamations into an NPC's or PC's speech to add flavor to the character. My paladin Anton's character sheet includes a list of Russian terms; my samurai Yoshitaka's sheet a list of Japanese terms, and my mute cleric Rosin's sheet a list of American Sign Language characters!
If you want to use a preexisting language in your RPG game, I suggest you call up your favorite search engine and type in the keywords "language dictionary"—there are a number of fascinating languages available on the web, including Kamilaroi-Gamilaraay and Maori.
If you're interested in either building your own language or using languages others have constructed, the best resource on the web is LangMaker.Com, a site by Jeffrey Henning that is devoted to those who build model languages (much like other people build model cars or airplanes). This site includes discussions of and links to international, philosophical, personal, and fictional languages of all types. These language pages contain more than mere word lists—most of them have extensive grammatical and usage notes, too!

 

originally written January 5, 1998

 

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