13th Century Languages?

After spending some time searching through these forums and not finding a satisfactory answer....

Has anyone compiled a list of major and minor languages available in the 13th century? I can find a number of listings of modern day languages...

If there is such a list in any of the ArM5 books, I'd be grateful for anyone pointing it out. As such I've only got the main rulebook from 5th Edition, but I've got the 3rd edition book as well as Mythic Europe (for 3E, I believe).

Also if anyone knows of some good maps from period that are online I'd appreciate it... :slight_smile:

In Durenmar I found this link. Maybe it can help you :slight_smile:


Durenmar.de is a nice library to check for material. As it should be :laughing: 8) The Exedcra Trinorum section contains the info you are searching for I would say.



First off, the whole idea of "languages" as a consolidated concept was still a little vague in 1200. Every valley, every backwater, pretty much every county had it's own distinct accent, and some their own dialect.

There's a story (written about this time, in Olde-Middle English) about a man who was caught in a storm in the English channel. He started in Dover, and was washed ashore south of Newcastle. When asked (in the Northern English Dialect) if he was all right, he replied "I'm sorry - I don't speak French". {insert medieval equivalent of a rimshot here}

For example, France at this time was only just unified, and other countries had a long, long way to go before anything like a sense of national unity - and thus a single national language - were starting to form. Normandy, Aquitaine, Parisian, LangDoc - almost every County had it's own "language". Add to this the complete lack of telecommunications and you get zero "normalizing" effect - every dialect was proud and distinct, and rarely heard each other except when some "tourist" wandered in to town. And, to a large extent, mostly unintelligible to others, so less of an "accent" than a different language completely.

Here's a graphic of the 6 basic language groups of the Iberian peninsula (Spain) - yes, 6...
erzo.org/shannon/ars-magica/ ... guages.gif
With local dialects and such, it could only get worse. Anywhere, each separate political entity tended to spring from a separate language or distinct (and proudly, fiercely independent) dialect.

Now, this creates a REAL headache for RP - especially with your average, typical Player Character who wants to speak directly, never thru an interpreter - but that's how it was. Unless you found someone "educated" (which meant they spoke Latin) or you had a guide i[/i], you were just SOL in the communication department (or had a spell - yeah, well). Personally, I find the concept appropriately challenging - but not everyone wants to deal with all them darn furriners.

Here's a period political map of Europe. With some creative interpretation (esp in the Holy Roman Empire), each political division can be seen as a language division:
euratlas.com/history_europe/ ... _1200.html

While that's a coarse approximation, it can work - or you can ignore history and just call all of what is now France "French Speaking", instead of the half-score or more of unintelligible dialects that, over the centuries, became what we now know as the modern language "French".

Your call, have fun.

There is, of course, a middle route you can take...

Which is to take the common things about some languages and call that an ability, with dialects as specializations.

From the six languages in Chuchu's post above, in the Iberian peninsula, Portuguese, Galego, Castillian and Catalan might be grouped as Ibero Romance, as they can be understood among themselves - albeit with difficulty sometimes. Basque, unfortunately, is a whole other issue and Moorish would need to be grouped with other languages of middle eastern origin, but I'm sure you get the picture.

That is how I address the problem, at any rate, and since my current game is set in Poland, I have to deal with West Slavic a lot, which include Old Polish, Old Pomeranian, Old Silesian and Polabian... but we also end up having to deal in East Slavic, Middle High German, Low German and Low Franconian a lot, not to mention the weird, stand-alone languages like Basque which just don't fit...

As I said, it's a pain.

Most people just didn't travel a lot. This means that the different dialects remained strongly distinct, and also that only travelers heard them to ever compare the differences, if they cared to.

Nobles, the clergy, the more serious traveling merchants and other "educated" folk had Latin to rely upon - but, again, only amongst others who spoke some. More casual merchants might learn bits of the one or two different tongues on their circuit, or might just limit their travels to where that one language was spoken. (I understand the same thing happened with Irish monks who were isolated from Rome for so long - their version of Latin diverged significantly over the centuries.)

Magi are unique, and so (should, imo) face unique challenges - languages are just one of those, or can be.

Thanks for the link to durenmar.de some pretty good stuff there.

I had already browsed through a number of near-flame language topics and was hoping to avoid more rants. I was just looking for some sort of listing as a basis for developing my own selection of available languages... :wink:

I just started up a 5th edition game. We have 4 magi and other than Latin, none of them speak a language in common. What's worse is that they are all in a small covenant in Wales and none of them speak Welsh, only one speaks English. None of the commonfolk in the area speak Latin, and only a handful speak English. (dunno if that's historically accurate, but it works for me!) I gave them a break in that all the coven-folk speak at least basic Latin.

Anyways, thanks again for the responses.... pardon me while I go back and read some more... :smiley:

The two 5th Edition Tribunal books (Guardians of the Forests and Lion and the Lily) have information on the languages spoken in those Tribunals.

If you say that new coven-folk each spend 2 seasons practicing Latin, and then a season each year in exposure, then it only takes 10 years to reach Speak Latin 3, which is OK for basic conversation.

So in other words, I think it is totally justifiable to assume that any coven-folk who have been there for more than 10 years are able to speak basic Latin. You could easily make it even quicker if the magi set up some kind of schooling program. One teacher teaching Latin one season every year can quite quickly teach all your new grogs to speak reasonable Latin --- unless you have a very high turn-over of grogs.

In my opinion, more languages feel more medieval. I make each dialect a separate language. Neighbors can understand the dialect at a -3 penalty, if the two dialects are part of the same linguistic branch.

So, our covenant is set in the Camargue wetlands. The locals speak Provencau, and can speak to those speaking Vivaroaupenc and Lengadocian with a -3 penalty. I let them speak with other folks who speak languages from the same green colored area at a -5 penalty, meaning that only someone who has spent effort improving their native language can speak to such foreigners. Geographically, the covenant is closer to those who speak Peidmont than those who speak Lengadocian, but Peidmont is an entirely different language than Provencau.

Might not be for everybody, but we like it.

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan:
These are the languages and language borders spoken today.

I think -3 penalty would be too much in Eastern Europe.

That's an incredibly useful map, Matt - even if not 100% accurate for the time period, modern language groups and locales sprung from medieval roots - works for me.

Any magi worth his vis should be able to overcome basic language barriers, either with a handy spell or old-fashioned mundane knowledge. Not to offer it as a perfect analogy, but one of the values Gandalf showed was his vast knowledge of different obscure languages - now that's a wizard. :wink:

New question:

What would be the most likely native language for a magi who spent his early childhood in Cairo?

I was originally thinking Aramaic, but researching several of the websites presented leads me to believe it would more likely be Arabic.

Mostly depends on what social circles the young tike is hanging in.

Let's see, late 12th Century - The native language would be Coptic, but the Fatamid dynasty (Arabic speaking) is falling to the Ayyubid (Kurdish speaking - Kurds used to be MUCH tougher politically/militarily than today). Add to all that that Egypt (esp Alexandria) was quite the crossroads, and you can have almost any language you want, esp Mediterranean.

Aramaic I think would have been one of these latter, mostly spoken by the Jewish community and some other religious sub-groups. But it would have been represented, sure.

Hmmm... is Egypt and/or NE Africa covered under any of the Tribunal books (current or past)?

4th ed. Blood and Sand: The Levant Tribunal would cover Egypt, I guess. (Don't have it.)