Dealing with Languages

Yes many people where living as "herders", I am not disputing that. Just said that the "travel" they did was mostly in un-populated areas. So they would see very little different cultures other then their own. Just the same as people living stationary. There where also lots of people living this way in Scotland and Ireland.

Yes a very nice article about one, or maybe several people working together. But of course you can always find exceptions to the norm. And I am sure you could find many more artist that did travel. Just saying that for most of them, finding a rich benefactor was probably the dream come true.

Yes cathedrals do take a loooong time to build, one of the more extreme once is Notre-Dame took ~600 years to build. So given how many people lived and died at the same place. And given that only the few masters and there apprentices would move on to the next place when time was due eventually. As most manual laborers would be recruited on site and not move with the masons.

The open-field system. I found was mere a variant on the more common feudalistic system. Probably the peasants there would have a slight degree more freedom. It really only looks like the difference is how the farmland is used / distributed. There is still a person controlling the land and the peasants "renting" it. Paying with produce and labor. Regarding the market days away. Yes most travel this time takes way longer then "normal" due to so pore quality of the roads. So a trip that takes days might in fact not be very far away at all. Given the travel to meat new culture / people little to no effect. It was not until around 1800-1900 that we learned to build proper roads that could rival the old roman roads.

Yes, sailing and trading go and in hand in the Mediterranean, and the other places for that matter to. I am just saying that most ships where local fishermen. So they basically do 0 travelling. Also I have tried to look for a number / guesstimate of the number of ships used for trade. But alas I have not been able to find anything. But I think a good reference could be the Spanish Armada, being such a massive fleet it only totaled a mere 130 ships. And that was Spain at it´s hay day. So sure there where a lot of ships trading, and each ship have a lot of sailors. But all in all I do not think that it really is such a high number. The drawback to sailing also is you only impact the ports you dock in. As opposite the merchant traveling by land that moves through a lot of towns / villages. But you can cover greater distances, meaning more exotic places. So probably it evens out. I also looked a little bit further back, back to Carthage. And I found a reference to 200 ships supporting their armie during the Pyrrhic War. These where also smaller and warships not trading vessels. Just trying to find any reference points. =)

Yes again there will be exceptions. But the norm is that there really is no industry to speak of in the towns. So people moving there will be unemployed. Even in the text Stadtluft macht frei it said that because of this it created favorable conditions for revolts to take place. I would argue that this is because the people was unemployed and unhappy, free but ultimately unemployed and unhappy. And yes I totally agree that these people would take any type of work to be had.

Very nice discussing things with you I have to say. So nice to have a normal civil discussion. Unlike most thing on FB where it usually ends with insults. =)

Also maybe I should clarify what I mean with travelling. I mean in order for it to count as travelling I would say a person have to move out of there normal surrounding. They have to meet people with, at least, a slight variation in there culture / norm. So from city to city would be a example. Unless the cities are very similar in their culture. People moving only in there own Region would only enhance the difference in dialect between different regions. Over time making it different enough too be called a language in it´s own right.

What's the disadvantage of letting someone improve a language from his "default" score? It feels more realistic and is simple, certainly compared to other alternatives like saying someone with good Spanish has an Affinity to learn Catalan or something like that.

Have a look at the Tratturo maps I gave you. Especially the Aterno-Pescara valley was anything but unpopulated. I checked that myself: lots of medieval beauties among the small towns there.

Let's not jump all over the map of Mythic Europe here. The OP is interested in Italy - so we should at least stay within the HRE and then down to Sicily.

For all the fragments of artist's biographies for the 12th and 13th century in the HRE I know of, there is no artist who succeeded in finding that 'rich benefactor' and live off him exclusively. We can quite safely say, that every successful 13th century artist - allowing some unsafe areas in their biographies - either lived in a large city like Florence, Cologne, Venice or Rome, or can be assumed to have travelled between cities. At that time there just were no figurative artists any more who could live under Benedictine stabilitas loci. Of Antelami we know only safely attributed works in Parma and nearby Borgo San Donnino (now Fidenza), but the impressive main portal of San Marco in Venice very much looks like his, too. I am going to have a look at it again this September.

No. The open-field system is the typical system of agriculture in the feudal era. It is not the only one, but by far the most common. In 12th and 13th century Italy for example you also encounter the Cistercian grange system, far more capable to drain swamps and create new arable land, and far less livable by the bearded brothers enduring it. Scottish highland clansmen might have only seen the open-field system from afar in the lowlands.

Local fishermen used boats, not ships. And Italian coastal towns in the 12th and 13th century did not live by fishing: a harbor to take in sea-going vessels was constitutive for such a town, and if it could not maintain it, it turned into fishing village again. Rather, the fishermen of a coastal town lived off the townspeople, who typically lived from sea trade. Even small towns like Noli (the English wiki is very weak) did then, which now has reverted to fishing port already for centuries.

Where would reliable numbers come from? Best look at the Italian and German cities and towns living by sea trade, and use the available population data and estimates. (The Guide Rosse T. C. I. are an accessible source for Italy here, if you can handle Italian.)

Every 12th or 13th century town had to live by something. Some by sea, river or land trade, some by early manufacture/industry, some by banking (a risky business), some by a major court residing there (even more precarious), some off the students of the local university, many smaller ones off the surrounding agriculture or transhumance, and so on. All towns offered poorly remunerated jobs for domestics, load carriers and day laborers, but newcomers might rather hope to find employment in the town's specialty - as teamster, shipboy, carder, dogsbody at court - and from there climb a treacherous social ladder.

People moving into a town indeed risked ending as beggars or criminals: a brutal, short life. All larger, more attractive towns in the 13th century HRE had hospitals financed by donations, and thus could prevent travelers and newcomers sliding down that slope by accident. These hospitals, often outside the gates, were also the places where many early Franciscans lived, prayed and preached among the poorer travelers: without them, there might not have been a Franciscan Order.


This is actually an incorrect interpretation of the ArM rules. As for the total waste of the first 30 experience, it brings you from speaking with a native speaker (5) of the other language (and specialty) listed at -2 from 3 v. 3 (-2 to each) to 4 v. 6. Even the first 15 bring you to 3 v. 6 instead of 3 v. 3, which is still an improvement. So, no, those first 30 experience are not wasted. If you improve to 7 and try to speak with a native speaker (5) of a language (and specialty) listed at -2, then you speak that language as 5 v. 3 (-2 to each). That's nowhere near as well as 5 v. 6, which is what you would have if you learned that particular language with that dialect as a specialty up to 4 for 50 experience instead of the 65 experience to increase your original language to 7.

Fafnir was talking about the disadvantage of the system as written, not with that alteration, though there were mistakes in the analysis (shown above). There are a couple disadvantages, though:

  1. Things get really off if you allow changes to specialties when advancing Abilities. For example, you have High German (Yiddish) 4. You spend 15 points to improve Hebrew from "default" 2 to 3. You then spend 25 points to improve High German to 5 and switch the specialty to Franconian. Your "default" for Hebrew drops to 0, but you already have Hebrew at 3. Meanwhile, you can now pick up Dutch (Limurgish), raising it from "default" 4 to 5 for only 25 points, while with your old specialty it would have taken 45 points to go from "default" 3 to the new 5.
  2. You end up better off improving your original language further before learning another language instead of vice versa, which makes for some oddness. For example, you have a language at 4 and so could spend 35 points to raise a "default" 2 to a 4, and then you raise your original to a 5 for 25 points. Or you could raise that 4 to a 5 for 25 and then raise the "default" from 3 to 4 for 20 points, making the ordering change net cost by 15 points, which is large since we're only looking at 60 v. 45 points.

Agreed, that's a mess. It's just as messy without allowing improvement from default.
You shouldn't lose anything by switching specialties. If people abuse this, best to ban the switching entirely.

It's going to be hard to find a teacher with, say, Provencal 8, so most characters will be learning at slower rates if they try to take a core language above 5 or 6.

Always go with the score that's best for the characters. Languages are already defined much more narrowly than other knowledges like Artes Liberales. That's my main issue with the related languages system. Learning all seven liberal arts for a single point expenditure, but being unable to understand people from the next duchy over without a separate skill doesn't really match.

It's also going to be hard to find a teacher with, say, Provencal 8, so most characters will be learning at slower rates if they try to take a core language above 5 or 6.

I don't speak any Italian at all so I'm not particularly qualified to join this argument, but I feel like pointing out that you're a native speaker of Modern Italian who's "sort of" reading 12th century dialects. I'm a native speaker of English who has trouble with Chaucer. Without any particular evidence, I suspect a Roman of the 12th century would do better at understanding a Venetian or Sicilian of the period than you or another modern would.

I think it depends on the person as well- I am a native English speaker with a survival-level ability in French (3 years high school French, and nowhere near top of the class), and yet I have no trouble with Chaucer or Burns (which to be read right is a nearly gaelic accent), and have actually held conversations where I spoke French and the other person spoke Spanish and managed to communicate effectively- not a high level conversation by any means but the languages (both modern versions) were close enough to communicate.
At the same time I know people who have trouble understanding differing dialects of modern English.

I suspect the same. The tricky thing is, that we have very few examples of Italian Volgare before 1220 conveyed to us. Those able to handle Italian see for a pretty complete list Treccani Enciclopedia dell'Italiano - lingua delle origini 5.1 Classificazione cronologica, dislocazione geolinguistica. Our situation is actually worse than that of a palaeoanthropologist reconstructing a early hominin species from half a skull.

Mutual understandability of vernaculars and dialects hardly known to the historian is an issue of history, though. It can only be treated by some common sense, general experience with a lot of languages, and ultimately speculation. For the Italian Volgare, I have a nice quote from the Treccani Enciclopedia dell'Italiano again.

I hope this helps Italian native speaker Fafnir at least.

For troupes this means, that in ArM5 one Italian Language with a multitude of dialects, plus Sardinian as a separate Language, are sufficient to model the communication assumed around 1220 in Italy.


This is quite along the lines of my earlier comment, which would have made Island Romance and Italo-Romance two different Living Languages, the former having specialties of Tuscan, Neapolitan, and Sicilian with the latter only having Sardinian. But maybe you're referring to Italy differently than I do, as all my research puts the North Italian languages about as far from the Italo-Romance languages as Sardinian. My simplification above would have Western Romance as a language with specialties including North Italian. The nice thing about this is that you cut down on the number of languages significantly while maintaining the overall relationships since you're just increasing the breadth of what one Ability handles.

The Treccani I quoted above leads to treating Venetian or Lombard vernacular for ArM5 Languages as parts of Italian, not of any Western-Romance. What are the means and sources of your research? You at least used the Treccani Enciclopedia dell'Italiano to start you off on the history of Italian, did you?

If your Western-Romance includes Occitanian, this looks pretty different from the known instances of Venetian or Lombard 13th century vernacular - and I gave a list including them. I am not sure where to put Piedmontese vernacular, and haven't seen any instances yet: perhaps Provençal vernacular in the 13th century reaches beyond the Maritime Alps?

13th century Sardinian vernacular has some document instances, needing a look beyond Dante's well known take of oc language (Occitanian), oïl language (French) and sì language (Italian) as the different Romance languages, plus Sardinians still speaking Latin.


EDIT: See Treccani Enciclopedia dell'Italiano again:

So you might have used the Sermoni subalpini, which I have never seen before, to establish a connection to Provençal vernacular, while Giuliano Gasca Queirazza (1996) has located them rather to the Upper Susa Valley, where influences of French and Provençal vernacular are to be expected.

Well, first, as I'd noted, I tried to match this up with canon ArM.

Of course, TSE made some big mistakes, such as separating Veneto and Istriot so much, but I did consider this paragraph about Veneto and other languages. My placement is consistent with this, while your placement goes the opposite way.

I let ezzelino guide my hand on the languages around Italy. This is the main post from ezzelino, but ezzelino and Xavi made others about Veneto.

However, different linguists classify things different ways. So in choosing between the ways, I decided to favor what I got from that canon paragraph plus what ezzelino and Xavi said.

Also, I neither speak nor read any Italian, so everything in Italian has to go through Google Translate and hope for the best.

If you take that by the letter, you are a good customer for sure. I can't explain, how an ArM5 book about the Theban Tribunal even tries, and then botches, a take on 13th century Venetian vernacular: one needs to ask the authors.
Marco Polo's Milione is actually written in langue d'oïl because Marco asked Rustichello da Pisa to do so, not because that was spoken in Venice.

Here's the first quatrains of Giacomino da Verona's De Babilonia civitate infernali from about 1275:

Does that look even remotely like 13th century French or Castilian Spanish? You correct some orthography and can nearly read it as Italian. Compare it with these lines of the Cid, and these of Marie de France's Guigemar.

Here's something about the general classification of Venetian, focusing rather on our time than on 13th century, and deferentially using 'language' far more narrowly than ArM5 rules should. But you can check that the second paragraph I quote applies point by point also to Giacomino's quatrains above.


I'm not sure if you're not reading all I have written or are misreading it. There is a reason I wrote "first." Also, you can see that I noted that TSE made some big mistakes with languages. Then read the part about letting ezzelino guide me. I'm going to move this over to the original thread I had instead of here to stop derailing this. I'll post more there about the approach I took.

Neither. Your full text was:

Here you endorse a statement from TSE, which not only I consider untenable.

The introduction of that post you refer to is:

You are most welcome to your projects. But please don't fish for comments by referring to them as "all my research". That did mislead me.


Well, as can be clearly read above, that was most certainly not my full text. You make your "neither" extremely questionable when you claim only a portion of my text as my "full text."

Read again. I wrote "first," as in I started there. Also I wrote about the problems in TSE, including the problem with Veneto and Istriot. I wrote "However, different linguists classify things different ways. So in choosing between the ways, I decided to favor what I got from that canon paragraph plus what ezzelino and Xavi said," specifically because there are different opinions and I was explaining why I chose to go with opinions that aligned with that paragraph instead of the ones that don't. That also acknowledges that some linguists disagree with the statement. I'm not sure how you manage to take mentions of professional disagreements with TSE as such an endorsement of TSE; it sure doesn't follow logically from my statements. I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you either misread something I wrote or didn't read it all.

I wasn't fishing for comments when I wrote that. Again, something is wrong with your interpretation. As for misleading you, how did reading the following mislead you?

Or did you not read that, even though they're sitting right there in everything we're talking about? I've been quite up front about it from the get go. If you didn't read it all or misread it, don't blame me.

While we're on it, if you understand logic well enough as I believe you do, you'll know a lot of what you're presenting here against what I said is invalid for such an argument. The reason is you've presented lots of arguments that Veneto should not be included among the "North Italian" languages as part of an argument against the "North Italian" languages being placed among the "Western Romance" languages. But demonstrating how similar Veneto may be to some "Italo-Romance" languages while simultaneously saying it shouldn't be among the "North Italian" languages does not show the other "North Italian" languages and "North Italian" as a whole are misplaced on my table at all. You mentioned one of the others (Lombard) momentarily, but that's it. Meanwhile, my argument from the beginning was not that Veneto was perfectly placed, but that the "North Italian" languages seemed to fall into a different category than most the Italian languages. Is Piedmontese so much closer Sicilian than it is to Langues d'Oil and Occitan, for example? I read this "It is part of the wider western group of Romance languages, which also includes French, Occitan, and Catalan" and thought that meant I should put it closer to Langues d'Oil and Occitan than to Sicilian. (Separate but related note: Dalmatian is also harder to fit.)

Meanwhile, you seem quite dismissive of the research I've done while others have been much less so, including ArM5 professionals. How many pieces have you submitted for errata to correct linguistic stuff in the ArM5 line? Please don't take me as an expert, but also please don't blame me for your own misreadings/incomplete readings, and please don't be so dismissive of the work I've put dozens of hours into heavily in hopes it helps this community.

If you want to genuinely help me improve the table, I'd be happy for input in the other thread. I'm still working on many parts of the table, and I still periodically spot things I thought I'd finished that need some correction.

I addressed your endorsement of the take of TSE p.41 on Veneto in:

This endorsement of yours is quite clear from "My placement is consistent with this, while your placement goes the opposite way." Don't try to wiggle out of it. Actually, though, such issues need to be resolved by checking the 13th century text instances we have: don't make 'placements' unless you have done so.

When treating medieval languages, vernaculars and dialects, you have problems that you address yourself as:

, and as

I don't know which languages besides English you actually can handle, when confronted with a 13th century text. Just tinkering with English wiki articles classifying languages and vernaculars doesn't get you anywhere consistent, if you cannot verify whether a given instance fulfills the classification criteria: especially, as wiki linguistic classification for long-living languages typically addresses the present state. Also, linguistic classifications of Romance languages address their development from Latin, and hence require decent understanding of Latin language and grammar to make sense of.

In your case, you might drop referring to refined linguistics and go back to the - often quite accessible and even translated - 13th century history and sources. Here wikipedia and wikisource are your friends.
You wish to propose game rules for communication after all. With Italian, Dante's partisan fragment De vulgari eloquentia is far more helpful to you than contemporary linguistic classifications: he addresses his own erudite contemporaries, who knew full well the languages and vernaculars around them. And if Snorri Sturluson in the Heimskringla implies, that there is a single Norse language between Iceland and Sweden, you better believe it for the 13th century.
If you can handle just a little German and have 10 EUR to spare, get Joachim Heinzle: Das Mittelalter in Daten, half of which just lists a choice of literature of each given narrow time period (like 1221-1225), sorted by cultures. It doesn't address Byzantine, Arab and Jewish literatures, though.

Because your post did not refer to it.

I steer clear of your tables: I myself - despite being able to at least read those languages needed to study history of the middle ages between Scotland and Sicily (Latin, French, English, German and Italian) - would need a lot more than "dozens of hours" to make them worthwhile.


Callen, for myself, I thank you for the efforts that you've made. I consider them to be extremely useful for what I assume was your intention: a system to try and reflect language use 800 years ago to use in a roleplaying game. It's obviously not intended as a scholarly investigation; nor is that necessary. If there are inaccuracies, you are clearly open to polite correction and input which seems a good attitude.

As a follow up to my original post, Thanks, alot Cullen. We ended up using your tables and system. It works reasonably well for our needs and did solve the principal problem which, after all, is less an issue of linguistics than of game simplification. That is, the Issue is that you can be a Master in a dozen disciplines for the cost of 75 XP in Artes LIberales, but can't have even general command of a school of related languages for the same. All games are going to have to take aproximations in terms of Languages and learning them, and language acquisition is a complex subject.

Regardless, Thanks Cullen, we may reference your table on the Obsidian Portal page for our site. Did you have a particular preference in that regard.

On another note from an earlier part of this discussion; While it is possible to underestimate the degree of possible communication between people of differing places, it's also possible to vastly over-estimate them. It's true the majority of the population did not travel farther than a day from their homes, but that was far enough to encounter a huge range of people, including many who did travel quite extensively. Examples, I think, have already been provided in thread, but language and dialect determination is a political game as anything else.

Too late for the party, but this may interest people.

Something I'll try if my sucky tentative to keep the Light of Andorra alive (albeit through a spin-of) works:

If learning a language you already have a default with, spend xp normaly, as if starting from scratch. Add this to the default to determine your score in the new language, with a maximum being equal to the original language's score. E.g, I have High German 05, giving me Low German 03. If I put 05 xp into Low german, for a score of 1, I can speak it at 3+1 = 4.

I haven't thought about what happens if you put too much points (High German 05, Low German 03), I'll solve that should I need to, but I figure it should work well enough for characters who want to improve in a lot of related languages.