Language Question:

How similar/understandable is classical/medieval Latin to 12th Century Italian? For anyone who's a true linguistic buff, Whatever is spoken around Brindisi.

Technically - not enough.

Today, comparing the two in written form, "we" (as modern, sophisticated amateur academics) can see a lot of similarities.

But you have to remember that, back then, there was no "mass media", and almost no one heard ever vowel-sounds that were not spoken in their home town. So two "similar" dialects were as glaringly and clashingly different as two different musical bpm's played together - they just didn't work to the ear of the listener.

Today, ith modern sensibilities, we can see that words like "tu" and "du" and "te"w and "tou" and "vous" and "you" are all similar - but back then, they were completely different and alien animals. "One valley apart" was often enough to cause communication problems for anyone who had not traveled there and become familiar with the differences. Even within a single language, "tu" might be pronounced so differently as to boggle the uninitiated. Really.

So, both from a historical and game perspective, "not at all" is the safe and accurate answer. Formal Latin is an Academic Ability - and any "native language" is as unlike to that as ghetto slang is to the Ghettysburg address, or far enough. 8)

"Italian" is directly coming from latin, and even if dialects change from valley to valley, it is understable with latin, I would say medieval latin-2 to understand any italian dialect
and italian-2 to understand medieval latin

Guardians of the Forest (Appendix A) has some mechanics for how speakers of languages in the Rhine Tribunal can understand other related languages (at a penalty). For example, someone with a score of 5 in High German (with Bavarian as the specialization = dialect) has an effective score of:

  • 6 when conversing with another High German speaker with the Bavarian dialect;
  • 4 when conversing with another High German speaker with a different dialect such as Swiss;
  • 5 when conversing with another High German speaker with no dialect (such as "[e]ducated or well-traveled speakers [who] have tried hard to rid themselves of their dialect", who can choose an actual specialization as per ArM5 page 66);
  • 3 when conversing with a Low German speaker;
  • 1 when conversing with a West Norse or English speaker.

I think The Lion and the Lily has something similar for the Normandy Tribunal. These could provide guidance for making up similar rules for Italian. The only thing I know about Latin speakers is that they can communicate with Rhaetian speakers at a -3 penalty (or so says Sanctuary of Ice).

Have you used similar language rules elsewhere in your saga?
Be consistent, but also look at what you/your players want to do.

Do you want them to have difficulty communicating?
Or do you want them to do so fairly easily?

ie which stories do you want to tell? Not being able to communicate gets boring to play very quickly, so I'd go with the Latin minus a bit method.

C'hound is technically correct, but Lady M is also right! (In my not-so-humble opinion.) It can take a few days to 'attune' ones ears. The more often one has done so, the easier it gets. If the magi in the game are well-travelled, or know several (even unrelated) languages, or are each from different areas originally and hence have different accents, then theyshould find it quite easy. Conversely, if you are a peasant who has never been to the next valley, then you won't understand 'dratted furriners 'oo durnt spek proper.' We still have the same problems in the modern world despite TV etc. Try taking a bunch of (badly educated) schoolchildren around (I have had to): in England, Yorkshire accents are very different to Cornish ones. How many Americans from NY would struggle to speak with Appalachian Mountain folk?


Thanks for the replies guys, this has been fairly helpful. I think Speak Latin and Speak Italian will converse with each other at level 1 or 2. This is actually regarding two NPCs who I suddenly realized, one speaks Italian, and the other Latin. (See my thread about dragons, the dragon only speaks latin, the knight italian)

On this one question I can give an answer about which I am pretty confident: if you are fluent in a 12th century language derived from Latin you can generally understand Latin and, in fact, most other languages of the Latin family, from Occitan to Venitian to Castillan, at about level 2. Though I'd add a couple of botch dice: it often happens that a word one hears is strongly reminescent of a word from one's own language -- but with a different meaning.

Note, however, that there is no "Italian" at the time: someone speaking Sicilian is about as intelligible to a Venetian as he is to a Catalan. The language spoken in Brindisi at the time is a specific variation on the Salento dialect, strongly tied to Sicilian (fluency in one is level 3 in the other). Fluency in it means about level 2 in Latin, most other languages of the Italian and Iberic peninsulas, and those of southern France.

I agree with this, provided that you mean passively understand. Speaking in a related language, at least a level beyond what would be required to order dinner, is much more difficult than figuring out what someone else has said to you. Ars doesn't model this level of complexity though, so it's not much help in terms of mechanics.

In general I think Ars exaggerates the difficulties of communication between dialects and related languages. Despite the differences modern scholars are able to identify between individual valleys, Medievals were actually able to communicate with each other. From the rules on German in Guardians of the Forest you'd never imagine that the nobility was actually able to gather in national Diets and even understand what others said in debate. Some things to keep in mind is that vocabularies tended to be small by comparison with modern languages and also that there were no formally codified rules of speech, hence no grammar nazis to shake their fingers at you for using can instead of may.

This is technically true. However, usually (there are exceptions) if someone fluent in A can understand someone fluent in B at level 2, the reverse is also true. So all you do is speak your own language (trying to do it slowly and perhaps say the same thing in different ways) and push the burden of understanding on the other party. I have witnessed a conversation between one Mexican, one Portuguese, one Catalan, and one Italian -- where everyone spoke one's mother tongue -- and it went pretty smoothly (certainly at least at "level 2").