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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: Language Rules

My players are getting ready to go into Zhodani space, and as it turns out, none of them speak Zdetl. While the usual answer for this is "get a translation program for your handcomputer", one of them is a diplomat

In my Traveller Universe, all Imperial ambassadors to the Consulate are required to speak in Zdetl while there. This has been codified into official diplomatic culture for many hundred years (probably sometime around the First Frontier War), and Zhodani diplomats simply will not interact with any Imperial counterpartwho speaks Anglic. No translator bots, either; speak it yourself or GTFO.

The reason for this is to level the playing field. The Zhodani are a psionic race, and their diplomats are used to constantly scanning while talking with someone -- it's just something they do, and it's expected by other Zhodani . But Imperials don't like that, and so they wear psi shields. This puts the Zhodani at a disadvantage, because now they have to rely on hunches, body language, etc, and non-psionic Imperials are better at that than Zhodani nobles are. So requiring Imperials to use a language they aren't native with handicaps them, too. The fact that Zdetl likely doesn't have as many linguistic gray areas and dodges that Anglic has (and politicians are keen to exploit) further helps to make things level.

In other words... house rules for languages!

My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
According to the Rules As Written, Language-0 is basically the ability to use a foreign language to order a beer, ask for directions, and get slapped in a variety of cultures. It's a smattering of useful phrases and little else. Other languages become specialties. 

The problem with specialties is that they are supposed to relate to the core skill:  knowing how to shoot a rifle imparts general familiarity with pistols, and knowing biology gives a basic grounding in chemistry. The problem with languages is that, other than being spoken communication, there's very little common ground. 

Modern day example:  Let's take an average European adult -- let's say Dutch, because in addition to speaking their native language they nearly all speak English and German, and a fair amount of them speak French as well -- and put him in Africa. Will our quad-lingual Dutchman be able to speak the click language of the Kalahari at "level zero"?

Of course not. Click languages are alien to Europeans. Why then should capital-a Alien languages be any different?

So here are how languages work in my universe:
  • All characters speak their native language at level 3. This skill also imparts a general understanding of history and culture. 
  • Languages with similar roots may be specialties. 
    • For example, speaking Anglic (the language of the modern Imperium) at level 3 allows a character to communicate with Solomani at level zero, and vice versa, because the modern Imperium is a fusion of Vilani and Solomani cultures. "High" languages, like Latin or Vilani, are not cross-linked in this way. 
    • Similarly, Vargr languages are all specialties of the same root, as they are all offshoots of the original Arrghoun language in the same way that the Romance languages are all offshoots of Latin. 
  • However, Trokh, Oynprith, Gurvin and K'Kree are categorically NOT related, and are effectively their own skills. 
  • By this logic, Zdetl ought to be its own skill as well, as the Zhodani are an offshoot of humanity that were taken from earth in the distant past and have had 300,000 years to develop their own language and dialects within their sphere of space. 
    • However, I have no problem with knowledge of Zdetl-3 granting (Other Zhodani dialect)-0. 
  • Whether or not knowledge of Anglic allows an Imperial to speak the language of other races (such as the Darrians) ought to be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. 

But what if I want my character to be able to order a beer, ask for directions, and get slapped in a variety of languages?
I would say that is an excellent application of the Carouse skill. So long as it doesn't require anything overly complicated or technical, the skill that reads "the art of socializing; of having fun [...] social awareness and subterfuge in such situations" seems like a good way to get into and out of trouble in a variety of cultures. 

On a related note, see my post titled What Traveller Languages Sound Like for more linguistic flavor. 

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