Kenku can only speak using their mimicry trait but that means you have to have heard someone speak a phrase or word in order to speak it. Do I need to write down and keep track of all the phrases that I've heard so that I can communicate? Or can I only remember and mimic phrases I've heard recently?


In general, kenku are capable of a full range of regular speech. It's simply that that speech may be a mix of voices and sounds the kenku has heard (anytime) before. Essentially, they're kind of like a GPS's text-to-speech or another voice software that works by combining existing sound bites together. They can't create new sentences themselves, only piece together parts of what they've heard.

Jeremy Crawford explains more on Twitter:

friend will be playing a kenku in a one-shot. We discussed how mimicry works. Are they more like a parrot, repeating what they've heard? or can they observe a group for a time and make sentences using said voice? how long can they remember sounds?

A kenku is capable of speech. But that speech is a bizarre mix of syllables, words, and phrases in voices the kenku has heard.

More about kenku: they can cleverly piece together voices and sounds they've heard to communicate. They're not less intelligent than other humanoids, but they do have an unusual form of communication. To simplify roleplaying one, think of two-three voices for the character.

So no, you don't need to track every single word you've heard before; in general, by the time you become an adventurer it's probably safe to assume you've heard the gamut of words used in normal conversations (and even some uncommon ones) - it's just that when you say those words, each word or phrase might be in a different voice (that of someone you've heard say that word/phrase before). And if you haven't heard a word/phrase before, you'd need to hear someone else say it in order to say it yourself... Or I suppose you could pronounce it syllable by syllable.

It might be fun to keep track of snappy one-liners or funny things so you can echo them in the other character's voice later.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If a Kenku is able to reproduce and combine specific syllables extracted from the speech it has heard, as Crawford's comments suggest, that allows for a much greater degree of communicative ability than the answers to this question suggest. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 21 '18 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer An increase in communicative ability does not necessarily equal fluency. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 21 '18 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 21 '18 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a bit weird that you are referring to "GPS" as the voice output of the program. \$\endgroup\$ – Acccumulation May 21 '18 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Acccumulation: Cut me some slack, I'm doing this at work :P Fixed. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 21 '18 at 21:45

iirc RAW states than kenku are capable of communication. that being said they are only capable of mimicking sounds. I would assume RAI means that even though they can only copy sounds for communication they still understand exactly what those sounds convey for the intent of communication.

personally I have interpreted that to mean that kenku speech is very similar to that of Bumblebee from the transformers movies: he uses all the correct words in the language he's speaking, but they're like sound clips from different voices.

so to answer your question, no I don't think its necessary to log all the phrases you know, though it would help with the flavor and rp of the character to know what phrases are spoken in what dialect/tone/etc if that's what you want to portray.


I understand Jeremy Crawford's twitter post a little differently than explained by the existing answers:

More about kenku: they can cleverly piece together voices and sounds they've heard to communicate. They're not less intelligent than other humanoids, but they do have an unusual form of communication. To simplify roleplaying one, think of two-three voices for the character.

The Kenku can piece together the specific sounds of what they've heard to communicate. Language is just composition of sounds, where every word is made up of distinct sounds. English, for example, represents a language of hundreds of thousands of different words, not even including the conjugations thereof. However each of those words are composed by combinations and permutations of what boils down to basically 44 sounds. Of course, these sounds can be pronounced in a variety of ways, varying the speed, tone, volume, male/female/young/old voice, but by mimicking just the part of the word that contains the sound the Kenku wants to make, the Kenku can cleverly piece together full words that it hasn't heard if it can figure out how the word should be pronounced by another medium; eg., seeing it written, in the case of casting a spell from a spell book.

Other languages of course have different sounds not found in English, or have different letters that represent those sounds, so a Kenku would have to hear a reasonable amount of dialogue in any language in order to get an idea of how it should be pronounced, and if the Kenku were to desire pronouncing something that it hasn't heard, it would need to learn how the words in that language are written or have some other way of being able to guess at how the word it wants to say is pronounced. Additionally, each sound in the word may come out sounding like completely different voices because it just depends on how the Kenku heard the sound that it is mimicking in the first place.

Therefore, No. You don't need to keep track of everything the Kenku has heard, just make sure the Kenku has heard a reasonable amount of the language, and that you can justify the Kenku's ability to figure out the language of the conversation it is making.


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