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I am running a campaign, and somehow my 4 friends have managed to pick 11 different languages in addition to Common (which they all have). Of these 11, one (Elvish) is known by two people, but the remaining 10 are spread out between the characters.

My question is: Are there any similarities between some of the languages? When a party member is who speaks Gnomish listens in on a conversation our Dwarvish speaker is having, are they be able to understand a little bit of the conversation? Similarly for Goblin or Giant, since they share the same writing (Dwarvish)?

Or is the difference between languages like having a Russian, a Brit, a German and a Chinese person trying to talk to each other?

We’re playing on RoleGate.com and they have the option to chose between language ability of "None", "Beginner", "Intermediate" or "Fluent", and depending on the choice more or less words/letters turn to gibberish for the person. So I’m trying to figure out which languages should be related for that purpose.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd assume your friends did it deliberately so that the party would be able to interpret as many languages as possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 1 '18 at 5:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ You'd think that, but no, they had no clue, just picked languages that they felt were fitting for their character (except the druid who just picked his at random) \$\endgroup\$ – DerpwaldDuck Aug 1 '18 at 6:59
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5e rules that speakers of different dialects of a single language can understand each other, but as a DM you're free to explore the subject in more detail

5e briefly touches on the subject of the mutual intelligibility of languages/dialects. On page 123 of the PHB:

Some of these languages are actually families of languages with many dialects. For example, the Primordial language includes the Auran, Aquan, Ignan, and Terran dialects, one for each of the four elemental planes. Creatures that speak different dialects of the same language can communicate with one another.

However, no other provisions are made for speakers of different languages being able to understand each other. This is problem that the game largely gets around by simply declaring that everything under the sun can speak "Common" and so pretty much everyone can always communicate with each other if they want to.

If you want to start ruling about whether or not different languages have any mutual intelligibility, a good first pass would be to say that languages that share the same script presumably have some shared history of linguistic development and so speakers of such related languages can understand each other somewhat. It is your game, after all, and you can decide that's how the languages work in your world. It's important to note this sort of relationship isn't always guaranteed - in the real world example of Chinese and Japanese, for instance, though the Japanese writing system is based heavily on the Chinese one, the grammar and the meaning of words are often very different, so reading between languages can be quite confusing. There's also an extremely low degree of mutual intelligibility between the spoken forms of the languages - by and large you might understand only the occasional loanword.

If you want to be any more detailed than that, you'd have to start considering the history of the world and the development of the various cultures to figure out which languages may have influenced each other or have shared origins in a root language. In your own world, of course, those details are entirely up to you. If you're playing in a published setting, there may be lore to draw upon which clarifies the matter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ oop, didn't notice the FR tag on the question. If it's still there when I get home later, I'll dig through some of my FR sourcebooks and see if it mentions anything useful about the linguistic history. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Aug 1 '18 at 8:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another IRL example are the European languages, they all use the same latin alphabet (imposed by the Roman empire which was also a source of a lot of loanwords) but are not mutually intelligible (with a few exceptions) \$\endgroup\$ – ratchet freak Aug 1 '18 at 9:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ratchetfreak not all European languages use the Latin alphabet. Russian, Greek, and a few others use historically related, but different, alphabets. You are right, however, about the lack of mutual intelligibility. A Spanish speaker has little difficulty understanding basic Italian, but almost no hope of making any sense of Hungarian. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia Aug 1 '18 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ratchetfreak Don't confuse dialect with an entirely different language. French and Portugeuse are not different dialects, but Russian using the cyrilic alphabet(based on Greek iirc) instead of latin has over 100 dialiects as it is a vast land mass, they can mostly communicate amongst themselves. Island separation also can cause this, in the Philippines as an example. My wife speaks Bisayan but her sister-in-law speaks Illongo, which is totally different. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 1 '18 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yea, I scoured the phb and internet for answers but couldn't find anything useful more than the Primordial dialects. But since I'm quite new to DnD I presumed I'd missed something, but guess not! Thank you for the great answer though!! \$\endgroup\$ – DerpwaldDuck Aug 1 '18 at 14:09
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The only known case of dialects in D&D 5e is the case of the Primordial language that has 4 additional dialects (Aquan, Auran, Ignam and Terran).

PHB pg. 123:

Some of these languages are actually families of languages with many dialects. For example, the Primordial language includes the Auran, Aquan, Ignan, and Terran dialects, one for each of the four elemental planes. Creatures that speak different dialects of the same language can communicate with one another.

While I do believe that some of those languages with common origin might be partially understandable (eg: Sylvan and Elvish), nothing in the books suggests otherwise.

SCAG pg. 112:

Many human ethnicities and nations in Faerûn have their own language, in addition to Common. Most human languages are written in Thorass, the alphabet of Old Common, derived from the Chondathan language that traders used as their common tongue. A few human languages use other alphabets, including Draconic, Dethek, and Espruar.

From the list, if I got it right, doesn't seem to be any dialects. Maybe a Thayan's Mulan is a bit different from an Untheric's Mulan, the same as british and american english, but in the end both are the same language.

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