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It seems that most languages are assumed to have a written component i.e. Common, Elvish, Dwarvish, etc. This general assumption should hold for any language inherited from the character's race. From the Player's Handbook regarding racial languages:

By virtue of your race, your character can speak, read, and write certain languages.

Certain beasts also have a language unique to their kind, such as the Giant Elk and Giant Owl. Are these languages written languages, or are they only spoken?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Aside from answers derived from having the ability to do so, like manual dexterity or magic, is it possible to answer the question without citing the classical "ask your DM" quote? I'm really curious. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Jun 2, 2021 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chepelink While the term writing implies the use of a pen (since it's a humanoid-centric term, and we have opposable digits capable of grasping such objects), a creature incapable of utilizing such an implement could be reasonably expected to develop a form of "writing" in its own natural language using its own natural equipment, such as using antlers or talons to scratch off bark or score notches into things. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2021 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevanantBacon I would think that Giant Elk would also use scents \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 2, 2021 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevanantBacon IDK what to say nor put it in a way that does not sound rude, but I did say that "having the ability to do so" and gave an example using magic. This would imply that, given the correct set of traits, it'd be possible for them to write their language. However, those things are solved usually by the DM and not so often by a book (as implied by my question). As such, I'm intrigued on the answer that doesn't imply "ask your DM or, if you are the DM, set the rules". \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Jun 2, 2021 at 22:46

2 Answers 2

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I play D&D since 3.0 came out and never encountered this decided in rules. D&D Beyond search is a closest thing to complete and objective query I can think of to try to prove a negative.

A search on D&D Beyond reveals no entries for "giant owl" or "giant elk" that would say anything about written form, or lack of it, of their languages. Assuming D&D Beyond is reasonably complete, and its search is accurate, the only thing we can say is that at the moment rules doesn't say one way or another.

It's worth noting that languages meant for player races have written forms (per the quote in the question), but the Monster Manual says:

The languages that a monster can speak are listed in alphabetical order. Sometimes a monster can understand a language but can’t speak it, and this is noted in its entry.

Nothing about writing there.

Owlfolk, a player race from Unearthed Arcana which are described as cousins of Giant Owls, do not have Giant Owl as racial language, but that proves nothing. If they did, then the language would have to have a written form, but it seems the author was careful not to make this decision.


TL:DR For now, DM decides.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My experience with DDB search has led me to believe that this is a pretty unreliable assumption: “ Assuming D&D Beyond is reasonably complete” \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2021 at 0:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I play since 3.0 came out and never encountered this decided in rules. D&D Beyond search is, sadly, closest thing to complete and objective query I can think of. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jun 3, 2021 at 0:32
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Since Giant Elk and so on are not languages listed in the table of standard and exotic languages given in the Player's Handbook (p.123), we have no official information to go on here.

Presumably, Giant Elk, Eagle, or Owl consist entirely of sounds that elk, eagles, or owls can make and are thus not dialects of a more well-known language. This suggests to me that they don't have a written equivalent, but your DM could certainly decide they do have some kind of representative marking system.

There are other creatures, less clearly animalistic, that have similar species-specific languages, including Otyughs, Thri-kreen, and Yetis, so there may not be a single answer to this question; it may vary on a case-by-case basis.

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