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I got into an argument with somebody regarding whether or not an incomprehensible language spoken by an animal (or monstrosity, as we argued) counts as a language for the Comprehend Languages spell.

We know birds speak their own language(as in only birds can understand each other, with the exception of forest gnomes). Does such a beast language count as a language for the purpose of understanding?

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    \$\begingroup\$ “We know birds speak their own language.” Could you be more specific about what you are referring to? \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2023 at 6:25

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Most animals don't speak any languages…

If you look at the "Languages" entry in their Monster Manual entries, no languages are listed. For example, the entry for the raven says (MM, p. 335):

Languages

This is important, because being able to understand at least one language is often used as a measure of communication ability. For example, the description of the thri-kreen racial trait Thri-Kreen Telepathy states:

[...] A contacted creature doesn't need to share a language with you to understand your thoughts, but it must be able to understand at least one language. [...]

As a result, thri-kreen cannot use this feature to communicate with ravens: the ravens simply don't have the level of sapience required. Whatever method these birds use to communicate with each other, it is not a language in D&D terms (or in real-world terms, for that matter!).

This also means, if you want to understand what a raven is trying to communicate, you'll need to use a spell that doesn't specify languages. Speak with animals allows you to "comprehend and verbally communicate with beasts" without requiring that they speak or understand any language; this is presumably the expected way to communicate with animals like this.

…though some do.

If you look at the stat block for the giant owl (MM, p. 327), for example, you see that it speaks the Giant Owl language. Since this is an actual language, comprehend languages will let you understand it, and thri-kreen will be able to speak to giant owls telepathically.

So while most beasts don't speak any languages, you'll need to check the stat block for a particular one to be sure. A small handful are intelligent enough to mechanically have full languages of their own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My related question about bestial language script: Are bestial languages such as Giant Elk and Giant Owl written languages?. \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2023 at 6:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. The key here is that "language" is a specific thing in DnD. Meaning, something that is a "language" in the real world may not be a "language" in DnD terms. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    May 10, 2023 at 8:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu: Yes. I've always assumed that being a D&D language implies that Common (or English or whatever players are actually speaking at the table) can be translated to/from it without huge losses, including abstract concepts. Real-world animal communication probably doesn't have that feature, regardless of whether people call it "whale language" or "bird language". \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2023 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to amend this answer to reference that players wishing to talk to animals are expected to use spells like Speak with Animals. \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2023 at 19:56

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