This is one of those things that seems like it should be obvious, but isn't stated anywhere in the rules, so far as I can find. Can amphibious creatures (read; things that can breath underwater) speak underwater?

If so, how? Can they only speak Aquan, a language literally created on a plane where there is only water, or are any languages viable? Would it work like dolphin speech, or is it like Drow Hand Sign, and doesn't actually use verbal components?

If there actually Are rules about this, stated in the Pathfinder books, please say which book and what page number. If it's something mentioned in fluff or a novel, please give the name of the book.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Y'know, humans can speak underwater. It doesn't require a special language (the normal speech organs work about the same when submerged, and all the normal sounds can be made and transmitted in the medium), but it tends to cause your lungs filling with water. Since that doesn't pose a problem for aquatic creatures, I doubt speaking under water will pose a challenge to any aquatic creature with lungs. That said, that many gill'd aquatic creatures do not have lungs, and so would need to 'speak' in a very different way. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 6:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I addition - if you google sound and water - you'll find sound actually travels better and further in water. Song of the whales can be heard for kilometers. \$\endgroup\$
    – DoStuffZ
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 6:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Speaking underwater requires the human to have air in her lungs. 'Amphibious' creates probably don't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DJClayworth It doesn't need to be air; Humans can also speak with their lungs full of water. Unfortunately, this condition tends to be fatal and unpleasant while it continues. Whether water breathing spells fill your lungs with air or allow you to 'breathe water' is a question I can't answer without my books. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 4:35

2 Answers 2


As noted by DoStuffZ, sound travels faster in water than air. The problem with underwater speaking is that we (human airbreather) need to exhale oxygen to speak, which forms bubbles and alter the sound. If you hum, you'll be heard quite well, so you can try to communicate this way.

I never heard of any official description of D&D / Pathfinder languages, so feel free to houserule that aquan is indeed a way of speaking clearly underwater even for non-amphibious creatures (by humming or very short syllables that wouldn't be altered too much by bubbling).

If you're looking about rules, note than D&D3.5 aquatic elves live underwater and do not speak aquan. Aquatic druid doesn't gain aquan either.

This link to Paizo forums also make a couple of points :

I found this in stormwrack I'm still looking, but this might shed some light. It's for a Bard: "Bardic Music: A bard performing underwater is restricted in what sorts of Perform checks she can make. Perform (sing) is impossible unless the bard can breathe water, whether naturally or by virtue of a spell. Oratory is similarly ineffective."


Spellcasting Underwater: Casting spells while submerged can be difficult for those who cannot breathe underwater. A creature that cannot breathe water must make a concentration check (DC 15 + spell level) to cast a spell underwater (this is in addition to the caster level check to successfully cast a fire spell underwater). Creatures that can breathe water are unaffected and can cast spells normally. Some spells might function differently underwater, subject to GM discretion.

This would means that speaking (and even casting spells with verbal component, though it says nothing about spell with language subtype) isn't a problem as long as you can breathe.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As a side note : sound moves even faster in solid, that's how in western movies peoples can hear a train coming by the sound traveling through the railway lines. One could ask if burrowing creatures can talk, and how far. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trajan
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 8:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not really comparable. Both air and liquid flow around vocal organs. Dirt and stone don't. It would require a non-speech mechanism, or some kind of sealed coupling with a good piece of solid earth, which goes beyond just "talking like you normally do so long as you can breathe." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Speaking of humming, there is a language called SolReSol that can be expressed purely in musical notes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman How awesome is that! If my players meet an aquan speaker, I know how it will sound like. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trajan
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would imagine Aquan would be somewhat dolphin-esque, whistles and morse-like clicks, or whalesong \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 14:50

The game rules allow it simply by virtue of the fact that it's an exception based game and it doesn't say speech doesn't work underwater; therefore it does. And of course as you note, there's a language called Aquan that all those underwater dwellers speak to each other all the time. So if you can breathe underwater, you can speak underwater. Whatever Water Breathing does to let you breathe water would also let you speak. If you can't breathe water, you can't speak underwater except via GM fiat.

Now, considering reality above the game rules is interesting. You say "amphibious" when you mean "aquatic", as amphibians don't actually breathe water and so wouldn't really count as aquatic or be able to breathe or speak underwater. Whales and dolphins communicate underwater just fine; water transmits sound well and since they are aquatic they're built for it. But maybe you're asking if other "normal" languages can be spoken underwater.

Humans can breathe liquid (just not water) - see the Wikipedia article on liquid breathing - - but the human larynx doesn't work well in that situation (designed for air, and would have trouble vibrating water at the same frequencies). An aquatic creature's potentially could, of course. Now you get into the question of "how can all these different creatures with different kinds of communication mechanisms speak the same language? Like, sure, a whale can make its own sounds underwater but it's not constructed to speak English type words." Which is true, but something else that the game rules blessedly don't get into, or else you'd need a table of what languages every kind of creature is capable of forming. Chewbacca is entertaining in Star Wars but that'd get old quick in your D&D party.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I used the term 'amphibious' because it is a racial ability in Pathfinder that gives creatures with the 'aquatic' subtype the ability to breath both water and air. I assumed that the average Pathfinder PC would be one of these races, as opposed to solely aquatic, since aquatic campaigns are less common, meaning amphibious races would see more use. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zach
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 5:02

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