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If you gave an animal a Headband of Vast Intelligence, thus raising its intelligence beyond 2, would that allow it to learn to understand new languages (and speak if it's a thrush for example)?


Sidenotes:

This doesn't seem to effectively turn it into an awakened animal, based on the last answer in this question about temporary intelligence boosts that has been answered with "no" (obviously) — though another source of intelligence boosting (the Collar of the True Companion) is mentioned with a description that it turns the animal sentient after a week.

How about if you build the intelligence-boosting headband to grant the skill "Linguistics"? It would teach the language (and later if the animal ever "levels up" others as well) for much less gold, than the collar mentioned above.

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First, instead of a headband of vast intelligence, I recommend the circlet of speaking (4,800 gp; 0 lbs.), which grants an animal wearing it the ability to speak 1 language yet doesn't increase the animal's intelligence. Although slightly more expensive than the cheapest headband, the circlet is, in many ways, superior if you want a talking animal that can still be trained; it neatly sidesteps the intelligent animal's language issues detailed below. That said...

Yes, were an animal to wear a headband of vast intelligence +2 et al. that animal could learn a language were its Intelligence score to have gone from 1 or 2 to at least 3

Such an animal could learn to understand a language but couldn't learn to speak. The section on Intelligent Animals says that

Increasing an animal's Intelligence to 3 or higher means it is smart enough to understand a language. However, unless an awaken spell is used, the animal doesn't automatically and instantly learn a language, any more than a human child does. The animal must be taught a language, usually over the course of months, giving it the understanding of the meaning of words and sentences beyond its trained responses to commands like "attack" and "heel."

Even if the animal is taught to understand a language, it probably lacks the anatomy to actually speak (unless awaken is used). For example, dogs, elephants, and even gorillas lack the proper physiology to speak humanoid languages, though they can use their limited "vocabulary" of sounds to articulate concepts, especially if working with a person who learns what the sounds mean.

So the vague description above of how to teach an intelligent animal language all but says not to bother trying. Further, the most obvious way of improving an animal—taking the animal on adventures so it can gain XP—isn't an option, either, because animals, like most NPCs (cf. the feats Leadership and Squire), just don't earn XP.

Thus while the intelligent animal has the potential for language—all it would take is but 1 rank in the skill Linguistics for the animal to understand a language—, the intelligent animal lacks the ability to gain that rank. It's stuck with what it has.

However, to use what it has, the creature can employ the rules for retraining its skill ranks. By spending a paltry sum and as long as a several weeks, a creature can allocate its accumulated skill ranks differently. For an intelligent animal, this lets it put that minimum 1 rank in the skill Linguistics and understand a language.

Example
A common cat has 1 Hit Die and while wearing a headband of vast intelligence +2 an Intelligence score of 4. The cat murders a family of commoners and takes the family's treasure, as is a cat's wont. The cat spends 50 gp and 5 8-hour work days avoiding strenuous activity and, afterward, reallocates its skill rank from the skill Perception to the skill Linguistics, therefore learning the language of its choice.

Unfortunately, as they have no starting language, most animals are barred from using the retraining rules to learn a New Language independent of their ranks in the skill Linguistics because

Each language [gained through the New Languages section of the retraining rules] requires a trainer who shares a language with you and knows the language you want to learn, or a book written in a language you know that explains the basics of the language you want to learn.

Emphasis mine, and these rules make me sad. However, the DM could allow a trainer with the ability to speak with animals for 8 hours a day and who was willing to do so be an intelligent animal's language trainer. Extending the duration of a speak with animals effect from its typical 1 min./level to at least 8 hours is not impossible (e.g. a friendly high-level character's familiar that can both speak a language and speak to others of its kind, a creature with the animal domain and the pelt of the beast, feral speech a la wizard or witch). This New Language retraining, were it available, would cost the intelligent animal 200 gp and occupy both the intelligent animal and its trainer for 20 8-hour work days that must be otherwise absent of strenuous activity.1

Strangely, an animal with an Intelligence score of 1 or 2 can put ranks in the skill Linguistics, doing so through retraining as described above or just using its native skill ranks.2 The animal, however, still isn't "smart enough to understand a language," so what, exactly, these ranks in the skill Linguistics do for an animal is unclear. (Animals that are also animal companions have a skill list that prevents the animal companion from putting ranks into some skills at all.3 Such a creature can't put ranks in the skill Linguistics until it has an Intelligence score of at least 3.)

Yes, a headband of vast intelligence +2 et al. that's imbued with the skill Linguistics and that raises an animal's Intelligence score to at least 3 grants the animal the ability to understand a number of languages equal to the animal's Hit Dice.

Such languages are probably picked by the item's creator, although this isn't entirely clear. An animal wearing such an item wouldn't need to "be taught a language, usually over the course of months," nor retrain as described above. Such a creature still can't speak, however.

No, a typical thrush or typical raven (or parrot) wearing a headband of vast intelligence +2 et al. that learned a language would not be able to speak that language.

Only when these creatures become familiars do they gain the supernatural ability to speak but 1 language. In fact, only if further effects permit is such a familiar ever able to speak more than the 1 language picked when the familiar was first gained. While the familiar may be able to understand other languages (e.g. bonus languages from a high Intelligence score, its master's Linguistics skill, a headband of vast intelligence +2 et al. imbued with the skill Linguistics), the familiar will remain unable to speak those languages.

However, it's a reasonable house rule to allow a familiar with the supernatural ability to speak 1 language to speak, instead, any language it knows.


1 Undoubtedly, there's a sitcom pilot being pitched right now about a good-hearted but down-on-his-luck wizard with the arcane discovery feral speech who teaches Common as a First Language classes to wealthy, murderous cats at the local night wizards' school. Attention, Networks: I will pay real money to watch this show.
2 An animal's class skills are Acrobatics, Climb, Fly, Perception, Stealth, and Swim. Thus the animal can put ranks into the skill Linguistics, but won't get the bonus that comes from the skill being a class skill.
3 "Animal companions can have ranks in any of the following skills: Acrobatics* (Dex), Climb* (Str), Escape Artist (Dex), Fly* (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Perception* (Wis), Stealth* (Dex), Survival (Wis), and Swim* (Str). All of the skills marked with an (*) are class skills for animal companions. Animal companions with an Intelligence of 3 or higher can put ranks into any skill."

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Yes

Any creature capable of understanding speech has a score of at least 3.

This is the only thing that prevents Animals from learning languages in the first place. They can still take ranks in linguistics, in order to learn to read and write various languages (and communicate fully via sign languages or Otyugh Scent), decipher ancient runes, and forge promissory notes (among other things) unless your GM rules otherwise*. Note that the -4 (at least) INT penalty to active linguistics checks animals will take is quite hefty.

Increasing an animal's INT score puts them over the 3 int threshold and allows them to speak any languages they know (regardless of whether familiars in their shape are capable of doing so). This occurs whether the boost is temporary or not. Animals, by virtue of not having any starting languages, generally can't speak anyways, but any animal with ranks in Linguistics (or some other language-granting ability) would be able to speak.

A permanent upgrade would certainly encourage taking ranks in linguistics, but is otherwise identical to a temporary one for the purposes of this question.


* Animal Companions, and thus all creatures provided by effects mimicking that ability, have the following text:

Animal companions can assign skill ranks to any skill listed under Animal Skills. If an animal companion increases its Intelligence to 10 or higher, it gains bonus skill ranks as normal. Animal companions with an Intelligence of 3 or higher can purchase ranks in any skill.

and, under 'animal skills', we find:

Animal companions can have ranks in any of the following skills:

Acrobatics* (Dex), Climb* (Str), Escape Artist (Dex), Fly* (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Perception* (Wis), Stealth* (Dex), Survival (Wis), and Swim* (Str).

Technically this doesn't prevent them from taking other skills (since they already could) but it probably is meant to do so. Your GM may further rule that, rather than applying only to animal companions, these restrictions apply to all animals. This latter house-rule is fairly uncommon. The former reading of 'can' as 'can only' is quite common, but since this house-rule is only infrequently applied to animals in general, it's effect on your question is negligible.

Familiars have similar text, stating:

Regardless of a familiar's total skill modifiers, some skills may remain beyond the familiar's ability to use.

Which may also be applied to animals in general, even though Familiars are actually Magical Beasts. This house-rule is actually very common, and might interfere with active uses of the linguistics skill.

You should note that in the latter case, taking ranks in Linguistics is permitted even if the skill is rendered useless, and these ranks do provide additional languages known, as that is a property of taking ranks in Linguistics, not a 'use' of the skill. The familiar can even make limited (reading/writing, no speech) use of the languages as communicating via a known language is not a 'use' of the Linguistics skill either.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan From the Animal Companion rules: "Animal companions with an Intelligence of 3 or higher can put ranks into any skill." So yea, most animal companions can't take Linguistics ranks, but once you put that headband on them, then they qualify for ranks in any skill they care to spend the points on. Whether an animal who takes points in such skills with a headband, then loses the headband, retains or loses the skills they'd now be ineligible to take is, as far as I can tell, unspecified in RAW. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 9 '15 at 0:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I agree with that but I think "The rules provide an ability that lets you do X, clearly you can't do X without it" is an even worse side to be on. I'm trying not to take any side on whether or not those rules restrict skills by mentioning them and explaining that having them restrict skills is probably in line with the intent of the rule even though it's definitely not in line with the letter of the rule. I don't think it warrants a more thorough examination here since it's sort of a side issue to begin with, and the less common of the two house-rules. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 9 '15 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 this is like saying all skills are class skills for every class because though the rules list class skills specifically that "it doesn't say others aren't." You can logic-diagram it all you want but this is usual English speaking rules here. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 9 '15 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not confused, I'm saying that your statement about "well it says they can put points into these skills but that doesn't mean they can't put them into others" is logical in LogicTheoryWorld but not in English Speakers World. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 9 '15 at 19:27

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