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KingAlanI

Is Common Tongue really English?

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Is the Common Tongue of Westeros really English, or are we just assuming that?

Common only seems to be named to distinguish it from other languages. Other languages are mentioned by name and it's either said they're translated or the foreign words are quoted directly. However, could Common be some non-English language that's transparently translated for the reader?

In AFFC, a younger noble uses "hung" as the past tense of execution by hanging, and an older noble corrects with "hanged". That seems like a specifically English grammar issue.

Since The Known World is apparently not related to Earth, how would there be a language much like English? (By contrast, in future-humans sci-fi it makes sense that characters would be speaking versions of modern human languages)

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It's Dutch in most of my versions of the series. Then it changes to English when you reach book five.

All joking aside, it really is English though. You can see this by how stuff gets messed up in translation and how some things simply don't work if they're not put in English. Songs, characters' speech, the wordplay of characters like Tyrion, you name it...

If you follow the endless universe logic, which you easily could if you assumed Westeros existed or should have some logical theory to support it, you could reason we're seeing the Westeros where English happened to become the dominant language through a variety of reasons, since it makes the most sense for displaying this one to us.

If you want a better answer, people who speak English have always been good at conquering stuff and driving out indigenous populations, so we can assume that's how English became the dominant language.

Other than that, the people of Westeros seem to have lived under a more or less united rule, or have at least had contact with each other, for many years, so the forming of one pretty much all-encompassing language is again, quite logical.

The reason it's called common instead of English is obviously because there are no English. Maybe that means they should call it Lannisterglish, but that'd be confusing.

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1 - LOL

2 - Wordplay and song lyrics are common issues with translation in general since both depend on the structure of the particular language. Maybe any English-specificity is a natural artifact of GRRM writing in English, whether or not it's part of the story.

3,4 - How did English get there?

5 - It makes sense that Westeros would have a common language, but not necessarily English.

6 - Another name for the same language totally makes sense to fit the world of the story

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2 - Exactly. If George had translated the story as it exists to English, it would never work that well in the same way. If Tyrion for example wasn't as fluent in his 'real language' as he is in English, people would react differently to him. If George was simply translating (which he's not) it would read like a translated text. You seem to be aware of the obvious differences between translated and original text, so you should know it is something we would notice.

3-4 - Might've been naturally formed like it did here. And because of the endless universe theory which I explained to you.

5 - Which again makes English just as likely as any other language.

6 - Yes. I was just messing with the idea that it would've been cool if it was named after a people rather than just 'Common' and that the Lannisters to me seem to represent the actual English to some degree. Calling it Common rather than coming up with an original name (which is something you would do for a new language, for instance 'Dothraki') is another pointer in the direction of it being common English.

6,5 - We've been given no real reason whatsoever to think otherwise.

6,6 - The Dothraki speak Dothraki in the show, while they speak translated English in the novel. The Common-speaking people didn't get their own language like the Dothraki did, they speak English in the show.

6,7 - George would have mentioned something like that if he had another language he 'created' or could've created up his sleeve, not keep it in the back with no hints to it whatsoever.

6,9 - Describing 'Common' would have been as simple as describing how it generally sounds, as happened with Dothraki.

7 - It seems like you're thinking about something while there's no evidence or even probability for it, which is about as pointless as believing in god.

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Like most worlds in fantasy and science fiction genre the main language is referred to as Common. It is usually the same language used for narration purposes and the same language used to translate the story to the reader. If you are reading the book in Spanish, then Spanish would be the "Common" language. Since this book was written in English, and most people read the book in English, then for our purposes English is "Common."

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2 - Exactly. If George had translated the story as it exists to English, it would never work that well in the same way. If Tyrion for example wasn't as fluent in his 'real language' as he is in English, people would react differently to him. If George was simply translating (which he's not) it would read like a translated text.

5 - Which again makes English just as likely as any other language.

Both points are just wrong..

Firstly, let me just state that only George knows (unless he has actually answered this particular question before) what language the "real" common tongue of Westeros is. It's his world - his rules.

On to your points, I do like that you brought up the multiverse as an explanation, because it probably is the best way to do it.

Now, translating (when translating a story or a song with rhymes and such) is mostly not done word by word, if there is a rhyme, you will make a rhyme that can differ COMPLETELY from the original rhyme, as long as it's on the same subject (as long as it fits the theme).

You can translate to make it look / sound good in your own language - translating is not bound to be a heedless word-to-word translation. So the fact that what we read, fits very well, is in no way a fitting way to criticize the fact that the "original" tale might be in a different language.

On to your next point, you make it sound as if it's reasonable to think it's English just because "english is just as likely as any other language". This is wrong, you shouldn't be assuming that it is any specific language at all.

If anything, you should, from a statistical point of view, assume that it is less likely to be English, and more likely to be one of the thousand(millions? billions? (multiverse)) languages that could exist.

So, from a statistical POV, it's most likely not English we're talking about, but another language. But then again, it's all up to George, if he says it's English, then it is English.

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I think the Common Tongue relates to English like Westron relates to English. Or like Basic relates to English. You get the idea.

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GRRM's mother tongue is English - that's why the Common Tongue is English.

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The Hitchhikers Guide would tell you that English will eventually evolve in some or the other recognisable way in every universe through the combination of the native languages.

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Both points are just wrong..

Good job ignoring 99 percent of my post. They made Valyrian for the show, they made Dothraki, why not bother to make a language for Common if GRRM absolutely didn't want it to be English, because it's not English? It's not English in the sense that it's not called English, but Common (since the English don't exist), but it 'is' English in terms of words. I don't know if you've read the translations or compared them to the original content, but they're inferior and miss a lot of the cleverness of George's writing, so your argument that 'the other possibilities are more likely' or the 'translations could be just as good' isn't really going anywhere either. Unless of course you want to say some random translator is better at it than George, or George has some secret hidden language in mind somewhere that he's using to translate from and still manages to do it while getting all the word jokes across. And that you want to disregard the messages written in English seen throughout the show, which show that the words are actually English.

Everything points to it being extremely likely it's English, and nothing points to it being not English except that 'oh, it's a fantasy world, so it could be, even if there's not a reason for it.'

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Good job ignoring 99 percent of my post. They made Valyrian for the show, they made Dothraki, why not bother to make a language for Common if GRRM absolutely didn't want it to be English, because it's not English? It's not English in the sense that it's not called English, but Common (since the English don't exist), but it 'is' English in terms of words. I don't know if you've read the translations or compared them to the original content, but they're inferior and miss a lot of the cleverness of George's writing, so your argument that 'the other possibilities are more likely' or the 'translations could be just as good' isn't really going anywhere either. Unless of course you want to say some random translator is better at it than George, or George has some secret hidden language in mind somewhere that he's using to translate from and still manages to do it while getting all the word jokes across. And that you want to disregard the messages written in English seen throughout the show, which show that the words are actually English.

Everything points to it being extremely likely it's English, and nothing points to it being not English except that 'oh, it's a fantasy world, so it could be, even if there's not a reason for it.'

Because it would be ridiculous to expect the entirety of a prime time show to be acted in a made up language. You'd lose all the sublties of performance, it'd take a huge amount of work to make sure all the vocab and gramar was consistant, and it would alienate most of the intended audience.

Characters speak in English so that the audience can understand them. Just the same as they do in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and pretty much every other book, film and tv show that takes place in a made up society on an alien world. Maybe not every pun, joke homonym or rhyme would work in another languge, but we can assume that we're receiving the spirit of the original dialog if not the literal translation,

In the books Dany rarely speaks the comon tongue to the people she interacts with, but most of her dialogue is in English too. The majority of the Dothraki and Valyrian languages were invented for the show. Are we to assume that everyone in the books is speaking in english?

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Unless this world is actually a parallel to our own world, I don't see how anyone can actually be speaking English, and even if they were I doubt it would be similar to our own on account of having a medieval timeline. I've always assumed that the Common tongue is like Galach in the Dune books, a completely different lingua franca that's being given as English in the novels for reader comprehension. Similarly, at the start of Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott makes it plain that the characters are actually speaking in Saxon and Norman, but it wouldn't work to write the dialogue that way. I assume the song texts are translations using the most appropriate word alternatives, which just happen to be the originals in terms of these being books.

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Because it would be ridiculous to expect the entirety of a prime time show to be acted in a made up language. You'd lose all the sublties of performance, it'd take a huge amount of work to make sure all the vocab and gramar was consistant, and it would alienate most of the intended audience.

Characters speak in English so that the audience can understand them. Just the same as they do in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and pretty much every other book, film and tv show that takes place in a made up society on an alien world. Maybe not every pun, joke homonym or rhyme would work in another languge, but we can assume that we're receiving the spirit of the original dialog if not the literal translation,

In the books Dany rarely speaks the comon tongue to the people she interacts with, but most of her dialogue is in English too. The majority of the Dothraki and Valyrian languages were invented for the show. Are we to assume that everyone in the books is speaking in english?

No, because the book specifically states when they are speaking a different language. When they're speaking Common, it does not.

The way 'Common' sounds is never described (as being different from English), unlike for instance Dothraki. If GRRM wanted us to think it was another language, he would've let us know. He's not lame like that, and we all know he's more than willing to share a lot of details that went into his world creation. Why bother not saying anything about this hidden language he has?

Keeping it as English is actually the best choice he could make, seeing as we need an existing language as a point of reference towards the other languages.

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The problem with assuming they're speaking english, is that english is not a homogenous language. The words, spellings and grammar are a hodgepodge of Germanic(Anglo-Saxon), French, Old Norse, Latin, Greek and an assortment of loan words from other countries. Without that diverse linguistic background English doesn't make sense. You can fudge it and pretend that the First men spoke Old Norse and the Andals spoke Germanic, but that still leaves about 70% vocabulary without any plausible etymological source.

It's not just exotic and uncommon words either. A lot of every day words come from all over. Sword and shield come from Anglo-Saxon. Armor and Chivalry come from french, Cake is old Norse and Lemon has its roots in persian. For all the words of the English language to just appear fully developed in Westeros doesn't make any linguistic sense, and if the people of Essos actually are speaking fantanstical languages, there's nowhere else for these missing words to come from.

You're wrong anyway about the books only stating when a language other than comon is spoken. A large amount of Dany's dialogue is with Dothraki, Qarthen, Meerenese etc, but the language that she's speaking is often left unstated. Other times it specifically tells us she's speaking in comon with her companions. Unless you want to assume that 90% of the people Dany deals with in Essos also speak Comon, then It's likely that a lot of the time she's actually speaking in Valaryian or Dothraki or whatever even when we're not specifically told so

We know that GRRM hasn't gone to all the effort of creating a Westerosi language, but it still makes sense to assume one exists in universe. All our POV Characters are Westerosi and speak the common tounge, so it's natural that they don't spend a lot of time discussing how it sounds amongst themselves. Aside from dedicated linguists, most English speakers don't spend a lot of time talking about the peculiarites of their own language either.

Why not assume that a seperate Westerosi language exists but has been fully translated, just as the Westron language of men and hobbits was translated by Tolkien?

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Before the rise of the kingdoms, there could have been countless tribes whose language evolved into English... That it happened this way in our world doesn't mean it couldn't happen in another world in a way that makes just as much sense - that's a skewed "we make sense because it's us" view.

A large amount of Dany's dialogue is with Dothraki, Qarthen, Meerenese etc, but the language that she's speaking is often left unstated.

In that case, you wouldn't be aware another language was being spoken and wouldn't be telling me now ^^ Obviously the books did tell you.

As to your last question:

If GRRM wanted us to think it was another language, he would've let us know. He's not lame like that, and we all know he's more than willing to share a lot of details that went into his world creation. Why bother not saying anything about this hidden language he has?

Unless and until he states otherwise it is only right to assume it is indeed English, and chances are slim because:

Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien, who provided detailed instructions for the pronunciation of the languages of Middle-earth, George R.R. Martin has provided no canonical way of pronouncing Westerosi names, stating "You can pronounce it however you like."[1]

Hmm, that sounds awfully much like someone who would go out of his way to make life hard on himself by making the most common language, being Common, something uncommon, doesn't it!

Are there people who have a problem with English on this board or something, that you would care so much about it not being English?

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Before the rise of the kingdoms, there could have been countless tribes whose language evolved into English... That it happened this way in our world doesn't mean it couldn't happen in another world in a way that makes just as much sense - that's a skewed "we make sense because it's us" view.

The point is that you don't just have the coincidence of Westerosi speaking the same language as modern english speaking people. (Which is not the same as the English spoken in the middle ages by the way), but you also have the massive coincidence of either 1) all the words meaning exactly the same things, but all having completely different etymologies or 2) all the languages that went together to create English also existing in Westeros and intermingling in the exact same way they did in England.

In that case, you wouldn't be aware another language was being spoken and wouldn't be telling me now ^^ Obviously the books did tell you.

That's the complete opposite of what I said. My very point was we're often not told what language Dany is speaking. We know that the languages of Essos exist, but we're not always told which one she's speaking at any given moment. All the dialogue is in English, and we have to infer what language she's speaking from the context. If she's speaking to Jorah it's probably Common, Jhogo then it's Dothraki, Xaro Xhoan Daxos then it might be Valarian. Sometimes it's explicitly stated what language she's using, but more often than not we're left wondering.

Unless and until he states otherwise it is only right to assume it is indeed English

If you watch a film set in world war 2 and the Germans are all speaking English do you assume that we're hearing translated German or do you think the people making the film wanted to imply that these particular Germans all really do speak English to each other ? Personally, Unless i'm specifically told they're speaking English I assume they're actually speaking to each other in German. Likewise unless I'm specifically told the people of Westeros all speak English, I'll assume they have their own language because to me It makes a lot more sense that way.

Hmm, that sounds awfully much like someone who would go out of his way to make life hard on himself by making the most common language, being Common, something uncommon, doesn't it!

Are there people who have a problem with English on this board or something, that you would care so much about it not being English?

Maybe we're at crossed wires here. The books were written in English, the English version of the dialogue is obviously the most correct one. any discrepancies in other language editions are translation errors. I don't think the people of Westeros are really speaking Spanish, French, Korean or any other language of this earth. But in universe, that non existant place where the books are set and Westeros exists. I imagine the're speaking some other language. A language that doesn't exist in our world because GRRM has never gotten around to creating it.

If it doesn't stretch your credibility to assume they're speaking the exact same language as people on Earth today then that's fine. but to me, that asumption raises more questions than it answers. I don't suppose it really matters either way, so believe what you want, but speaking personally the idea that we're seeing some other language translated makes more sense.

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By definition, a lot of reasons go into the existence of a language, and the existence of one single language is always 'unlikely' because it depends on so much, but it is by this unlikely nature, that the existence of one language becomes just as plausible as the others. In fact, I find the existence languages that have been proven to be able to exist and grow organically in our world more plausible than languages that don't exist popping up out of the blue.

It's not a coincidence, because it's a choice that goes into Fantasy world-building. If you believe every Fantasy world should somehow have a complete history and build-up that makes perfect sense, you are wrong and expecting too much of the genre and are forgetting that it is a fictional creation and thus the logic of it being a fictional creation also goes into it rather than the entire history. GRRM choosing English as the Common language for Westeros is thus a perfect reason for it to be English, he doesn't have to justify it, just like he doesn't need a scientific explanation for the way the seasons behave.

Your point about Daeny is 100 percent invalid. You were claiming I should somehow believe Daenerys is speaking English when we see English translations from Valyrian or Dothraki, while this is absolutely not the case. The books give us enough information to make out which language is being spoken. It doesn't have to tell us every time (we know Dothraki speak Dothraki, we know Westerosi speak common...), but what it does do is point out when someone is speaking a language we can't make out for ourselves based on information we already have (like the captain who brings Daeny the news of Robert's death) or tell us which language is being spoken in an area when we enter that area.

In World War II we know for a fact the Germans were speaking German, so that example doesn't make any sense.

Either way, I can prove my point easily enough:

1. I've obviously read the translations, and there have been instances where a character makes remarks based upon a certain word or synonym, that only works in English, and thus makes no sense in the translation. If the characters weren't originally speaking English, the character wouldn't even be making this remark based on English grammar / vocabulary and this line of vocabulary thus wouldn't exist, and if it was a translation to English, it would look just as jarring. Unless you want to believe this 'fictional language' somehow every time manages to have perfectly translatable words in every instance where such remarks occur, which is more unlikely than English existing in Westeros!

2. You'll notice some expressions GRRM uses differ slightly from standard English. If he were translating to English, there would be no need to change up these expressions. Instead of using a non-existent language, he's trying to make Westerosi English sound more unique.

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By definition, a lot of reasons go into the existence of a language, and the existence of one single language is always 'unlikely' because it depends on so much, but it is by this unlikely nature, that the existence of one language becomes just as plausible as the others. In fact, I find the existence languages that have been proven to be able to exist and grow organically in our world more plausible than languages that don't exist popping up out of the blue.

It's not a coincidence, because it's a choice that goes into Fantasy world-building. If you believe every Fantasy world should somehow have a complete history and build-up that makes perfect sense, you are wrong and expecting too much of the genre and are forgetting that it is a fictional creation and thus the logic of it being a fictional creation also goes into it rather than the entire history. GRRM choosing English as the Common language for Westeros is thus a perfect reason for it to be English, he doesn't have to justify it, just like he doesn't need a scientific explanation for the way the seasons behave.

He' not writing a fable or an allegory, Hes attempting to craft a fully realised world. The events in that world don't have to be based on the laws of science as they apply in our world, but they need to be internaly consistant. The English language developed in a very specific way. Nearly all the words in english have roots that can be traced back through dozens of other languages. If the people of Westeros are speaking English there needs to be a reason for it. If the seasons behave differently there needs to be a reason. It can be magic or the others or dragons or whatever, but there needs to be a reason.

Your point about Daeny is 100 percent invalid. You were claiming I should somehow believe Daenerys is speaking English when we see English translations from Valyrian or Dothraki, while this is absolutely not the case. The books give us enough information to make out which language is being spoken. It doesn't have to tell us every time (we know Dothraki speak Dothraki, we know Westerosi speak common...), but what it does do is point out when someone is speaking a language we can't make out for ourselves based on information we already have (like the captain who brings Daeny the news of Robert's death) or tell us which language is being spoken in an area when we enter that area.

Once again you're missing the point. Why would I try and convince you Dany was speaking English when my very argument is that in all likely- hood no one is speaking English?

Your argument boils down to The dialogue is all written in English and it sounds natural so it must actually be English, except when it's said to be translated from Dothraki or Valeriyan.

My response to that is most of Dany's dialogue is never stated to be in any specific language, but it's writen in English just the same. Her dialogue contains all the hallmarks of the English language that everyone elses does. It doesn't seem any more stilted or artificial. It doesn't read like it's been translated from Dothrahki or Valayian or whatever. It reads just the same as as everybody elses. If her Dialogue can appear as natural sounding English when we know for a fact it's translated from another language, then why can't all the dialogue in "common" be the same?

In World War II we know for a fact the Germans were speaking German, so that example doesn't make any sense.

But the English spoken in these films often sounds natural. A lot of these films had English speaking writers. The dialogue wasn't written in German then translated back into English. It was written in English from day one, and therefore caries none of the hallmarks of a translated text. They could be speaking English. Many Germans do know the English language, but we infer from the circumstances that since we're seeing Germans talking to other Germans then dispite what we hear they're actually speaking in German. In the same way, if I read two Westerosi speaking to each other then it seems natural to asume they're speaking Westerosi.

1. I've obviously read the translations, and there have been instances where a character makes remarks based upon a certain word or synonym, that only works in English, and thus makes no sense in the translation. If the characters weren't originally speaking English, the character wouldn't be making this remark based on English grammar / vocabulary, and if it was a translation to English, it would look just as jarring. Unless you want to believe this 'fictional language' somehow every time manages to have perfectly translatable words in every instance where such remarks occur, which is more unlikely than English existing in Westeros!

Or you just read a bad translation. A good translation will stay as true to the source text as possible while also convaying the intent in a way that makes sense to someone unfamiliar with the original language. An overly litteral translation that doesn't take into account differences in Puns, homonyms, Idioms etc. is a bad translation.

To use an example of a good translation; as a kid I read Asterix the Gaul translated into English from the original French. The original French series is very heavy on Puns that don't work in English, so many of the names and much of the dialogue was extensively rewritten so that the humor of the orignal was carried over in a way that made sense to an English reader. The stories and overall plots remained the same, but the jokes were quite different.

If the translaters of Asterix had been worse at their jobs. Then a lot of the puns wouldn't have made sense. They'd have just been artifacts of the original French. Should I have assumed from that the the Gauls and Romans and all the other peoples of historic Europe spoke modern day French? If not, then why make the same assumption about comon tounge of Westeros?

2. You'll notice some expressions GRRM uses differ slightly from standard English. If he were translating to English, there would be no need to change up these expressions. Instead of using a non-existent language, he's trying to make Westerosi English sound more unique.

He's just trying to make the work sound more medieval by sprinkling his language with a some archaic words and phrases. A good Translator would pick up on that and follow suit with some out of date words from her own language. It wouldn't matter if the precise words in question were made to sound archaeic or not, as long as the flavour of the language remained intact.

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