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KingAlanI

Is Common Tongue really English?

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It's like all the other fantasy books and worlds, and like a lot of SciFi stuff. And this goes beyond books, it applies to stuff like Warhammer and Warcraft just as well.

They're not speaking a language we understand. Most of the time, they're not even in our world, therefore, there's simply no way at all for them to speak anything coming close to our own language.

Now, to make the story understandable to reader, author will just assume his language represents fairly well said imaginary language and quite often won't even bother to acknowledge the language isn't an "earthly" one by putting foreign (or in this case non-English) words in it.

The only author to fully acknowledge this, to fully understand it, and to actually state it upfront and to actually give actual "common tongue" name in their original language is Tolkien, because the man was a professional linguist and could just make up languages like this. In fact, Tolkien went as far as writing a booklet for translators, explaining which names should be translated and what they meant - even if, as far as I'm concerned, I still think that translating any name is quite wrong.

GRR Martin has clearly stated he isn't good with language, which is why there is just a few dozens of "foreign" made-up words in his books, and which is probably why he opted for the unrealistic unique common tongue for a continent the size of South America.

That Jordan, Eddings, Martin, Tolkien, Silverberg and many others write in English about people apparently speaking in English in the books doesn't mean these people actually speak English; they always speak something else, that is translated and adapted to English - when they refer to how languages sound, when they make puns, and the like, it's just adaptations of stuff they do in a totally alien language.

And this is not just an opinion. It's the only logical way of interpreting things, because worlds and stories require internal consistency - with fantasy worlds, said consistency implies that this is NOT our world and has a different history and evolution, therefore, nothing can be truly reminiscent of our own world - even Martin is quite clear on the fact that Westeros isn't on our Earth, not even in an ancient, future or parallel history. At best, there are a handful of cases like Middle-Earth, which really stands for Earth - and it's ironical that it's the case where it's made quite clear that no one speaks English even if they seem to speak it in the story.

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(...) which is probably why he opted for the unrealistic unique common tongue for a continent the size of South America.

I don't think a continent the size of South America sharing a common tongue is unrealistic. It's called Spanish IRL.

In North America, English is a common tongue for most of the continent.

Like Westeros in ASOIAF, both Americas were conquered and colonized by invaders from another continent who shared a common language.

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Clueless Northman - Also, in Martin's world. the seasons work differently, so they would have different terminology than we have (both word and phrase-wise) regarding the turn of the seasons, IMO. Plus, the word 'sept', and this is only one example. How did Latin come to Westeros? Were the Romans ever there? The only reason Walter Scott and Frank Herbert acknowledge their characters aren't speaking English is in case they otherwise get confused regarding historical accuracy, on the one hand, and how far language has changed in the future, on the other, because the human characters have Terranic origins. The Westerosi don't. In order to write a series this size in a completely alien language, you'd need a massive dictionary at the back of each book, no one would want to publish it, and no-one would want to read it. It would take maybe 50 years or so to write, and dwarf Finnegan's Wake at least ten times over for complete unreadability, so what would be the point?

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I don't think a continent the size of South America sharing a common tongue is unrealistic. It's called Spanish IRL.

In North America, English is a common tongue for most of the continent.

Like Westeros in ASOIAF, both Americas were conquered and colonized by invaders from another continent who shared a common language.

Reducing South America to Spanish is so... I don't even have a word to describe this.

Almost half of south america population speak Portuguese (Brazil), there are also French, English and Dutch. German, Italian and other European languages and dialects are also spoken. There are countless native languages.

Clueless Northman - Also, in Martin's world. the seasons work differently, so they would have different terminology than we have (both word and phrase-wise) regarding the turn of the seasons, IMO. Plus, the word 'sept', and this is only one example. How did Latin come to Westeros? Were the Romans ever there? The only reason Walter Scott and Frank Herbert acknowledges their characters aren't speaking English is in case they otherwise get confused regarding historical accuracy, on the one hand, and how far language has changed in the future, on the other, because the human characters have Terranic origins. The Westerosi don't. In order to write a series this size in a completely alien language, you'd need a massive dictionary at the back of each book, no one would want to publish it, and no-one would want to read it. It would take maybe 50 years or so to write, and dwarf Finnegan's Wake at least ten times over for complete unreadability, so what would be the point?

I think you don't understood:

Nobody would buy a book that is untranslatable. But you don't need to create a language to say that what the characters are speaking is the fictional language... or do you think that the language spoken in Roma is English?

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Martin doesn't need to say the characters aren't speaking English, because he'd assume they'd infer that anyway, on account of not being set on a planet that's within our own Milky Way.

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It is English. Otherwise, Reek would not rhyme with leak...or sneak...or bleak...or meek.

Not sure how you can debate that it's not English. It obviously is.

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Reducing South America to Spanish is so... I don't even have a word to describe this.

Almost half of south america population speak Portuguese (Brazil), there are also French, English and Dutch. German, Italian and other European languages and dialects are also spoken. There are countless native languages.

And Westeros has the Old Tongue and the Valyrian derived dialects spoken by Essosi merchants, but most people speak the Common Tongue introduced by the Andals. The point is that there are continents with a common language. Most of North America and Australia use English, and most of South America uses Spanish. They were settled like Westeros was: by a group of foreign invaders who made their speech a lingua franca for an entire continent.

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Lord Giroux - There are several fine translations of rhymed poetry that still keep the metre and the rhyme scheme. The only difference is the meaning can get a bit compromised. In ASOIAF, the meaning is not compromised through the author's intermediate translation because the books were written in English first.

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It's the only logical way of interpreting things, because worlds and stories require internal consistency - with fantasy worlds, said consistency implies that this is NOT our world and has a different history and evolution, therefore, nothing can be truly reminiscent of our own world - even Martin is quite clear on the fact that Westeros isn't on our Earth, not even in an ancient, future or parallel history.

True, it's a fantasy novel, and not a nonfiction work on history. The common tongue is what the reader think it is. Besides that, the change that English pops up as completely the same language in another part of the world, on an another planet, or even in a parallel dimension, is as good as non existent. GRRM slightly flavored the language though, by using words like nuncle, to remember the reader that they are not reading a work on history, like he is using references to fictional food or clothing.

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It's about suspending disbelief people. Yes, there is an argument to be made, which you all have done (at great length) to this point... but in the end, the Common Tongue is English because the books were first written for an English-speaking audience, by an English-speaking author, in English prose.

Every novel set in a fantastic world/culture was written in a tongue native to Earth (be it English, Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, etc.), and dare I say the tongue native to the author. If it's popular, it might then be translated to another language to garner more sales and more fans.

Case in point: in Dutch translated versions of aSoIaF, do they translate literally "Reek, it rhymes with meek", except in the Dutch versions it doesn't actually rhyme, or do they change it to "Reek, it rhymes with mud", because in Dutch the words for Reek and mud actually rhyme?

If the Common Tongue was actually supposed to be not-English, the work would be full of these translation inconsistencies, which it is not, as is pointed out many times by previous posters. Why would you want to intentionally lessen the size of your audience for the sake of being "accurate" in this way?

Instead, for quality of prose and understanding, we are to pretend that English is the Common Tongue in this fantasy world not-related to Earth, or at least come up with our own believable reasons that a totally ficticious world and culture speak exactly the same language as Earth English (with some sprinklings of medieval flavor in there). Any way you cook it, it boils down to suspending disbelief in my opionion...

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Yes its the same,

English- Of England

England- Angle Land

Angle = Andal

we can assume that the common tounge is the language of the Andals, and it spread through Westeros and the First Men till most, if not all, spoke it. By this assumption we can say that the First Men are comparative to the Celts.

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Yes its the same,

English- Of England

England- Angle Land

Angle = Andal

we can assume that the common tounge is the language of the Andals, and it spread through Westeros and the First Men till most, if not all, spoke it. By this assumption we can say that the First Men are comparative to the Celts.

So it would be Andalish.

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Gendry Snow - Suspending disbelief, I concede, according to infinite universe theory, a viable point, but why the modern version of English if it's set in a medieval world?

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The common tongue is what the reader think it is.

This was, in my opinion, the best take on the "problem" in this thread. And this is also why we get upset (and sometimes rude) when someone tries to prove us wrong. We are all correct while having different opinions.

That is also what I believe GRRM tried to achieve by calling it "the common tounge", instead of specifying "English", "non-English" or "scnwrynuvn" (or even something with a different alphabeth). (Though I suspect he didn't care for the rudeness.)

The truth is:

Westeros doesn't really exist. (But it still takes shape in GRRM's and your imagination.)

---

Edit: Corrected some mistakes in my non-native use of the common language ...

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The rich wanderer, it would be, yes

The killer snark, because.. the same reason Westeron in Lotr is modern English and intergalactic standard in starwars is modern english

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That is also what I believe GRRM tried to achieve by calling it "the common tongue"

Thanks for you post, indeed, all interpretations are correct, but start from different views. The reader should interpret the common tongue as 'my' common tongue.

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My point is, if it is indeed a parallel world with a medieval timeline, surely they'd be speaking in a blend of anglo-Saxon and Norman, with texts written in Latin, unless Westerosi civilisation is as old as ours is, but on account of the power of magic, perhaps, and other factors, has never technologically evolved. Not that I believe they are talking in any version of English old or modern, though, or any language approximate to our own. Worlds where humans have evolved elsewhere, in infinite space, along with other species, is an evolutionary possibility more than the reverse, and also the governments and existing technologies would be analogous: but far too many coincidences would have to come into play as far as lthe evolution of language into 'fixed' forms is concerned.

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Many arguments in this thread are rather plausible, but I think Martin must intend Common to be English because he isn't a linguist, so when creating his world he didn't bother thinking about etymology.

Logically, Common should be a fictitious language and its words should have roots in languages previously spoken by the Andals, or the people that originated the Andals. However, I can't help but think of Tolkien. Tolkien, as a linguist, created his languages, and only then created a world around them. Martin didn't, so we should expect his grammar references (as in the hanged-hung example and rhymes) to work in any fictitious language.

I believe when he writes the books, the characters speak English in his head (because it's probably the only language he knows), although this makes no sense if you try to bring the ASOIAF languages into the real world logic.

But this discussion made me wonder about something. Common was brought to Westeros by the Andals. So what language did the First Men and the Children speak? Since the Andals didn't conquer the North, the version of Common currently spoken in the North must/should have traces of the FM language. Maybe their accent is very different and this should be pointed out by southern characters (like "uh, these northerners speak so weird"). Besides that, why was Common called like that by the Andals? Maybe they were formed by different peoples with different languages who had to have a lingua franca between them, and this evolved into Common at some point.

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I think the First Men and Children spoke something analogous to Pictish, which has been completely obliterated from a phonetic point of view. To date, no etymological scholar has a clue how Pictish was meant to sound: so it may have had an influence on language in the north of Scotland after the Picts were no longer a people, or it may have had none at all. Andal is analogous to Anglo-Saxon, naturally, but I'm speaking from a purely comparative point of view.

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