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eschaton

On language in Westeros...

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I'm sure this hasn't been dealt with in the books, but maybe it's been answered elsewhere.

It seems odd to me that all of Westeros (aside from some people beyond the wall) speaks the same language. I'm guessing Westerosi was introduced by the Andal invaders, but if that were the case the North should at least in part have kept the old language as well, given they kept the old religion.

Given the size of Westeros, it's odd as well there is really little discussion of regional dialects, which presumably would be much greater than English. I *think* there might have been some mention of the dialects of the mountain tribes being odd, but maybe I'm misremembering.

Anyone know more?

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The basic answer is simply George didn't want to deal with all of the differences and so didn't write it in.

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The basic answer is simply George didn't want to deal with all of the differences and so didn't write it in.

But an answer as basic as that isn't any fun. :)

I'd see the Common tongue coming about as a result of the Andal invasion as eschaton said. There's hints and references that the Old Tongue is still spoken, most prominently by the Thenns and the giants (and presumably others of the free folk past the Wall). One could also think other isolated groups (clans in the Mountains of the Moon) would also speak it, to an extent. With the Targ conquest you'd also see a sprinkling of High Valyrian added in, but to a much smaller effect.

As to why you don't really see more of the Old Tongue spoken, I'd picture that those in power in the North made the choice to convert to Common. From what we can tell, religious issues don't have an especially powerful hold on trade and economy (if they did, we'd have heard of the Faith denying trade with the North and the Blackwoods), where separate languages do. Someone long into the past thought it a financial and political incentive for a common language across Westeros, instead of the North and scattered southron houses to be the last hold-outs.

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The kingdoms were united (yes, not Dorne right away) under one ruler. It wouldnt be a stretch to say that he or one of the other early Targs forced the 7 kingdoms into the common tongue.

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I would rather think that the language was NOT brought by Andals. Because, historically, it has been quite unusual for languages to change simply as a result of trade. So, North having the same language would need a different reason.

I rather thought about Long Winter. We hear that Bran the Builder did, in his youth, give advice how to build Storm´s End.

In Stormlands, far South.

The Long Winter was hard. Most First Men perished. The survivors survived in various shelters, and some probably fled far away from their previous homes.

Now, after the Long Winter was over, the all-Westeros institutions of Wall and Night Watch were founded, as was Winterfell. With most people wiped out, there were lands available for new settlers. In the centuries after Long Winter, the surviving locals would have lived alongside returning locals who had fled far away and learned to speak Westerosi language while sheltering among strangers, as well as new settlers from south of Westeros, like Bran the Builder who was a newcomer in the North.

And since the surviving speakers of Old Tongue would have been scattered as small groups among people who either spoke Westerosi as mothertongue or else spoke other old tongues as mothertongue and used Westerosi to talk to strangers, they would have been assimilated.

Except beyond the Wall: the resettlement would not have reached that far because Bran the Builder drew a border across what had been, before Long Winter, an area of similar culture of northern First Men. So some of the wildings kept the old tongue.

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The basic answer is simply George didn't want to deal with all of the differences and so didn't write it in.

I think this is probably the right answer. We should certainly, certainly expect widly differing accents as in Britain - and Westeros is far, far bigger than Britain.

I do remember something about recognising someone (Gendry perhaps) as a King Landinger.

I expect we'll see much more of this in the HBO series. Particularly Northern English accents for The Northerners (Sean Bean has kept his Sheffield accent it seems) which would suit perfectly, and south-east/'BBC English' for the Lannisters et al.

I would have liked them to have used the Welsh accents for the Lannisters used in the audio book of Game of Thrones but that's wishful thinking and probably gives the wrong connotations.

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in one of Jon's chapters in AGOT one of the boys mentioned he can knwo where someone comes from hearing him talk... I assume there different dialects for the kingdoms. but GRRM just doesn't want to deal with it like tolkin had

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Well, English is now a pretty common language - not everyone speaks it, but a lot do. And lots of people spoke Latin in ancient times.

My big problem is that there would be a basically unchanging language for 1000's of years that Sam could read in books - I mean, english from 700 years ago is basically a different language than english today.

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Well, English is now a pretty common language - not everyone speaks it, but a lot do. And lots of people spoke Latin in ancient times.

In Westeros they wouldn't have mass media, public education for the smallfolk, or even any interest in learning a "common language" when most people won't travel further than the next town.

Simply put, the idea that a continent the size of South America, in medieval like times, with people from different ethnical origins and politically united only for three hundred years... well, as i see it's more fantastical than the dragons or the wights.

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It's just a technicallity in storytelling that requires suspension of belief. In reality there would be several languages spoken in a continent as big as Westeros, and maybe only high lords would know a common tongue which would be totally obscure to the smallfolk since in their simple life they would need only the local language.

But you can't write that into a story where characters regullary travel across hundreds of leagues and interact with character from the other side of the continent - that would be too problematic storytelling-wise. Just try to imagine how the Wall would function with different recruits speaking different tongues?

Also, mentioning accents would become tiresome (and I do believe GRRM does that several times in the books, where characters identify other characters' origins through their accents) and constructing distinct dialects would be too much work for Martin. He is not Tolkien and that's not the essence of his books.

So this would be a plausible in Westeros' context as much as its medieval stasis (a medieval-like world has lasted for 8000 years, while on earth less than two millenia)

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The medieval period lasted less than a single millenia.

I think the common tongue issue is just one of those fantasy tropes we all have to deal with. Same thing with technology stagnation. Thousands of years without any distinct technological advances?

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Given the model of Medieval England, it's not unreasonable to assume a common understanding of language change based on that history. Thus:

The Autochthonously Anonymous. (Whoever got there first.)

The Picts. (Nowadays we think they were Celts, but for a long time there were arguments that they weren't Indo-European speakers.)

The Celts.

Roman Incursions.

The Angles-n-Saxons-n-Jutes.

Viking Incursions.

Bill-the-C and the Norman Invasions.

Simplifying, we have:

AA=The Old Tongue

The First Men=Celtic

The Andals=Germanic (The Vandals were a Germanic Tribe, too)

The Targaryens=Romance, i.e. Later Latin

The Common Tongue is thus a Germanic Language with some older borrowings from Celtic and a recent heavy influence of Romance. That is, the Common Tongue is English, somewhere between Chaucer and Marlowe, and GRRM has the fun job of playing with language parallels from our world.

If this is all so, then it's a terrific way of playing an original variation on Tolkien.

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The main thing to identify is that Westeros in an island and that in itself leads to a society less inclined to change and more inclined to preserve. Like in the First Men adopting the Gods of the Children after some time. Also if you look at the Norman conquest of England and the language parallels there.

As far as language changing over lengthy periods of time goes, again this very related to technology and progress in general. Look at Feudal Japan as a point of reference rather than Medieval Europe.

And yes the Medieval period in Europe was rather short but take Gunpowder out of the equation and see where that leaves you. Technology is like a fire that starts from a spark and two hours later the forest is on fire, but without that spark things more or less stay the same.

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Just saw this now, and will throw in my two cents...

Ease of communication in setting is the easiest reason. If you don't want to construct a language (and from various interviews and media reports, it seems GRRM isn't very interested), just handing one language for your population to speak and using it as a unifier or disassociative aspect is the easiest way to get things done.

Geography relates very strongly to language shift, as does cultural value. If it's more prestigious to speak Common rather than your localized dialect... you'd speak Common so as to look better, except with your family. It wouldn't be unreasonable to also assume that language shift happened with the religious shifts to further unify the groups; it's an unfortunate cultural tendency for the new/dominant culture to try to wipe out existing native languages (look at the US and the camps for the Native American tribes as one drastic example). It happens with speakers of English today - in the US, British English (BrE) carries a greater cachet, and people who have a BrE accent of -any- sort are given more status than an equally qualified speaker of AmE, because of that prestige; it can even happen in smaller areas. The idea that people would shift their language to sound like their peers - or people they wish they were peers to! - happens all the time.

Bear in mind, too, that we have the maesters and the Citadel, who have some form of education/learning that can keep the language and comprehension of it on par. There have been a handful of big linguistic shifts, but we still can understand Shakespeare; there are a group of people (Frisians) who can still read Beowulf without an issue, because their language hasn't shifted that much.

We also get nods about dialects - Dornish dialects, King's Landing, and even the Iron Islands (usage of 'nuncle' and other small grammatical tweaks). With travel and commerce as profoundly present as they are, I think having a dialectical situation is more realistic than necessarily separate languages in Dorne and the North, despite their distance apart.

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I think it's plausible that there are different languages in Westeros (or at least very different dialects of the same language), with the "pure" common tongue used mainly by noblemen, merchants and septons.

Actually, the most realistic scenario is very similar to what happens here in Italy.

We have a common language, but every city has it's own dialect.

And all this dialects are very different from standard italian, for some people they are even completely different languages.

For example the phrase "What do you want?" in standard italian is "Cosa vuoi?".

In venetian dialect it becomes "Cossa ti vol?", while in the city of Verona (which is 75 miles east of Venice)it becomes "Sa vuto?", in tuscany is "icchè voi?" and in Lecce (southern Italy)is "Ce boi?"

Today everybody speaks standard italian but before public education only noblemen, rich people, clergy and intellectuals spoke italian. Naturally the common people understood it, but since it wasn't their first language they spoke it with difficulty.

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You can probably compare the Common Tongue fairly well with the english spoken in the United States. When the US was settled there were people from all over Britain so they had various dialects but when they came to America all those dialects, since they weren't geographically separated anymore, changed into what we today know as American English. Because of this the American English was more robust and rigid to change than other languages and even today the difference in dialect between various regions in the US is a lot less than you see in other languages even over the same timeframe.

You could imagine that the same thing happened when theCommon Tongue was formed from the languages spoken by the Andals and Rhoynar when they conquered Westeros.

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The difference between America and Westeros though is America had waves and waves of incredible people migrations in short periods of time and relatively widespread literacy.

Westeros is a continent with exceptionally stables borders and regions. Almost without exception languages would evolve and splinter. Even if the Andals had a common tongue which dominated for a period it was likely to change throughout the continent. With a three or four hundred years it would be much more likely that Westerosi or Common would have evolved like the romance languages (french, spanish, portugese, etc...). Its possible to concieve a common political/trade tongue would have become dominant among the political/merchant class, but there is no way a 10th generation fisherman living in the Fingers is speaking the language as a fruit and vegetable farmer near Oldtown.

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Given the model of Medieval England, it's not unreasonable to assume a common understanding of language change based on that history. Thus:

The Autochthonously Anonymous. (Whoever got there first.)

The Picts. (Nowadays we think they were Celts, but for a long time there were arguments that they weren't Indo-European speakers.)

The Celts.

Roman Incursions.

The Angles-n-Saxons-n-Jutes.

Viking Incursions.

Bill-the-C and the Norman Invasions.

Simplifying, we have:

AA=The Old Tongue

The First Men=Celtic

The Andals=Germanic (The Vandals were a Germanic Tribe, too)

The Targaryens=Romance, i.e. Later Latin

The Common Tongue is thus a Germanic Language with some older borrowings from Celtic and a recent heavy influence of Romance. That is, the Common Tongue is English, somewhere between Chaucer and Marlowe, and GRRM has the fun job of playing with language parallels from our world.

If this is all so, then it's a terrific way of playing an original variation on Tolkien.

Actually what I found interesting is that many of the First Men have germanic type names: Eddard, Sigorn, Alys I think Tormund might be as well. they also write with runes and seem to have Anglo-Saxon physiognomy (long faces)

Where as many of the Southerners/Andals have names such as Robert, Duncan, Jaime, Kevan, Catelyn, Catelyn, Jon, Sandor (a form of Alexander), Margaery, Brynden, Davos. Whilst these names are not exclusively celtic in origin, they were all popular names in the Celtic world (several Scottish Kings called Alexander and David, St David patron saint of Wales, Jon very popular Welsh name, Margaret is one of Scotland's patron saints,so many scottish kings called James). Also red hair (aka the Celtic gene) is much more common in the South then it is in the North. Also Sandor says "Aye" rather than "Ooh Arr"

So it's almost as if instead of the Anglo-Saxons invading the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons were invaded by the Celts and where the ones forced onto the fringes of their country.

Of course i don't like this theory, it makes it so much harder to write fanfiction: instead of going for the relatively simple Westerlands=Westcountry accent. I would have to think "Now What would Scottish culture be like if instead of freezing their nuts off beyond Hadrian's wall they had possessed gold mines and nice weather their whole history".

In ADWD Tyrion mentions having a Westerland accent.

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Hmmm, good idea for a thread.

Pleonasm is totally right - there's no way a 10th-generation fisherman on the Fingers is speaking the same language as the Lord of Casterly Rock.

(Hell, in many medieval cultures, the nobility spoke a different language than their smallfolk). And even if it's just one common language, it would have split into several different regional accents. Over time, they would be basically different languages. French and Portuguese both descend from Latin, but they're not mutually intelligible in any way. It's the same way with the Chinese accents, which evolved into separate languages (although Mandarin slowly is becoming "Standard Chinese", due to media). Languages are not static, especially in a continent like Westeros which is the size of Europe turned upside down.

It's realistic that Jaime is able to communicate with Roose Bolton, since both belong to the aristocracy, but yeah...it's not credible at all that Arya shares a common language with the street kids in King's Landing. It's as implausible as the dragons and wights.

(Cool theory about the Northmen, by the way. It's a good speculation that the Northmen are not actually First Men, but rather an Andal-related people who settled the North after the Long Night ended. But they'd adopted the religion and culture of the First Men, the same way that Lowland Scots stole the Celtic identity of the Highlander tribes, who are all dead. The only genuine First Men left alive would be the wildlings.)

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Hmmm, good idea for a thread.

Pleonasm is totally right - there's no way a 10th-generation fisherman on the Fingers is speaking the same language as the Lord of Casterly Rock.

(Hell, in many medieval cultures, the nobility spoke a different language than their smallfolk). And even if it's just one common language, it would have split into several different regional accents. Over time, they would be basically different languages. French and Portuguese both descend from Latin, but they're not mutually intelligible in any way. It's the same way with the Chinese accents, which evolved into separate languages (although Mandarin slowly is becoming "Standard Chinese", due to media). Languages are not static, especially in a continent like Westeros which is the size of Europe turned upside down.

It's realistic that Jaime is able to communicate with Roose Bolton, since both belong to the aristocracy, but yeah...it's not credible at all that Arya shares a common language with the street kids in King's Landing. It's as implausible as the dragons and wights.

(Cool theory about the Northmen, by the way. It's a good speculation that the Northmen are not actually First Men, but rather an Andal-related people who settled the North after the Long Night ended. But they'd adopted the religion and culture of the First Men, the same way that Lowland Scots stole the Celtic identity of the Highlander tribes, who are all dead. The only genuine First Men left alive would be the wildlings.)

I would say that the lack of red hair in both the North and beyond the Wall and the hints of physiological similarities between all the first men (the Iron Islands, The North and Beyond the Wall) would indicate they are the same race.

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