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eschaton

On language in Westeros...

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Remember, Aegon the Conquerer invaded Westeros 300 years ago. I would assume that northerners learned the common language over time through marrying southerners and their children speaking the common language from the time they're born. Remember, the series takes place several generations after the Andals conquered Westeros.

Even if we ignore the fact that it would be more logical that the first language of the children of mixed marriages would be the one of the place they live in, that would only work for the noble families. The farmers from the Wolfwood or the fishermen from Long Lake would never marry outside the North and would never learn Andalish. The fact that the North speaks the same language of the South is as fantastical as the dragons or the Others. In fact, I have more trouble swallowing the former than the laters... :P

Ignoring languages is Martin's worst point as worldbuilder. The fact that Dany's councils have no translation difficulties when they icnlude a bunch of Mereneese, freedmen from Astapor, a Westerosii knight, three Dothrakis, and sellswords from the free cities, stretches credulity to the limits.

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I find the references to the "corrupted valyrian" of the Free Cities confusing. When Daenerys is the POV, it seems as if all the cities from Astapor to Pentos spoke the same language, save some minor local features, but when Tyrion is the POV, it seems as if each Free City spoke an entirely different language:

...Tyrion had some Braavosi and a smattering of Myrish. In Tyrosh he should be able to curse the gods, call a man a cheat, and order up an ale...[and he can't speak with the volantene at all]

..Young Griff spoke the low dialects of Pentos, Tyrosh, Myr, and Lys, and the trade talk of sailors. The Volantene dialect was as new to him as it was to Tyrion, so every day they learned a few more words whilst Haldon corrected their mistakes. Meereenese was harder; its roots were Valyrian as well, but the tree had been grafted onto the harsh, ugly tongue of Old Ghis...

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Even when we admit that George Martin has no linguistic knowledge, I don't see the references that confusing. Consider this: If you know a lot, and I mean a lot of Spanish you might get by in Portugal, Brazil and Italy, but you'll definitely have a lot of trouble in France and Romania, even when all those languages are romances and derived from latin. Same thing happens here... obviously Martin uses terms such as "language" and "dialect" quite haphazardly, but it makes sense that one can get by in Braavos, Myr and Tyrosh while not being able to speak in Volantis or Meereen.

About the Andal culture in the North, obviously is a license on the part of the author, I agree with you there. If we assume the Andal invasion was stopped at Moat Cailin it seems very implausible that the North adopted the Andal language. Also bear in mind that the Andals came around 6,000 years before Aegon's landing... in 6,000 years a lot can happen, this was never clearly explained, maybe they were slowly absorbed culturally because of trade and such. One would expect the North to be as unique culturally as Dorne is, but the Rhoynar came to Dorne around 700 years before Aegon's landing... compare it to the 6,000 years of the Andals. And even the Dornish speak the Common Tongue, how can the northerners not speak it after being a way longer time influenced by the South?

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Even when we admit that George Martin has no linguistic knowledge, I don't see the references that confusing. Consider this: If you know a lot, and I mean a lot of Spanish you might get by in Portugal, Brazil and Italy, but you'll definitely have a lot of trouble in France and Romania, even when all those languages are romances and derived from latin. Same thing happens here... obviously Martin uses terms such as "language" and "dialect" quite haphazardly, but it makes sense that one can get by in Braavos, Myr and Tyrosh while not being able to speak in Volantis or Meereen.

About the Andal culture in the North, obviously is a license on the part of the author, I agree with you there. If we assume the Andal invasion was stopped at Moat Cailin it seems very implausible that the North adopted the Andal language. Also bear in mind that the Andals came around 6,000 years before Aegon's landing... in 6,000 years a lot can happen, this was never clearly explained, maybe they were slowly absorbed culturally because of trade and such. One would expect the North to be as unique culturally as Dorne is, but the Rhoynar came to Dorne around 700 years before Aegon's landing... compare it to the 6,000 years of the Andals. And even the Dornish speak the Common Tongue, how can the northerners not speak it after being a way longer time influenced by the South?

But Daenerys arrives at Slaver's Bay, and has no trouble at all to understand their language; the way she thinks, it seems as it were the same language as the one spoken at the Free Cities, save a few words.

Tyrion, on the other hand, thinks of all the languages spoken at the Free Cities as completely different to each other; he can't speak with the volantenes, but a bit later he has no trouble speaking with the ghiscarian slaves he meets.

Using your analogy, Dany is like somebody who thought of italian, spanish and portuguese as exactly the same language, and when arrived to France for first time understood french perfectly and thought that french was identical to spanish save a few words. And Tyrion would be like somebody who speaks a bit of spanish, can't understand italian at all, but has no trouble communicating in french. The languages/dialects seem almost identical in one chapter and completey different in the next one.

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Well, exactly that is what I mean when I say he used these references quite haphazardly. I think he would make such references each time not paying a lot of attention to what was previously said, because, as I said, he surely has no linguistic knowledge to speak of. He did this 'by ear' I guess.

Also maybe this depends on how much of High Valyrian know Daenerys and Tyrion respectively and their linguistic abilities. Maybe Daenerys was much proficient in High Valyrian and also likes learning languages while Tyrion really just knows it to a useful degree and does not like them. Some english-speaking friends can see similarities between French and Spanish when to me is clearly more similar to Italian than French. But in any case, it is, undoubtedly a matter of Martin's lack of a linguistic background.

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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.

I like this discussion a lot -- I could easily see an expanded version of this being publishable. Check out the call for GoT as History papers in the General ASOIAF section.

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Hi I'm new here so be nice :) . Have a disability that means my spelling is dreadful so apologies for mistakes.

To summarise my feeling is

a) This is a huge problem GRRM has left which he could have solved.

B) It's likely that language for whatever reason changes much more slowly on their world than ours

c) The fiath in particular may out of concern for a 'holy tongue' work hard to stop too much language change

d) therre's some possiblity the Iron Islands and the North speak a different tongue

d) the clergy of the Drowned god and the laity of the Old Gods may play a similar role to the Fiath in standarzing language anyway-that or their lords don't want to be too cultrually excluded.

e) Outside Westeors the picture makes a lot more sense anyway .

explanation below

This is undoubtably one of the worst gaps in Martins (generally excellent) world building. To be honest it'd have been much better if he'd just said all humans have the same language in the world (maybe magic like the Seasons?) . That would make more sense. One big leap instead of an absurdity, Maybe there was no Tower of Babel/ magic slows language change in their world?

As to making make sense-Maybe one can go for a weaker one- languages change less naturally on the Planet ASIF than on Earth. It takes onger for them to diverge (the source of both dialetcs and languages)

- IN terms of some cultrual /additional explanation . think the best solution is the Faith actually. The Seven Point Star seems to be in normoal Westori no? This is one way the Faith of the Seven is almost the opposite of Medieval Catholicism ( unlike the man parallels) . Maybe the Faith inssits on none of the words being replaced in the The Seven Point Star- the 'sacred tongue' must be known by all believers ? That might explain the uniformity- the Septons work. to stop any changes in words particularly in written form. (as opposed to new ones) and it may even be regarded as mildly blasphenous. IT also explains how Sam can read such old texts- Obviously his v smart and well educated so may be reading them in 3 or 4 tongues, but he wouldn't need scores the way he would in real life. This need not be absolute but could be very strong.

This of course leaves real problems for the North and the Iron Islands where they don't accept the faith. A few thougths- do they have the same language? -particularly in the Iron Islands. maybe 'nuncle' is actually part of a much different language- nearly al lthe Iron Island scences are Iron islanders only talking to each o ther- and most of the other discussion /travelled. Ditto for the North. In fact pepole never seem to comment Arya or Sansa have a Northern Accent - maybe they're fluent speakers of another language (if ur v fluent a 'regional' accent is less likely) .

Alternatively /additionally maybe the Religious leadership plays a similar role in the North/ Iron Islands (and this might even by the same/ almost identicial) language. The Iron Isla nds the Drowned God priests seem as well organised, powerful and more or less united (if a lot more brtual) as the Faith. The Old Gods iare more complicated but though they lack a priesthood and services they seem to have a remarkable amount of unity- there are fairly clear moral taboos which are ascribed to them on slavery etc ( and this does not just seem to be a copy of the Faith- Roose bolton at least suggests that the Old Gods are much more ok with liege lords sleeping with their subordinates wives on the first light and ) . This suggests some kind of organisation to acknowledge those agreemetns which might also have the concept of a 'sacred tongue' . Alternatively the lords may just push it v hard to avoid being too distant from the South. Bear in mind even if the North is a different language we still have to explain why the North hasd a common tongue with each other.

The religious explanation expressed does get some evidence from the wilderlings. The only people in Westori to be nither iron born or Faith or what one might call 'Stark Old gods' are the Wildlings. ( who seem not to share a lot of the taboos e.g incest, slavery and in some cases worship their leaders , others etc rather than the old gods) And about of them speak the 'old tongue' (which we hear little of so may be old tongues) . Given how few wildlings there are and the numbrer who see mto be deserters/ descendents of recent deserters from the North those e.g Mance and Ygritte can easily be explained on those grounds.

The free cities I think is much less difficult- given how sophisticated and reliant on trade they are having distinct dialets that blur lur into closely related languages makes sense. the Dany /Tyrion difference is the difference between someone who grew up arond there vs a lifelong inhabitant of monolingual Westeros. Moroever with Dolkothi etc it's not clear how close the tongue is (and they have a religous leadership that could promote standdization anyway) .

A lot of the linguistic problems come from how ridiculously long the history is -which is one of my biggest gripes against the books backstory actually (two tiny lords have fought each other for 2 millenium! -absurd) . Lucikly there are some hints the length of the history has been grossy exaggerated.

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A lot of the linguistic problems come from how ridiculously long the history is -which is one of my biggest gripes against the books backstory actually (two tiny lords have fought each other for 2 millenium! -absurd) . Lucikly there are some hints the length of the history has been grossy exaggerated.

Well, I'm right there with you in all this. The thing about the time is to be expected... it is a common topic of fantasy in general, just think about the history of MIddle-Earth, from the fall of Atlantis to the War of the Ring there have been +3,000 years, and more than 3,000 in the previous age. So that comes as no shocker.

About the languages in Westeros, I agree is very implausible, seems unlikely. But let's not forget that in Lotr from Arnor to Gondor they all spoke Westron. Yes, Tolkien did made a note about how there are some different languages, such as the Rohirrim, who, nonetheless speak perfect Westron. Also Ghan-buri-ghan speaks great English or Westron if you prefer, even though this might not be his native tongue. I think maybe it would have sufficed for Martin to say that they don't all speak 1 language, but that they all know it and are bilingual, that is not so far-fetched, take Ireland or Scotland during the Middle Ages.

The thing is the years and the immensity of the continent, two things that are to be expected in the genre, the enormity and the long years.

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Arguing whether First Men or the Andals were Germanics or Celts is pointless because they're neither. They're fictional people both sharing Celtic and Germanic traits, because George drew inspiration from them.

Now back to language. There are probably dozens of dialects based on the Common Tongue all over Westeros. There are probably a semi standardized "higher" form of the Common Tongue spoken by the nobility, the Maesters and the Septons etc. But when the Common Tongue replaced the Old Tongue is hard to tell. Was it with the Andal invasions or did it happen before that? The North obviously speak in the Common Tongue and some Wildlings seem to speak it too, that would put the creation of the Common Tongue to the pre- Andal period.

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Arguing whether First Men or the Andals were Germanics or Celts is pointless because they're neither. They're fictional people both sharing Celtic and Germanic traits, because George drew inspiration from them.

Now back to language. There are probably dozens of dialects based on the Common Tongue all over Westeros. There are probably a semi standardized "higher" form of the Common Tongue spoken by the nobility, the Maesters and the Septons etc. But when the Common Tongue replaced the Old Tongue is hard to tell. Was it with the Andal invasions or did it happen before that? The North obviously speak in the Common Tongue and some Wildlings seem to speak it too, that would put the creation of the Common Tongue to the pre- Andal period.

Not at all!! Why? Many native americans learnt and spoke English and that doesn't mean they knew it before the English-speakers came to the continent!

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Usually when you have a ruling party as long as the Targs. holding power over that many kingdoms. you might have small pockets. but most of the people would speak one language.

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Usually when you have a ruling party as long as the Targs. holding power over that many kingdoms. you might have small pockets. but most of the people would speak one language.

Sure, but it's very unlikely that this language will remain intact for thousands of years.

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The Northerners probably use the Common Tongue because of some long forgotten migration to the South, maybe during the Long Night, who knows. Also, speaking the Common Tongue is also a matter of status, like saying "yes, we own a Maester".

When look you at Craster it's easy to understand why the Wildlings living near the Wall speak the Common Tongue. It's just advantageous.

Now, talking about dialects, I can't remember a dialogue between Northern and Southron commoners, so maybe the small people from the North can't really understand the Common Tongue spoken by the small people south of the Neck. We have lettered characters doing all the talk, so it's hard to infer how its like among the 99%.

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I don't think that's a problem, again, the real problem is the endurance of this form of the language. In 500 years the English language changed radically, but this language seems to be intact for thousands of years. That's not very realistic.

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I don't think that's a problem, again, the real problem is the endurance of this form of the language. In 500 years the English language changed radically, but this language seems to be intact for thousands of years. That's not very realistic.

Are you talking about Samwell Tarly reading old tomes at the Castle Black? How about we say there's a classical/traditional written form of the Common Tongue?

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Remember what they speak in the south is likely not the pure andal language, which was probably lost when the andals invaded westeros (it would make more sense if the seven pointed star was in the native language of the andals and standard writing was in the common tongue (though with the same basic writing system)), and integrated with the native first men.



I suppose that the common tongue could have spread to the north through the nobility and the maesters, the lords learn to write and along side that learn to speak the southron language, and the smallfolk begin to speak a language more akin to that of their lords.



Of course for this to be plausible the north (at least the peasants in the north) would have to have to speak a very different dialect to that of the south, which doesn't seem to be the case. The common tongue is obviously just for George's convenience, which is fair enough.


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