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KingAlanI

Is Common Tongue really English?

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My theory is he may have been a Star Trek fan who had a faulty copy of a Klingon phrasebook and accidentally created his own language when he lost the book and tried to remember it in front of his friends.

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there is always someone that has to show off. It was probably the one that sat next to the driver with a camra t-shirt on telling him about the traffic jams he's been stuck in and which way he should go to avoid rush hour and those lights on the high street.

Valyrian was invented by ... That Guy?

No wonder the Targeryens were a bit overbearing. (Albeit cool.)

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I think it helps to look at this question first from a real-world vantage point. If a writer sits down to write a fantasy story, he will naturally write in his native language (English for GRRM), including dialog, and probably not give it a second thought. In many contexts, there is no reason to draw attention to language at all. The issue arises, however, when characters encounter foreign languages in the fantasy world. These foreign languages will be named, and probably some words or phrases will be used in the text. This raises the question of what language it is that the characters normally speak, and there may now be a need to name that language, instead of just taking it for granted.

Tolkien, being a linguist writing a work with linguistic motivations, could not bring himself to ignore such questions: his elvish and other languages were conceived as *actually* being spoken in Middle-Earth, while English of course could not be. To explain why most of the dialog was in English, Tolkien (in the appendices) adopted the conceit that he was a translator, rendering into English the original text of the Red Book of Westmarch, which was written in Westron, the language actually spoken in Middle Earth. He went so far as to extend this notion to using Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Norse language and words to stand for languages that had a relationship to Westron similar to that which those languages have to English.

In the text of the Lord of the Rings, characters refer to the language they speak as the Common Tongue.

Tolkien was so influential that many fantasy writers after him adopted this way of viewing the language used by their characters when their dialog is in English. A number even adopted Tolkien's expression "Common Tongue" (or sometimes "Common Speech" or just "Common"). The Dungeons and Dragons game did likewise, and so did a number of subsequent RPGs.

Sorry to be long-winded, but it's important to understand that there is long-standing tradition in fantasy of using "Common Tongue" and variants thereof in the way that Tolkien did.

In the invented-world types of fantasy, I've encountered a number of works that explicitly take Tolkien's stance (that English dialog stands in for an in-world language) and a larger number that simply don't bother with the question. It is not a question that a writer needs to answer to tell a good story, unless the relationships between different in-world languages becomes important for some reason. I don't believe I've ever read an invented-world fantasy in which the writer explicitly asserts that the in-world characters are actually speaking English. This would be a bizarre thing to do, and it seems like there would have to be some important reason to do so.

Given GRRM's obvious inspirations from medieval England, I suppose it is conceivable that he imagined his characters actually speaking the English language in-world, but then of course one would have to wonder why it is that they are speaking modern English sprinkled with a few GRRM-style archaisms, rather than medieval English.

Arguing that the existence of puns, wordplay, and other references to the actual words in dialog means Common must actually be English is to take Tolkien's conceit of the translator way to literally. There is no actual "translation" from some fully developed in-world language going on, nor are readers supposed to feel that there is. Readers are supposed to enjoy the story, and the writer will use all the tools at his disposal to make the prose entertaining. The Shire is no less inspired by England than is Westeros, and Tolkien's characters used puns, wordplay, and references to actual English words all the time. Any writer would be a fool to avoid such tools of the trade just to make the work seem like a (poor) translation from a foreign language.

I took more interest in the argument that if Westeros is enough like Earth to have heraldry, feudalism, swords and armor, horses, people, pigs, etc., why could it not have English as well?

It could of course, if GRRM decided he wanted it to. However, there is a pretty standard assumption in invented-world fantasies (again probably thanks to Tolkien), that things like geology, climate, plants and animals, and human technology such are pretty much as they are on Earth, with perhaps some fantasy additions, like dragons or magic rings. But what differs in the fantasy world are geography, history, and language. It's not logical that so much should be exactly like Earth, when the invented world is explicitly not Earth, but that is how it is very often done. It made sense for Tolkien, who conceived of his stories being set in a remote past of our own world, but most fantasies since have not used that rationale; it's just done because it's easier on both writer and reader to have all this "backdrop" that can be just taken for granted, so we can get on with the story and whatever novel fantasy elements it has. There's no indication that GRRM is trying to break this mold at all.

Given the widespread use of "common" in Tolkien's sense (an in-world lingua franca represented by English in the text of the book), and GRRM's repeated statements that he really doesn't care for worrying about languages in his writing, I think it is pretty obvious that he's using "common" in this same expected sense, or that he just hasn't given it a thought one way of the other.

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Thanks for spelling all that out in detail MaesterSuessomon. I agree 100%. GRRM hasn't provided an in-universe explanation for what the common language of Westeros is, and he doesn't need to.

If we take analysis to logical extremes, I do think we have to conclude that the characters are speaking English. But I don't think it's interesting or necessary to go to those extremes.

And that said, it does disappoint me that George isn't willing and able to provide a more nuanced sense of language. To me it's discordant with ASOIAF's depth and complexity. I think there's a reasonable middle ground between making up a few Dothraki and Valyrian words and creating the Elvish languages' syntax and vocabulary from whole cloth.

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One major aspect of Westeros that would point to the translation interpretation, is the place names. With few exceptions the place names of Westeros come in one of 2 flavours; Descriptive English phrases, (usually a composite of 2 English words) which are by far the most comon, and Places named after a person or a noble family. which make up nearly all of the remaining place names.

Linguistically speaking this makes no sense. Westeros is populated by 3 major cultures. Each of which originally had their own distinct languages. There should really be some element of this preserved in the names of towns and villages.

Just take a quick look at the place names of Great Britain. You'll find plenty of names in the westeros style, some of them even the same names, like Ashford or Ramsgate, but they're out numbered by names with their linguistic roots in a whole variety of languages. Latin, Norse, Germanic, Celtic, Gaelic. Often a place name will have elements of multiple languages, reflecting a change in culture of the area over the centuries A famous example being Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria, "Tor", "Pen" and "How" all meaning "hill" in Old English, Welsh and Danish respectivly

It really makes no sense to me that place names ranging from Salt shore all the way up to Hardhome should be so flat linguisticly speaking.

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hashbaz, Penguin king - I completely agree. All writers have their strengths and weaknesses, and GRRM is the first to admit that linguistic sophistication is not one of his. I also have mixed feelings about his character names. At first, I thought the variant spellings of familiar names gave a sort of Elizabethan (or earlier) flavor, which I appreciated. However, it's not done with much consistency or faithfulness to actual old spellings. At a certain point I just took to cringing every time we got yet another English name with a couple letters changed at random. I'm also not fond of nonstandard spellings in the narrative text itself ("ser" and "wayn", for example). They would be great if they appeared in the text of a letter or document, but it's odd to drop such things into narrative text that is otherwise standard modern English. Why just these few words? Why not archaic spellings for everything? The answer of course is that then the book would be a ridiculous pain to read. So these few variant spellings he chooses to use just seem arbitrary to me.

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The variant spellings and archaic words both help add to the medieval flavor without being so overbearing that they're a distraction. The TV show doesn't seem to use the archaic words, perhaps because visuals (costumes, setpieces, et cetera) help establish the medieval setting instead.



I know linguisticts was a big deal for Tolkien. That likely contributed to me finding LOTR's prose so dense (contrast that with my above comment about it not being an overbearing distraction with GRRM)



As for English text supposedly being a translation, it could be a non-literal translation that preserves things like wordplay.






The Black Dinner was not in Britain, the Red Wedding is based on the Massacre at Glencoe in Scotland.





I understand that the Red Wedding was based on both. Yes, Scotland was not par tof the United Kingdom at the time, but still, British Isles.


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Huh. I'd forgotten about this. I agree with what Lord Faramir said on the previous page. The Common Tongue cannot possibly be English. It makes no logical sense whatsoever, yet it is anyway. Bottom line is GRRM doesn't care about the linguistic side of it so there is no real right answer here.

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The common tongue is simply the language the book is printed in. Whichever language that happens to be.



If it was anything else, the entire book would be in another language and you wouldn't be able to understand it, or the entire thing would have to be said by a narrator instead of "in the minds/POV" of the established characters.



All the other languages are made up and named according to their lands, due to the fantasy element of the story. But yet they are still in "English" or your own native language (depending on where you live) so that you can understand them.



Do I believe George thinks the ACTUAL common tongue language IS IN FACT English (in this alternate universe), when these created individuals are speaking to each other on a different world? I don't think so. They are somewhere where England does not exist, where Winter can last a lifetime.



Haha, reread this and it sounds stupid. Amazing how impossible it is to articulate this point, when in fact it sounds like I'm countering my own thoughts by the end of the post. Oh well, I tried.


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Do I believe George thinks the ACTUAL common tongue language IS IN FACT English (in this alternate universe), when these created individuals are speaking to each other on a different world? I don't think so. They are somewhere where England does not exist, where Winter can last a lifetime.

As silly as it sounds, that is OP's claim.

P.S. Your avatar and sig are pure gold! :thumbsup:

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As silly as it sounds, that is OP's claim.

P.S. Your avatar and sig are pure gold! :thumbsup:

Thanks Lord F. I had the avatar up already and was feeling a little creative when I wrote the signature block. :cool4:

Combining my favorite movie with my favorite fantasy series...priceless!

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As silly as it sounds, that is OP's claim.

It's not silly at all.

For all intents and purposes, the common tongue is English. Since there are puns that only work in the english language, every character that speaks the common tongue certainly acts like he's truly speaking English - not like the Dothraki for example.

There's simply nothing to be gained by imagining, that it's a different language, which is translated loosely yet perfectly emulates the feel of English. You could also imagine, that it's first translated into Snarkish, and then into Grumpkinese, and then into English. Has the same effect: None.

The fact that no "England" exists in that parallel universe falls under suspension of disbelief. If you have problems with this, then you should have much bigger problems believing that humans, horses, dogs, lions etc. exist in this universe. Evolution would have gone down a completely different road. The same species evolving is much more unlikely than the same language evolving.

Yet you just accept it. Why not throw down the autism glasses and do the same with the common tongue?

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It's not silly at all.

The thing that is silly is insisting (as I think OP does) that the "real" in-universe characters are in fact speaking English to each other. That is a meaningless conclusion that commits the exact sin you and others (including myself) have pointed out.

For all intents and purposes, the common tongue is English. Since there are puns that only work in the english language, every character that speaks the common tongue certainly acts like he's truly speaking English - not like the Dothraki for example.

There's simply nothing to be gained by imagining, that it's a different language, which is translated loosely yet perfectly emulates the feel of English. You could also imagine, that it's first translated into Snarkish, and then into Grumpkinese, and then into English. Has the same effect: None.

The fact that no "England" exists in that parallel universe falls under suspension of disbelief. If you have problems with this, then you should have much bigger problems believing that humans, horses, dogs, lions etc. exist in this universe. Evolution would have gone down a completely different road. The same species evolving is much more unlikely than the same language evolving.

Yet you just accept it. Why not throw down the autism glasses and do the same with the common tongue?

This is my position exactly. See my posts above, and on the previous page:

Thanks for spelling all that out in detail MaesterSuessomon. I agree 100%. GRRM hasn't provided an in-universe explanation for what the common language of Westeros is, and he doesn't need to.

If we take analysis to logical extremes, I do think we have to conclude that the characters are speaking English. But I don't think it's interesting or necessary to go to those extremes.

This question really is incoherent; it crosses the streams.

[snip]

The bottom line is that GRRM doesn't seem to care, and neither should we.

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As someone who has read the books both in their original English and in my native language, and who has also worked as a translator, I have to say that my personal conclusion is that the common tongue is very obviously and inescapably English.


A lot of people here are probably native English speakers who simply can not grasp how many word-plays in the books only work in the English language, including word-plays based on the names of characters (like Horas - horror and Hobber - slobber, and others...) which can only be translated "translated properly" if you change the names themselves! So if the characters really are named like that, then their language really is English.



Asking yourself: How did English get there? Is just like asking "Why does the Wall need to be 700 feet tall?" or "How do they survive 10 year long winters?" The answer is that GRRM didn't really think it through. That's all.



BTW, speaking of names, one more thing showing the stupidity of the "How did English get there?" argument:


People say that the backstory of Westeros doesn't account for them having a fully developed English vocabulary. But then, how does it account for them having a list of names that is even more diverse than what we see in actual English?


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But then, how does it account for them having a list of names that is even more diverse than what we see in actual English?

Why whould you say that its more diverse than the actual English? The way I see it, is its simply different. I always thought they have a different name culture. Maybe names are specifically made up to be unique?

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Why whould you say that its more diverse than the actual English? The way I see it, is its simply different. I always thought they have a different name culture. Maybe names are specifically made up to be unique?

Well, besides the usual English names, some Westerosi characters have also names like Jaime (Spanish), Cersei (I've heard it's from old Italian), Sandor (Hungarian), Arya (Sanskrit), etc... and that's even before we get to names that don't exist anywhere in our world, like some of the Lannisters and Targaryens have.

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