Common language and culture defines a state just as much as borders,
cities, and government do. Each major nonhuman race speaks
its own language, and humans seem to generate dozens of languages
for no other reason than their lands are so widespread and communications
so chancy that language drift occurs over time. Hundreds
of human dialects are still spoken daily in Faerun, although
Common serves to overcome all but the most overwhelming obstacles
The oldest languages spoken in Faerun are nonhuman in origin.
Draconic, the speech of dragons, may be the oldest of all. Giant,
Elven, and Dwarven are also ancient tongues. The oldest known
human languages date back some three to four thousand years. They
come from four main cultural groups—Chondathan, Imaskari, Nar,
and Netherese—that had their own languages, some of which survive
today in altered forms after centuries of intermingling and trade.
THE COMMON TONGUE
All speaking peoples, including the humans of various lands, possess
a native tongue. In addition, all humans and many nonhumans
speak Common as a second language. Common grew from a kind of
pidgin Chondathan and is most closely related to that language, but
it is far simpler and less expressive. Nuances of speech, naming, and
phrasing are better conveyed in the older, more mature languages,
since Common is little more than a trade language.
The great advantage of Common, of course, is its prevalence.
Everybody in the Heartlands speaks Common well enough to get by
in any but the most esoteric conversations. Even in remote areas
such as Murghom and Samarach, just about everybody knows
enough Common to speak it badly. They might need to point or pantomime
in a pinch, but they can make themselves understood.
Natives of widely separated areas are likely to regard each other's
accents as strange or even silly, but they still understand each other.
The human and humanoid languages of Faerun make use of six sets
of symbols for writing: Thorass, a human symbology; Espruar, a
script invented by the elves; Dethek, runes created by the dwarves;
Draconic, the alphabet of dragons; Celestial, imported long ago
through contact with good folk from other planes; and Infernal,
imported through those outsiders of a fiendish bent.
A scribe whose name is lost to history invented the set of symbols
that make up the Thorass alphabet. Thorass is the direct ancestor of
today's Common tongue as a spoken language. Though no one speaks
Thorass anymore, its alphabet survives as the alphabet of Common
and many other tongues.
Espruar is the moon elven alphabet. It was adopted by sun elves,
drow, and the other elven peoples thousands of years ago. Its beautiful
weaving script flows over jewelry, monuments, and magic
Dethek is the dwarven runic script. Dwarves seldom write on that
which can perish easily. They inscribe runes on metal sheets or carve
in stone. The lines in all Dethek characters are straight to facilitate
their being carved in stone. Aside from spaces between words and
stashes between sentences, punctuation is ignored. If any part of the
script is painted for contrast or emphasis, names of beings and places
are picked out in red while the rest of the text is colored black or left
as unadorned grooves.
The three remaining scripts, Draconic, Celestial, and Infernal, are
beautiful yet alien, since they were designed to serve the needs of
beings with thought patterns very different from those of
humanoids. However, humans with ancient and strong cultural ties
to dragons (and their magic) or beings from far-off planes have
occasionally adapted them to transcribe human tongues in addition
to the languages they originally served.
Scholars at Candlekeep recognize over eighty distinct active languages
on Toril, not including thousands of local dialects of
Common, such as Calant, a soft, sing-song variant spoken in the
Sword Coast, Kouroou (Chult), or Skaevrym (Sossal). Secret languages
such as the druids' hidden speech are not included here, either.
A character's choice of race and region determines her automatic
and bonus languages. The information on Table 1-4: Character
Regions supersedes the automatic and bonus language information in
the Player's Handbook. However, the following languages are always
available as bonus languages to characters, regardless of race or
region: Abyssal (clerics), Aquan (water genasi), Auran (air genasi),
Celestial (clerics), Common, Draconic (wizards), Dwarven, Elven,
Gnome, Goblin, Giant, Gnoll, Halfling, Ignan (fire genasi), Infernal
(clerics), Orc, Sylvan (druids), Tcrran (earth genasi), and Undercommon.
Druids also know Druidic in addition to their other languages.
If a character wishes to know a language other than her automatic
and bonus languages determined by race, region, and the above list,
she must spend skill points on Speak Language to learn it.
Scholars and researchers of the obscure can name a number of dead
languages. These languages are often the antecedents of one or more
modern languages, but the original language is so different that it is
usually incomprehensible to one fluent in the modern tongue. None
of these languages has been a spoken, living language in thousands
of years, and it is doubtful that anyone in the world knows their
Language Alphabet Notes
Aragrakh Draconic Old high wyrm
Hulgorkyn Dethek Archaic orc
Loross Draconic Netherese noble tongue
Netherese Draconic A precursor of Halruaan
Roushoum Imaskari A precursor of Tuigan
Seldruin Hamarfae Elven high magic
Thorass Thorass Old Common
These languages can be recognized by anyone who knows how to
read the alphabet the language is written in, but the words are gibberish
unless the character used the Speak Language skill to buy the
ability to comprehend the dead language or succeeds on a Decipher
Script check against DC 25. Because Thorass is archaic Common and
still somewhat comprehensible to those who know Common, the DC
to read it is only 20. The only way to read something written in
Roushoum or Seldruin is to use a comprehend languages spell or to
succeed on a Decipher Script check against DC 30, since the alphabets
of these languages are no longer in use at all.
Table 3—2: Living LANGUAGES