In the world of my RPG, a race of sentient magical beings (Lycans) have inhabited the planet much longer than even those of early humans. Lycans eventually experimented with human biology, and created their own human mutation (Phorian). Lycans and Phorians stayed separated from humans in their own settlements, with actual interaction being very, very rare.

In the distant past, the differing human kingdoms on the various continents had their own distinct languages. As time progressed, humans began to grow increasingly wary of the Lycans and Phorians, believing they were planning to essentially commit genocide on all humans. (Long story short, they eventually did, in a way) In response, the kingdoms decided to unify and adopted a common language to remove any kind of barrier between communicating with one another.

This language adoption obviously wouldn't happen overnight, but how could this feasibly be done/explained? How could languages that were probably ingrained in a culture for hundreds of years be forgotten?

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    $\begingroup$ There are many examples of this happening in the real world. For example the adoption of Hindi in India and Putonghua (often called Mandarin) in China as official national languages. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this a very common situation? How many languages are spoken in France? How many languages are spoken in Germany? How many languages are spoken in Italy? Do you know how many languages were spoken on those territories, let's say, 300 years ago? (Many.) Do you know whether they were all related? (No.) Or, if you prefer ancient history: have you ever heard of the Roman Empire? In the end, there were only two languages, Latin and Greek; what happened to Gaulish, Celtiberian, Iberian, Venetic, Etruscan, Macedonian, Thracian, Dacian, Phrygian, Lydian, and so on and so on? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ Required reading: 1984. Only differs from your question in that it was a single language being replaced, rather than multiple languages. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Seriously, I'm tempted to down-vote this question for lack of research, and vote to close it as story based (particularly regarding the destroying of writings). Also, we require that you only ask one question per question - you have asked three. Please edit down to one question, you are welcome to ask related questions in a different thread and even hyperlink them. I'm voting to put on hold as "needs more focus" 'till you can edit to clarify. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ There are currently ~6,000 languages in use on Earth, and only half are still being taught to children. That means thousands of languages will go extinct in the next few decades. On the other side, there are now about 1.5 billion English speakers, about 20% of all humans, and more every day. So, just look around you to see how it can happen. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


Give people enough of an incentive to use a common language and they will. There are many incentives.

  1. "Use a common language or die!"

This is a traditional incentive, and as long as it can be enforced over a generation or two, it will probably work.

But I can't think of any successful large-scale cases of this, though I'm sure there have been some. (Perhaps in the USSR?)

  1. The common language is the language needed to get ahead and is the prestige language

When a common language is the language of commerce, the language of good jobs, the language used by the most admired people, there is a strong force for its adoption.

This one, especially with some #3 rolled in is the most common: Consider the spread of Latin in Western Europe. The Romans didn't care what people spoke as long as they paid their taxes, served in the army, and didn't rebel. But Latin rather quickly completely replaced dozens of native languages.

Likewise, Greek came close to the same success in big parts of Alexander's empire, though I don't think it ever became the region's cradle tongue.

  1. The common language is the language of the conquerors

This is something like both #1 and #2, but different, also. Here the conqueror doesn't impose a new language by threats, but simply makes it the language of public administration.

As English-speakers, we're proof this doesn't always work. Norman French was the language of the Conqueror and of English government for a couple of centuries, but there just weren't enough Normans among all the Anglo-Saxons to do more than help mold Old English into Middle English.

I suspect there are cases where it has worked, but I can't think of any.

  1. People are speaking related languages or dialects and they merge

Quite common: Most of the major European languages (in fact, all, probably) are the result of the merger of multiple barely mutually intelligible dialects.

You might also look at how Aramaic became such a widely-spoken language, as it certainly displaced a variety of earlier languages.

The other approach is to look for cases where a widespread second language (e.g., English in the modern world) somehow became everyone's cradle language without everyone being part of the same polity as it Roman Europe.

But whatever the process (except for a really bloodthirsty application of #1) it's going to take a couple of generations, and the first generation to speak the koine from birth will be that generation who never knew anyone born before the process started.

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    $\begingroup$ The USSR was much more something like point 2 with a dash of point 3, than point 1. Something sort of like point 1 was done in France, but even there it was not at all a matter of "speak French or die", but rather "speak French or you will repeat the year"; that is, it applied in elementary school to children, not to adults. (And, of course, in the U.S.A., Brazil etc. as applied to the imported African slaves; not many traces of Lingala, Kikongo and so on in African-American-English.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ "Use or die" seems like a good way to generate resistance. You're probably better off using positive incentives and propaganda, i.e. make it beneficial to use the desired language. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew I find not dying pretty beneficial, personally. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew: That's basically what #2 and #3 are. I suppose you could set up "#2.5: We'll pay you $200/day to use our new language" but as far as I know, no one has ever done anything like that. This leads me to think that it's a lot less likely than all the things that have actually been done. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ VLAZ, threats create resentment. Mark, I was thinking more along the lines of convincing people that their lives will be improved somehow by using the "new" language. For instance, try to convince people the new language will improve how they communicate, improve their social standing, or even sillier things like 'it will make you smarter' (it is propaganda, after all). $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 16:01

You may find the best place to get ideas for this from Chinese history.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated process, the government mandated that there be only one written language, and enforced that mandate (or in the case of your world, perhaps multiple kingdoms agreed on one for the purpose of successful trade). Since the government controls education, they have the power to enforce certain written standards.

What, to me, is most interesting there, is that two people who may not be able to speak to each other could still exchange notes (you could even modify it to sign language instead of written language, for more interesting story elements).

Mix in a cultural revolution where the people destroy all historical documents and history teachers because they do not agree with the new dictator (once again, real world history), and you end up with "languages that were probably ingrained in a culture for hundreds of years" being forgotten.

  • $\begingroup$ No, written Mandarin cannot be read in English or in Japanese. It doesn't work this way; the Chinese actually write their real language (currently Mandarin, formerly Classical Chinese), and trying to read the characters in another language won't produce intelligible sentences. It doesn't even work between Modern Standard Mandarin and Classical Chinese, and they actually use (almost) the same (large) set of characters. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I think he's talking among Chinese dialects, where they can't necessarily understand each other's spoken dialect, but all read the same written language. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ @GrandmasterB: That depends on what you mean by the phrase Chinese dialects. Some of those "dialects" are full-blown different languages, with long and proud histories, literature, etc. For example, the last common ancestor of Cantonese (the language of Hong-Kong, Guangzhou etc., 60 million native speakers) and Modern Standard Mandarin (the national language of the People's Republic) was spoken 2000 years ago. One cannot write a text in Modern Standard Mandarin and read it in Cantonese or viceversa; the languages are too different. They only look similar because both use Sinitic characters... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP and GrandmasterB, in fairness I must admit I can claim no deep expertise on the topic, only that I saw it in a documentary once and found it interesting and memorable. But I'm sure the richness of Chinese culture and language is not easily simplified. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 16:42

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