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My world is a medieval high fantasy setting. Dragons are one of the many denizens of the world. They speak a complicated language. Humans and other common races know most dragons to be cunning, intelligent, wise. Dragons consider most races to be subordinate to them. Does it make sense for the common humanoid species to be able to speak the dragon language and Vice versa? Or would they have a different way of speech, thus making them unable to speak the common languages of humanoids and vice versa? Thanks

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  • $\begingroup$ If the story requires dragons to speak with humans, then one or more dragons must speak Humanish, or one or more humans must speak Dragonish, or both. If the story requires that dragons and humans cannot communicate then dragons cannot learn Humanish, and humans cannot learn Dragonish. So, does your story require that dragons speak with humans, or does it require that dragons and humans cannot communicate? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 13 '20 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ I guess both. I would want there to always be a possibility of communicating. $\endgroup$ – Destructive Wolf Aug 13 '20 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ We have already been able to "decipher" bits of some animal communication patterns, and we can learn Asian languages (some of which can be seen as significantly more complex than English) so if you wish for them to be able to communicate, unless they use completely different methods (like squids communicating via skin patterns rather than vocal ones) it shouldn't be too far fetched to assume it's possible. $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex Aug 13 '20 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Apart from different throat/larynx configuration that could render one species unable to produce certain sounds pertinent to the speech of the other, you would need to consider incentives. Does it benefit dragons to understand human language (or do they consider them mindless pray)? Do humans think they stand to gain from learning the dragon tongue (or do they consider them vile beasts unworthy of parlay)? If there's enough incentive, they might well develop some form of pidgin $\endgroup$ – crizzis Aug 13 '20 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Bethesda called, they want Skyrim back. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Aug 13 '20 at 22:15
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Some might, some might not. It depends on various factors.

What is the motivation for a dragon to speak with humans? It might want to communicate to demand tribute, the return of stolen goods and the punishment of the theft, or merely for humans to not encroach on its hunting grounds. If these are sufficient reasons, it will need some way to communicate. If not, not.

What are its alternatives to learning the common language? Perhaps other intelligent beings could learn draconic and act as translators, though that would require being willing to teach them their language, and trusting them to translate faithfully. Perhaps there are magical devices that can be used to translate. Much depends on how difficult the relative ways are. And especially, if the dragons are typical, whether learning the language is cheaper than getting the device.

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A few different options to consider:


Disdain

Assuming that a dragon needed to communicate with humanoids verbally, would they rather spend the time to learn to speak the humanoids' crude, rough languages, or would they prefer to listen to those humanoids butcher their attempts at the dragon's graceful, melodious one? That probably depends on the individual dragon.

Cunning

If you can speak/understand the languages of the people you're doing business with, and they can't speak yours, you have an advantage that they don't. Of course dragons are going to learn the humanoids' languages. Even if the dragons don't admit to knowing them, they certainly want to be able to overhear what the humanoids are whispering to one another about. And if they then make the humanoids address them in draconic--which is of course difficult to learn and awkward for them to speak--that again gives them an advantage. (And if you don't think this exact sort of manipulation happens in real-world boardrooms, then I would not recommend attempting to negotiate any international business deals. ;-) )

Intellect

Of course dragons can speak humanoid languages! It only took them like a week to learn them!

Age

Of course dragons can speak humanoid languages, but their speech patterns/pronunciations tend to be a few centuries out-of-date if they haven't been in regular contact with modern speakers of the language.

Physiology

Humanoids can't speak draconic -- their tongues don't articulate the right way. Dragons can't speak humanoid languages -- their lips can't make some of the sounds required. On the other hand, each side can learn to understand the other's language, so they can still communicate by speaking in their own languages normally.

One Language or Related Languages

Dragons have been around for so long and had so much influence in that time that Draconic is the common language. Different regions or cultures might have their own languages as well, but the "lingua franca" that's used everywhere is a descendant or dialect of Draconic. To make a real-world analogy, the Dragons are speaking Latin, and all the humanoids are speaking Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Or the Dragons speak British English and the humanoids speak American/Canadian/Australian/New Zealander/Etc English.)


Anyway, feel free to pick-and-choose from these (or the other answers) as best fits the needs of your story/world.

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How long does it take dragon's to learn to speak?

Humans may not live long enough to learn it, but smart people learn when desperate or obsessed enough.

Dwarves may learn a bit through their long travels and encounters in caves, but would most of them take the dedication to learn this complicated language?

Elves probably would get good at speaking with them over their lifetimes, easily becoming well versed enough to engage in deals with dragons, with formal language.

Dragons probably learn enough to terrorize their victims in common. or just quickly pick it up if they desire. But if they have their own rich language, i think the more noble dragons may not dirty their tongues with filthy monkey words

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I'll just limit this to dragons and humans for simplicity's sake.

Humans and other common races know most dragons to be cunning, intelligent, wise.

I'd say that this sentence means that some dragon would likely learn the language of humans as wisdom and intelligence are usually manifested in learning new things and wanting to know more in general.

Yes we can argue about that and I also your own setting needs to support it.

For example imagine the civilization of the dragon as being very advanced while humans are still in caves. Obviously they would be less inclined to learn our language as it seems that we have little to offer.

But imagine that we are below them but still have science and poetry and music and art and writing and so on. This will lead more of them learning our language to know more about the us and the world and all that.

Interestingly being high in openness is sometimes linked to intelligence so your dragons might just be extra curious.

As you truly believes that other viewpoints might be of value.

But also could be for many reasons.

Imagine a dragon king who rules over humans but is a pragmatic intelligent dragon so he leans the language of his subjects. This little political maneuvers is a favor of many monarchs and you can't deny the effect it has on people.

Similarly a dragon historian or a linguist...etc might be interested in learning the speech of the lesser races for obvious reasons.

Dragons consider most races to be subordinate to them

Again this might be subject to interpretation. For example is it a matter of pure strength? A matter of magical knowledge? A matter of ancient heritage? a matter of civilization?...etc

Anyway this might be an obstacle only if your dragon believe that humans have nothing of value. Yet if they are truly wise they know that wielding power alone is not connected to wisdom as much as using an automatic rifle to murder professors is not a sign of wisdom.

But it your setting. Perhaps they are as diverse as humans and some hold this believe while others hold that.

There is obviously the interesting point is that do humans/dragons/dwarves...etc can even biologically speak the other languages?

But, again, it is your story. So you can control that.

But there is much to be said for the mutual learning.

For example the dragons could take it as an insult if a lesser race person tried to learn their language. Perhaps they are aloof overlords or solitary creatures who are rarely seen.

This is a distinct possibility for practical reasons as well.

Imagine the race of dragons as ancient as time with access to knowledge and hidden arts and magic powers. This could mean that if you speak the language of the dragons and sneak into a library of theirs you could learn so much and gain so much power.

And it could be that dragons don't care about that. But the lesser races look upon the dragons with awe and so they, like we all saw happen history many many times, learn their language and think it a point of refinement and superiority to speak in the dragon tongue as it is the civilized tongue after all.

Heck. You can have your dragons despising their own complicated, ancient, and difficult language while humans adore it. Maybe they just use it because they can't learn other languages, biology probably, or tradition or whatever while the lesser races are so enamored by it that they suffer greatly to even learn the basics but think it is worth it while dragons are kinda meh about it.

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ALSO THE COMMON LANGUAGE OF...

The use of a common language on a world controlled by multiple intelligent species only makes good sense. I dare say many species wouldn't even HAVE an independent language, but instead would speak common instead. So your dragon wouldn't be speaking the common tongue of humanoids, but instead THE common tongue of dragons, humans(ugh), elves, trolls, wyverns (if they can speak), merfolk (where they can speak), etc. So ALL intelligent species on your world should be speaking a common tongue without possession or stigma.

If you want, you can mythologize this. Maybe all sentient species on your world have an ultimate common ancestor. Maybe they have a common creator race (Annunaki or some such). Perhaps the gods gave the language to the collective species in an effort to bring them all together. The possibilities are endless.

The true central facet is that the common tongue is common NOT because it is the adopted language of any mere species. It is something higher, nobler, and ultimately uplifting. Even if it IS a simple, crude thing that can't compete with Draconian for scope, clarity, and just plain BEAUTY. After all, it needs to be that way to be truly universal.

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Understand, but not speak.

Dragon language is like a mix of birdsongs and whale songs. There is no way a humanoid vocal apparatus could replicate the sounds they make. Dragon utterances are nuanced on many levels. The content of a sentence will in its structure contain references to prior sentences, sentences to come, other things in the environment past and present, the dragons mood, and more.

There is no way for people to speak it. But some can understand it - though not on the level the dragons do with each other. The humanoids who can understand dragons are valued as translators.

Dragons can learn humanoid tongues. Almost exclusively they learn song lyrics. Dragons are entranced by musical instruments, which they do not have but which they love. They also admire the pure tones of a gifted singer; pure tones are also difficult for them. Dragons are often more than willing to be paid in song and might request that a song to be repeated again and again until they can sing it.

A dragon interested in communicating with a humanoid will probably sing songs specific to that humanoid type. They consider that to be paying a compliment to the humanoid. It is a pretty inefficient way to communicate but dragons are not in a hurry.

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