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Gods in this world are not physical beings, but instead a consciousness that can span a great distance. They think many times faster than a human, but lack the ability to multitask--so they can observe a whole continent with a coarse grain knowledge of what is happening, or "zoom in" on specific cities or even individuals to "see" much more detail, but not both at once. This can happen very quickly, but due to the lack of control over what they can see at any one time (and they absolutely cannot be observing two different points at the same time), gods usually choose to delegate their will to mortals.

From comments: Gods usually choose to interact directly with humans via projections and don't personally have issues with language, but as this suffers from their inability to handle multiple tasks at once they can't really manage the translation themselves or teach a language to their chosen.

How can such a god ensure that all humans in a finite area speak the same language? It doesn't want to have to wait for two mortals empowered to enact its will to stumble through learning to communicate with one another even if they were born and raised on opposite ends of its domain.

Euphemisms, dialects, and accents are free to change. The god only cares that they can understand one another.

The god would like to avoid any modifications to the humans it talks to, because bad things can happen if it tries to modify someone too much (a different plot issue entirely), but it is willing to do very minor modifications if necessary to your answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ So this being is more like the kami of Japanese folklore, or even a material or energy being with advanced knowledge and capabilities in biological and nano sciences (see Soul Rider, Jack Chalker). Given that they are regional, Do all gods have a need to interact with humans? Is the relationship more of a partnership (Naruto and Kurama), a owner -> pet, or a domestication? Do all gods in this world relate in the same way with humans? $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy May 26 '17 at 4:11
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Assuming the gods have been around since the start of humanity makes it a much easier problem.

While there is only a few humans the gods directly teach them the desired language. They then pick people as humanity spreads and breaks apart into different groups and tasks them with the responsibility to teach the given language in that city or tribe to the next generation. Gods insist that their language is the only way to understand the gods and thus any group of people that do not follow it, will not understand the gods, which is in a way its own punishment, since any tribe or city that is not getting the advice from the gods is not going to last very long.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a better worded explanation of what I was thinking, but I was also hoping for ideas on how it could prevent linguistic drift. Or would that not be an issue if it makes sure everyone speaks the same language from the start? $\endgroup$ – RobyD Nov 30 '16 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ The Gods need to pick teachers who are not linguisticly drifting. Once there are too many teachers to do that with, then the Gods need to create an extra layer like the Quebec Board of the French Language $\endgroup$ – Anketam Nov 30 '16 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ That works for me! Now I just need to decide how such a lazy god would implement such a Board... $\endgroup$ – RobyD Dec 1 '16 at 2:00
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If your god doesn't mind killing some humans, he would choose the most commonly spoken language. Anyone who doesn't speak that languange suddenly becomes sick and dies after a few years.

People notice that people who can speak that language are not sick. Learning that languages somehow cures you. Eventually you end up with every one speaking the same language.

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    $\begingroup$ It, uh, definitely doesn't mind breaking a few eggs to get results. I like the idea of a plague visited on those who don't follow the rules, but if it has to pay attention enough to cure people who learn the "right" language that's a lot of time and effort =/ $\endgroup$ – RobyD Nov 29 '16 at 6:22
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Perhaps is a being is a god it has the ability to make the person understand without them ever knowing they are no longer conversing in their everyday speech.

If a person speaks more than one language, sometimes they might hear a language and don't even think that now they are hearing or speaking French. They just respond without thinking because they understand the language.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but when I hear the language of my birth, I lapse into it without thinking. I have spoken English primarily since my first school, so I do not need to think, "I am speaking English now." I just speak it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, that won't work for a reason I didn't put in the question. Modifying humans is a kind of gross task that has a lot of downsides, so when it's empowering someone it doesn't also want to worry about mucking about inside their brains to change the language they speak. Sorry about that! I'll add it to my question. $\endgroup$ – RobyD Nov 30 '16 at 2:45
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Easy peasy. The god choses P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus to be his language enforcement officer in Africa -- and quickly the Numidians, Afers, Carthaginians etc. speak Latin. Then then the god choses C. Julius Caesar to be his language-enforcement officer in Iberia and Gallia -- and quicky the Celts, Belges, Aquitanians, Celtibers, Iberians etc. speak Latin. And so on. How many peoples lost their inherited languages in favor of Latin? In favor of English? In favor of Spanish? In favor of Russian? Empires are great forces towards linguistic uniformity.

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  • $\begingroup$ But no one speaks Latin anymore, not since the Roman empire collapsed. It wants to do this in the laziest possible way since focusing on an individual human makes it lose sight on the bigger picture. How would it keep a nation collapsing while it's asleep or distracted from ruining linguistic unity? $\endgroup$ – RobyD Nov 30 '16 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ Hundreds of millions of people speak Latin; they just speak it very badly and call it Spanish, or Portuguese, or Franch, or Italian, or Romanian and so on. They speak it badly because when the empire collapsed the trade and education system also collapsed. This is what happens to linguistic unity when there are no schools and no trade to impose uniformity. A warning to the great empires of the day: never assume that your power will last forever if you don't take care of it. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 30 '16 at 5:04
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I think it is very simple. God should speak. People will follow such language. Look real world. Hebrew is still spoken, because it was the language of God. Arabic is learnt in a lot of non-Arabic countries, because it is the language of Koran. Latin was still used a lot of centuries after normal people stop to use it, because it was the language of church.

So I think there will be huge incentive to learn language used by God.

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  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't talk to that many people though, it tries to avoid doing anything that take up all of its attention. A holy book(s) would work, though... $\endgroup$ – RobyD Nov 30 '16 at 2:35
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The Nice Way

Promote trade, and reward long-distance interaction. Build roads and inns to promote travel. Make your followers build schools and churches, and teach a common language in all of them. Mock or pity those who speak other languages; send plenty of kind-hearted missionaries to all corners of your domain to spread hope, love, and language. Over time, naturally, languages will blend, and while there may be other languages spoken, there will eventually be at least one common language; even in back-woods corners, there will be at least a translator.

The Fast Way

Pick the largest language group, pull out some holy zealots, and start killing anyone who speaks another language. Promote and reward anyone who speaks your language fluently; smite any hold-outs, using your flashiest and messiest powers, in the most public way possible. Burn books and other material written in other languages. A good portion of the non-holy-language-speaking population will be wiped out, but this guarantees that the entire area will speak a single language within a single generation. Next, of course, you'll need to go to war with those pesky neighbors...

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