Notes on a Common Tongue

Copyright Phillip A. Ellis © 2013

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"One of the more unrealistic aspects of the Game that Shall Not be Named is its reliance on what it calls the Common Tongue."

Arguments For and Against a Lingua Franca in Rolemaster

One of the more unrealistic aspects of the Game that Shall Not be Named is its reliance on what it calls the Common Tongue. This, we may remember, is derived from The Lord of the Rings and it is, in its game incarnation at least, a rather silly notion.

This does not mean that it cannot be used in a modified form.

In the real world during the Mediaeval age, there was one such common tongue among the Western European countries. That language was Latin, used in the universities and the monasteries, and among the clergy. This did not mean that many of the laity knew Latin, rather that there was a means for the people of diverse countries to communicate. A German soldier could feasibly speak to a German-speaking monk, who would speak in Latin to a French-speaking cleric who would translate what was said into French, so that a peasant would understand.

This use of a common tongue meant that the educated would have more than one language, a situation we find in the various iterations of Rolemaster. We see it also now, with people from many nations speaking language; as an added complexity, many of these nations have their own dialect or dialects of English. So, we have, for example, Indian English, and Singaporean English, among others. Elsewhere we find pigins and creoles serving as a lingua franca between tribal speakers and the speakers of colonial languages,

What does this mean for Rolemaster?

What it means is that there can and should be a language (or suite of languages) that are used by scholars, travelers, merchants, diplomats, the clergy, and adventurers (among many). As in real life, the language should have prestige enough that elements of it, primarily in the form of spelling and vocabulary, are adopted by the languages it unites. Think, for example, about the adoption of French words in English, and Russian, among others, from its long use as a language of diplomacy and culture.

Such a language can be said to be a common tongue, but not a Common Tongue.