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Learning to Love Exalted Linguistics

For Language Descriptions, go here

Okay, folks, here's my stab at Linguistics. As a bit of background, I am a firm believer in original rules, and only like to fix them when they're obviously, hideously broken. I'm not much of a house-ruler. The second point is that one of my favorite creative exercises is justifying things that may not make sense outwardly; this ability/hobby allows me to enjoy the Matrix sequels when others reach for the puke-bucket, for example. Third background point: I'm no linguist, but I do a bit better than the average Yankee: excellent American-English, can get around just fine in Lithuanian, and have picked up a decent bit of Japanese in the seven months I've been living here (still rather piss-poor at it). My mom tells me how my great-grandfather spoke eleven languages, and a guy I knew in high school from the Czech Republic could get by on half a dozen languages easy. The 3 languages I know are from totally different origins, and I can tell you this: they're all ridiculously difficult to learn if you're not native (Japanese being the easiest).

My main point: languages in Creation have absolutely no reason to function in the same way languages here on Earth do.

Earth languages are hideously messy. After only two or three generations, the Lithuanian I speak is archaic and old-fashioned compared to new Lithuanian immigrants, whose language has been incredibly Polishized and Russkified. Talk to any Brit to bear instant witness to 300-500 years worth of slowed (thanks to increases in correspondence) language split (and ask them to cuss-- it's hilariously silly-sounding). Why does language fragment so readily?

The Bible tells us God got pissed and smashed our Babylonian tongue into a thousand pieces so we'd stop being so damned arrogant. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, a milestone in cyberpunk literature, proposes that we used to all communicate on a deep, fundamental level (by means of what we'd call glossalia now) which then got ruined by the spreading of a kind of "memory virus," an infectious pattern of thinking that replaces normal thought patterns (I like to think that all those people you know who have no sense of humor other than Simpsons, Seinfeld, Chapelle Show or Family Guy quotes are suffering from a similar thought-virus problem). Some dude at Ancientscripts.com posts a few ideas on why languages change, and they're worth looking at.

Since I'm going to be tackling languages in a fictional setting, I have no problem using fictional speculation for our current Earthly language problem in an attempt to justify stuff.

In our mythology, language got HUMPED in an aggressive, probably undesired, way. Anyone that studies a language instantly feels how hard it is, how counter-intuitive it can be. I don't think its hard to imagine some paranormal or unknown phenomenon resisting our efforts to learn grammar. However, the more languages one learns, the easier they get to learn (as attested by my great-grandpops and my Czech buddy, and I imagine many Eastern Europeans who are trapped between much more powerful civilizations). I hear the new WoD tackles this, but I only saw it in WW's Trinity, where each language dot gave you exponentially more languages. I thought this was crazy at first (before I knew anything), but in a much more realistic and grittier setting (such as the Aeon Trilogy), it mirrors our Real Life way a bit more. It's the only way to incorporate multi-lingualisticalism into a word where there are anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 distinct languages.

The Age of Sorrows, with a surface area easily as large, if not larger, than Earth's has a dozen core languages. What the fuck.

As I believe FlowsLikeBits mentions, Old Realm is spoken by gods (probably hard-wired into them by those wacky Primordials), gods who have recently come to enjoy rubbing elbows with mortals. The best way to keep a language solid and pure is to be in constant contact with a solid and pure source (assuming, of course, that people who study English in college will speak better English than those who drop out of high school). If what is essentially the source of ALL LANGUAGE, Old Realm, is still in constant use, then it stands to reason that language won't drift too much, keeping the number of languages relatively low.

Especially if there is no Curse of Babel.

It seems the greatest source of language drift is, surprise surprise, the Wyld purity of the elemental poles. In each Direction a new language forms, and the Barbarians of each direction speak even more fragmented languages. As Creation thins, so does the method of communication in mortal minds. Despite this, there is no outside force ensuring that languages fragment as soon as possible. Luna and the Unconquered Sun have better things to do than piss in the language centers of their people. So, assuming us Real Lifers have an active curse from the Lord Our Father, or a meme-virus working against our language centers, we can guess that Creationites don't have this. Their language fragments as their world fragments, instead of by default human nature.

This language fragmentation probably didn't exist in the First Age, and I'll be so bold as to wager it DEFINITELY didn't exist in the Zeroth Age. That ship was run TIGHTLY. All of a sudden, oh god, the Solars are assholes and now they're dead and berserk storytelling Princes of Chaos are slicing up Creation into dream and stuff is not so hot anymore. The forces of madness take their toll on the world, and mortal language centers suffer, knowing unintentional language fragmentation for the first time ever (as I assume ciphers have always been sought out, their being handy and all).

It's a shame, then, that the Primordials didn't design minds to have to figure out multiple languages.

As a result, learning another language is an increasingly taxing effort on the mind, Exalt or not, and so XP costs rise exponentially with each language learned. Like in our own world, the mastery of more languages reveals common threads and opens up mental pathways between languages, as Linguistics rolls allow- but true mastery is something the Creation-born mind simply is not designed to do.

Thus, the shitty Linguistics system of Exalted. It may not be accurate to how things are in Real Life, but a Wyld storm just turned that ship over there into a floating mushroom. And I like to think my theory at least justifies why the language system is shitty, and even allows you to feel good about charging all that XP. Exalts (especially the Eclipse caste) still get to rock out on the language thing, being demigods and all that, but they still can't escape the FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURING of the MIND that makes mastery of each new language an additional burden on their intellect.

God, I've wanted to write that for a long time. Please feel free to throw forth your ideas and responses and ideas and questions and ideas and speculations.

Let's Enjoy Commenting Together

First of all, oi you lily-livered excuse for a greasy stain on the pavement, how dare you call British swearing silly sounding (I refuse to comprehend the word cuss, now that's a stupid word). ;)

Anyway, wonderful ideas. It all makes sense now. I am forced to wonder, are you the Architect because surely he would be the only one to make sense of the Matrix prequels. -- Somori

Cuss is a fuckin' kick-ass word, you cock-smokin' sumbitch! :) (Huge apologies to obscenity-sensitive Wikizens, just makin' a joke after watching too much Tourette's Guy) American swearing's intensity is in direct proportion to our obscene military spending. Conversely, the worst thing a Japanese person can say is a small four-syllable word that means "You have poop on your anus." Which is pretty cool. But I digress! Somori, do you see no flaws in my speculation? --UncleChu
Apart from the fact it's a justification of an ability that may not have been thought out fully by WW? Not really. You've explained why there's too many languages for one man to master them all but that isn't thematically appropriate for the Solar Exalted (among others). It makes perfect sense for Mortals to be forced to behave like this and underlines the fact that Creation is drifting apart.
I still think that Exalts should be capable of learning all known languages, *somehow*. I think I'll continue this line of thought on Discussions/Language. -- Somori
I don't have my book handy, but don't Charms, the things that let Exalted be godly, let them break the barriers of mortal limits? There's magic that lets them circumvent the linguistic limitations of their humanity. But are you thinking there should be a way for Exalts to just be able to learn all languages in a more mundane way? That's certainly fair. Maybe once they hit Linguistics 5, they can get a set, flat XP rate on new languages after that. I guess I would just want to avoid a whole new box on a character sheet for languages and their individual proficiency levels. --UncleChu