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Languages of the Realms

As for everything else - sentient races, rulers, gods, and year-numbering systems - there is a plethora of linguistic variety in the Realms. There are racial languages and regional dialects, professional symbols and secret tongues. There are five "universal" written languages, and as many differing individual languages as there are those to speak them.


Most people north and east of the Sea of Fallen Stars are semiliterate, that is, they know enough of the written language to get by in their daily lives. The fact that written language is not universally understood accounts for many of the specialized sigils and runes within the Realms, as well as the popularity of bards.

Literacy is most common among the upper and more professional classes. It is also assumed to be common among most adventuring companies, and considered as much a survival skill as trapping or swimming. Westgate, southern Sembia, and perhaps Hillsfar in the Heartlands and Waterdeep on the Sword Coast are predominantly literate areas. Elsewhere one must "trust to your tongue," as wayfarers say.

In game terms, the DM may choose to make understanding the written versions of languages automatic for those who can speak them - if you can speak common you may read and write common as well. This is the easiest approach to language within the Realms, though not particularly accurate. In reality, reading or writing one of the five languages should be counted as a separate language proficiency from speaking the same tongue.

Common Tongue: Almost all intelligent creatures one might encounter can understand and speak common (the trade tongue of humans, spoken with little variance all across the known Realms), although they may pretend not to. From region to region of the Realms, common may have different accents and slightly different vocabularies as it .becomes influenced by other local human and nonhuman tongues. While a native of Thay will be able to communicate with a denizen of Baldur's Gate, each will be aware of the other's ridiculous accent. In a similar fashion, nonhuman tongues each belong to the same linguistic tree, so that elves native to Evereska, Evermeet, and the Elven Court may understand each other (barring, again, local dialects and accent). To humans, the elven "common tongue" is referred to simply as elvish, and the dwarven "common tongue" as dwarvish. The written common tongue, which is presented in these writing as English, is a descendent of Thorass, the original trade language. Most individuals use runes for conveying information.

Thorass (Also Called Auld Common): Thorass is the ancient written trade tongue and universal language of the long-ago Realms. It is often found in tombs, underground ways, and ancient habitations and is still in use among the scribes of the southern noble courts. It is the ancestor of the common tongue. This language was used primarily for documents and trading records, as well as histories, and as such did not achieve common usage. An inscription in Thorass translates directly into common, although it usually uses a stilted and archaic form of phrasing and vocabulary.

Espruar; This is the moon elven alphabet, in which most elves of the Realms render messages, either in common or their native language. A beautiful script alphabet, Espruar (ES-prue-AR) often covers elven jewelry and monuments in ornate designs. Espruar is rarely committed to paper, but when permanent records are required, it is pressed into metal in the dwarven fashion. Elven histories are rare, since most of the elves who experienced the historical events that would be in them are still alive.

Dethek Runes: Dwarves seldom write on that which can perish. Rarely, they stamp or inscribe runes on metal sheets and bind those together to make books, but stone is their usual medium: stone walls in caverns, stone buildings, pillars or standing stones - even cairns. Most often, they write on tablets called runestones in the common tongue.

A typical runestone is flat and diamond-shaped, about an inch thick, and made of granite or some other very hard rock. The face of the stone is inscribed with Dethek runes in a ring or spiral around the edge, and the center normally contains a picture. Some runestones have pictures in relief and are used as seals or can be pressed into wet mud to serve as temporary trail markers underground.

To a dwarf, all runestones bear some sort of message. Most are covered with Dethek runic script, which translates directly into dwarvish or common. The runes of this script are simple and made up of straight lines for ease in cutting them into stone. No punctuation can be shown in Dethek, but sentences are usually separated by script slash marks, words are separated by spaces, and capital letters have a line drawn above them. Numbers that are enclosed in boxes are dates, day preceding year by convention. There are collective symbols or characters for identifying peoples (clans or tribes) or races. If any runes are painted, names of beings and places are commonly picked out in red, while the rest of the text is colored black or left as unadorned grooves.

Ruathlek: Ruathlek, the "secret language" or magical script of illusionists, is rarely found in the Realms. Illusionists themselves are fairly rare in the North - but Waterdeep is known to hold at least one library of books in that dweomer-guarded tongue. It has been surmised that this written secret language of the illusionists is derived from the use of magical runes. Illusionists only have access to this language upon choosing their class. It may be learned by others, but does not confer the ability to cast magical spells.

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