I’ve always loved languages. I enjoyed my linguistics courses in college. I always dreamed of learning more languages, but I’ve never made it a priority. I suppose that makes it one of my dreamier dreams. As such, I’ve always had a great respect for polyglots.
Then I wrote my story. Each of the major characters has a “mother tongue,” but by and large they only speak common trade language in the story. This is partly because of the history of the world–much of the continent was dominated by a single empire, which changed language patterns–and partly because a couple of linguistics courses does not a linguist make. As much as I’d love to be able to make up languages, I don’t think I could do it well. I also don’t want to annoy my readers by making them figure out which language people are speaking at a given time. Common trade language for the win.
But there is one character in the book who does speak in different languages. He has lived for hundreds of years and traveled extensively. Common sense and knowledge (and linguists and history and whatnot) dictate that the language of the White Order–that empire I mentioned–evolved to become the common trade language. People living in the time of the book would not have been able to read the language of the White Order. So right out of the gate my character would have had to know several iterations of the same language.
It didn’t hurt that this character knew a few languages before his pseud0-immortality, and all those centuries of wandering meant that he was sure to have learned more. What else is there to do with eternity but read all the books? If you’ve got forever, why not learn as many languages as you can so you can read the original text?
So that’s what this character does. Then it occurred to me that I had no idea how many languages a human could actually learn to speak.
Turns out it’s lots. There are many documented cases of people knowing a dozen languages, even twenty languages, even forty languages. That makes me feel less silly for having my character know twenty-seven, especially since he’d had centuries to acquire them (although to be fair, he knew four before he became immortal).
The second book in the series even shows this character working as a translator, and in honor of everyone working as a translator, he gets paid well for the work. Yes, my biases are showing.
My wonderful spouse was rereading the book (I’m in the editing phase), and we were talking about language. Then a few days later, he stumbled upon this article:
Which has this video: