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Elf Dialects

By Robert Sullivan

Inspired by Mr. Boyd's old post about human languages in the Realms I have written the below, which is about elf languages and dialects. Given the age of elf culture, the diversity of elf races and the geographic spread of the Fair Folk, it is unlikely they all speak with the same dialect or even the same language. Humans, in the real world, show a great diversity of dialects in just the English language. Elves should show a similar diversity. If you are wondering how the elves can communicate with these different dialects, bear in mind that a person from southern Georgia and northern England are speaking the same language, even if they are speaking very different dialects. Likewise a green elf from the Forest of Tethyr could speak to and understand a gold elf from Evereska - it would take as much work for both parties to understand each other as it would for that Georgian and Englishman to understand each other.

Elfin Languages and Dialects

Elf languages break down into three majors groups, each of which has a number of dialects. The main elf languages are drow, sea elf and standard elf.



Each drow city has it's own dialect. This is largely due to the fact that drow cities are isolated by the geography and the physical make up of the under dark and the fact the drow highly xenophobic. While trade and commerce do take place, little cultural exchange occurs. Like their surface cousins, the differences between dialects are not enough to constitute a change in language. However to natives, or those surface dwellers that are trained and observant, there are noticeable differences in the speech patterns of the drow cities.

Surface dwellers often say that the drow language, regardless of dialect, is disturbing to hear. Sounds that emulate dripping water, wind blowing through a cavern, the clicking of giant spiders, moans and the like constitute much of the tongue and echo-like inflections are usually present. Much of this disturbing effect is lost on the drow themselves, who have spoken this language for millennia.

Understanding the drow language is possibly more disturbing than the eerie sounds of which it is made. There are 23 different drow words for cavern, 7 for the kinds of water found in the under dark, 11 for the under dark emanations (or radiation) and 1,284 different words for torture. There are no drow words for selflessness, compassion or joy, as these are largely alien concepts to the dark elves. There is also no native drow poetry or songs.


Sea Elf

Sea elf language shows surprise similarity even over great distances. The principle difference is in which body of water the sea elves call home; the Sea of Fallen Stars or the Trackless Sea and beyond. The dialect spoken by sea elves near Evermeet is closer to that of the sea elves near Halruaa than it is to the dialect spoke by the sea elves of the Sea of Fallen Stars.

The Trackless dialect, to air dwellers, sounds much like whale songs, with long, rolling moans, cries and a few clicks. It carries over very long distances.

The Fallen Stars dialect to air dweller sounds much like porpoise and seal sounds, with many clicks and braying calls. It is more given to through-the-air communication than is the Trackless dialect.

Both dialects have more empathy concepts than they do concrete concepts. This is not to say the language is unusually nice or kind; the seas are a violent place and the sea elf language reflects this fact. However, their language manages to convey the hostility of their environment without itself being cruel, unlike the drow language.


Standard Elf

The standard elf language is arguably the most diverse and complicated because it encompasses the speech of three races and many different and old elf cultures.

Seven separate and overlapping dialects make up the standard elf language. These seven dialects divide into two groups: the High, or racial, dialects; and the Low, or cultural, dialects.

The High dialects are Gold, Moon and Green. The Gold elf dialect is highly singsong in nature while the Green elf dialect mimics the sounds of nature in much the same way the drow language mimics its environment. The moon elf dialect falls somewhere between the two.

The Low dialects are Aryvandan, Syorpan, Keltoran, and Eiellan. Aryvandan comes from the old elf culture of the High Forest in the Savage North. Eiellan is the dialect that descended from the elves of the Winter Wood and is now the most common low dialect of Evereska. Syorpan is the low dialect of the elves all along the Vilhon Reach and even into parts of the Shaar. The remaining elves of the Forest of Tethyr speak the low dialect Keltoran, and until the massacre of many of these elves a few years ago this was the main low dialect of southern elves. It has sense been eclipsed by Syorpan.

To a trained ear it is possible to not only determine an elf's home region, but the speakers race, just by listening to how he or she speaks.

The elves of Evermeet speak a hodgepodge of low accents, having come from all over Faerun. This hodgepodge is called the Cormathan low dialect, because that lost realm is the first places the elf dialect began to get muddy - much to the horror of the elders. Just when these elders began getting used to the mixing of low dialects, a new (and to their reasoning) and more ghastly phenomena has emerged sense the withdrawal of elves from Faerun - a mixing of the high dialects. It is increasingly common for younger elves to use euphemisms and inflections more typical in another elf race. Adventuring elves are particularly bad about this social blunder. Some elders are starting to push for dialect laws, similar to those of ancient Aryvandaar, to straight this mess out in an effort to preserve elf culture.


Authors Disclaimer:

(Notice: Copyright 04-01-2000)
Use of this article, in whole or in part, is only granted only if the authors name and the copyright notice are attached.)
Legal Disclaimer: The Forgotten Realms, Sea of Swords, Inner Sea, Drow are copyright of Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. The use of the terms here is for the sake of completion and is not meant to infringe upon the copyrights of the above mentioned parties. This article is for non-profit purposes.

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