Living Greyhawk Gazetteer has the language history of Common (p. 12), but I'd like to extend that a bit and maybe make an article about it. I will thank anyone who gives decent feedback, of course.
So "a few centuries ago" we had Middle-Common. Common was most likely grammatized a little before the first Common year.
I would assume that the history is like this, in a nutshell:
Circa mid-5th century BCY: Baklunish-Oeridian pidgin (Pidgin-Common) is spoken by many Baklunish and Oeridians before the Twin Cataclysms.
Around -400 CY: After the war and during the Great Migrations, Pidgin-Common is quickly transformed into Creole-Common. Pidgin-Common becomes extinct in the process. Neverthless, Pidgin-Common and Creole-Common are very similar languages. Humans write mostly in Suel, Old Oeridian or Ancient Baklunish.
Around -300 CY: Middle-Common is widely spoken. Creole-Common dies out. Middle-Common is somewhat similar to Creole-Common. Humans write mostly in Suel, Old Oeridian or Ancient Baklunish.
Around -200 CY: Middle-Common is widely used for writing.
Maybe -100 CY: Common exists is some form but lacks standardization.
1 CY: Overking's Common is officially established and spreads quickly. Overking's Common is pretty much the same as Middle-Common.
Around 50 CY: Humans write mostly in Common but the vast majority speak Middle-Common instead of Common.
Mid-2th century CY: Middle Common is no more. Common is the universal language.
I've thought about this at times myself, though admittedly I tend to give Common a later date of creation—basically I imagine it coming about as a result of the early, pre-Overking Aerdian civilization coming into contact with the post-migration Baklunish West, Baklunish and Oeridian mixing to create a (pre?) Middle Common, then spreading out from there.
Granted I don't know as much about the Great Kingdom as I should so I'm operating under the belief that Oeridian was more "common" than Common in those lands.
Honestly it makes me wonder if Common is less a (Player's native language) analogue and more akin to a successful, albeit unintentional Esperanto?
(Of course I find it amusing that Common probably isn't all that Common once you leave the Flanaess; if d20 Chainmail is considered canon than I imagine Elvish would still be the "common tongue" for the Sundered Empire of Ravilla.)
Someone once said the English language was created as invading Norman knights worked on seducing Saxon barmaids, and there's no small amount of truth to it. As a result English is a Germanic language with a (granted, heavily corrupted) French vocabulary.
As the Oerid tribes seem to have come out of the Twin Cataclysms more intact than the Suel or Baklun, they obviously are the Normans from my example. The 'Saxons', in this case, would primarily be resident Flan and Suel refugees who, for whatever reason, did not stay in the Sheldomar Valley.
Although it is a bit surprising that the people of Keoland and it's ancillary states ever seriously adopted 'common', as they had a very good chance to retain their old language when they came over en masse and settled down relatively quickly.
I like Sutemi's idea of an ancient Western origin.
It makes the most sense to me.
Common is the modern form of an old pidgin or creole Oeridians and Baklunish developed in the dealings and mixing with one another.
Oeridian horse-mercenaries making time with Baklunish dancing girls?
I've never really liked the idea of a "universal" common language across the Flanaess. My approach is to multiple forms of Common. What makes them related is their basis in Old Oeridian, which can be considered the Latin of the Flanaess. There are not hard borders for these versions, as the form and structure changes gradually as one travels in a given direction.
1. Eastern Common: The language of the Great Kingdom, Nyrond, Iron League, the Pale, Tenh, Ratik, et. al. This is the closest to Old Oeridian, and a speaker of that old tongue can generally understand and make himself understood in Eastern Common. It is (slightly) influenced by Flan and Suel, the latter more prominent to the west, the latter in the far north and far south.
2. Central Common: The language of those regions on the Nyr Dyv and its watershed. Thus this language is common from the Wild Coast through Highfolk and Perrenland, the Urnst states to Mitrik. It incorporates a lot more Flan and Suel on its Oeridian base, as well as demi-human tongues. Bakluni influences are notable near Bissel. An Old Oeridian speaker would struggle to make himself understood.
3. Sheldomar Common: While Central and Eastern Common are clearly related, the formation of Sheldomar Common is a different, as the language was formed from the admixture of Suel and Oeridian, with neither forming a clear base, and strong Flan and demi-human addition, but in different ways from Central Common. A speaker of Old Oeridian would not be able to express himself without a similar knowledge of ancient Suel.
They do not speak any form of Common in the Bakluni West, but rather modern Baklunish.
I'm not sure who the author is, but there has been a "Languages of Greyhawk" article floating around the internet for years.
Regarding Common (or Aerdi):
The most widespread tongue in the Flanaess, Aerdi is directly derived from Middle Aerdi via
Old Oeridian, and is sometimes called Modern Aerdi. Aerdi was the official language of the
modern Great Kingdom, and is still considered the dominant language of the North Kingdom,
Ahlissa, the Solnor Compact, the Sea Barons, the Pale, the Urnst states, Ratik, the Iron
League (Onnwal, Sunndi, and Irongate), the Lordship of the Isles, the Bandit Kingdoms, and
Nyrond (where the dialect is termed Nyrondal by linguists). The tremendous reach of the
Great Kingdom in past centuries, from the Solnor to the Yatils, has established Aerdi as the
standard communication medium across the Flanaess, so much that it is often referred to as
the "Common tongue." Aerdi is also a popular language in Tenh, Greyhawk, Hardby, the Wild
Coast, the Pomarj, Dyvers, and the Shield lands.
The tongue spoken by the Aerdi tribe of Oeridians, which became the common speech for
their Great Kingdom. A number of scholars maintain a distinction between Middle Aerdi and
Old Aerdi, which was a tribal dialect of Old Oeridian spoken by the Aerdi before the rise of
the Great Kingdom proper. Middle Aerdi was prevalent throughout much of the Flanaess, and
is the direct ancestor of both Modern Aerdi and Ferrond.
Also known as Old High Oeridian or High Oeridian, and spoken by many Oerid tribes. Now
regarded as a dead language, Old Oeridian eventually evolved into Aerdi. Many books and
documents of the early Great Kingdom were written in Old Oeridian, and the language is still
widely known among sages and scholars of the eastern Flanaess.
Also see Ferrond:
Ferrond is the official language of Veluna, Furyondy, Dyvers, and Verbobonc, which made up
most of the former Viceroyalty of Ferrond. A dialect of Ferrond known as Stamtaal is spoken
in Perrenland. The third most common tongue in the Flanaess, after Aerdi and Keoish,
Ferrond is also well-known westward into Bissel and Ket, northward into Perrenland and
Highvale, and eastward to Greyhawk, the Shield lands, and even the Urnst states. Related to
Aerdi and derived from Old Oeridian, Ferrond is a common trading languages in the midwestern
Flanaess, as well as on the shores of the Nyr Dyv. An archaic form of Ferrond is
reputedly spoken in Blackmoor, and a corrupt dialect of Ferrond (with Orcish, Goblin, and
Abyssal influences) is spoken in the western region of Iuz's empire.
Dragon Magazine #66 included an article with the unwieldy title "Language rules leave lots of room for creativity in your campaign" by A.D. Rogan that traced the descent of various nonhuman languages based on what languages various creatures knew in the original Monster Manual. The premise was that if, for example, all ogres know the languages of orcs, trolls, and stone giants as well as their own language then all those languages must be closely related, since the average ogre is no linguist.
This article theorizes that Gnollish, Kobold, Goblin, Orcish, Ogrish, and Trollish are all descended from Drow (Ogrish and Trollish are strongly influenced by Giantish), while Modern Dwarvish, Gnomish, Common, and other human languages are all influenced by Middle Elfin.
Although it is a bit surprising that the people of Keoland and it's ancillary states ever seriously adopted 'common',
They didn't; they speak Keolandish there, which is "a widespread dialect of Old High Oeridian with local admixtures." According to Dragon #52, "It is old (400+ years) and established; however, learned persons will usually speak Common and/or Old Oeridian as well. It can be understood by those who speak Common or Oeridian." I take that to mean that those who aren't "learned," or who don't leave the Sheldomar, won't know any Common. How well it can be understood depends on how closely Keolandish and Common are related.
Common is supposed to be descended from a dialect of Old Oeridian (combined with Ancient Baklunish) and Keolandish is supposed to be descended from Old High Oeridian. I'm not sure if Old Oeridian and Old High Oeridian are the same thing; it seems that they represent different dialects of the Old Oeridian language, at least. The dialect spoken by the Aerdi might actually be Old Low Oeridian. Perhaps this dialect is characterized by heavy Ancient Baklunish influence, while the Old High Oeridian spoken in the Sheldomar was relatively free of such influence. Considering the amount of time and distance involved in the separation of Keolandish and Common, it might be reasonable to use the flat 16% mutual comprehensibility that Dragon #66 gives for related languages, or the 25% mutual comprehensibility the article gives for sister languages.
The Time of the Dragon boxed set for Dragonlance had a language system that was more detailed, including a linguistic tree that connected the different languages with lines with dots on them. Each dot or box reduced mutual comprehensibility by 10% so, for example, Silvanesti was only 70% comprehensible to speakers of Ancient Elvish (which it was descended from) and Cha'asi, also descended from Ancient Elvish, is only 20% comprehensible to speakers of Silvanesti.
Using that system, Old High Oeridian and Old Oeridian (which Sutemi calls Pidgin-Common) might be 90% mutually comprehensible, which would mean that Old Oeridian and Ancient Baklunish would only be 10% mutually comprehensible (making Old Oeridian and Ancient Baklunish more mutually comprehensible makes Old High Oeridian less comprehensible, so if they're 50% mutually comprehensible then speakers of Old High Oeridian are going to be very confused by all those Baklunish words).
The evolution to Creole-Common represents another "dot," so it's now only 80% comprehensible to speakers of Old High Oeridian. At the same time, in the Sheldomar Old High Oeridian evolves into Classical Keolandish, only 70% comprehensible to speakers of Creole-Common. As Creole-Common becomes Middle Common, Classical Keolandish becomes Middle Keolandish, only 50% comprehensible to speakers of Middle Common. Middle Common becomes Modern Common and Middle Keolandish becomes Modern Keolandish, and Modern Common and Modern Keolandish are now only 30% mutually comprehensible.
Obviously that's just one possible interpretation; perhaps trade, aided by magic, has ensured that Common and Keolandish are more similar than that. Perhaps neither has evolved that much from their Old Oeridian roots.
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