Friday, April 30, 2021

Languages: house rules summation

As a kind of wrap-up to this series (for now at least) I want to share the following text. It reflects decisions I made about how common and alignment languages work for my OSE campaign world. I believe this represents a workable perspective with internally-consistent logic and that presents some interesting fictional opportunities.

Ancient Language by DaiSanVisArt


There are three alignments, Law, Chaos, and neutrality. Neutrality is an agnostic or transitional state between the other two. One can ally with the forces of Law or of Chaos, or attempt to remain neutral. Chaos and Law constantly battle over the allegiances of men and other species, however. Some supernatural entities also attempt to maintain neutrality in this war, with greater or lesser success, but they tend not to interfere in power struggles or gift powers to mortals.

Alignment Languages 

Those allied to Law or Chaos are granted a supernatural language. To speak or understand Law, you must be aligned to Law. The same is true of Chaos. If you ever drift away from your allegiance, you will lose the ability to speak/understand the language. The range of concepts communicable in these languages are related to their nature. For instance, there is no word for “truce” in Chaos; but one may speak of a bargain.

Speaking Law or Chaos is a powerful and often dangerous act. It may reveal your presence to supernatural creatures. It will certainly be recognized by enemies and can be used as a kind of litmus test among allies. Characters who are exposed to an alignment language they don’t know for very long will suffer, physically and mentally. Anxiety and headaches are followed by tears of blood or other stigma. If the exposure is prolonged, madness may result. Characters who are neutral will suffer less than those of the opposite alignment to the language being spoken.

Some spells are scribed in alignment language. This means that they may not be cast by individuals of other alignments without the use of Read Magic and without sustaining damage and eliciting the attention of supernatural beings. (It also means that despite being magic, someone of the same alignment could read it without using Read Magic.)

[Rules text for OSE.] Exposure to an opposite alignment language causes d3 hp per round (1 hp for neutral characters). If the exposure is prolonged or especially intense, the GM may call for characters to Save vs. Spells to avoid madness. On a successful save, the damage ends. 

Characters can try to drown out the voice of someone speaking by stopping their ears, making loud noises, or even speaking loudly in the opposite language. This grants a bonus to saves and/or reduces damage to 1hp per round. Combining voices of the same language don’t do additional damage, and Chaos and Law being spoken at the same time cause a painful noise but essentially cancel each other out – though any/all servants of Chaos and Law within psychic earshot may show up!

Characters cannot cast spells of an alignment that is not their own, not even from a scroll. They literally cannot read or speak the words that would make the spell happen.


Common is a trade language based on the most common, wide-spread human dialect.  Most humans know Common and, as does any species that commonly interacts with humans.

Common consists of several hundred very basic words. It is pretty easy to learn, but lacks any depth or nuance. For most things, there is only one word: e.g. “home” covers house, hut, den, burrow, nest, etc.

Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from human are less likely to (be able to) speak Common. Communication with such a species takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing.

Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also gives you a rudimentary understanding of their culture.

Some folk refuse to learn or speak Common. Usually their reasons are seated in some form or cultural/regional pride and/or dislike of other species. Speaking Common to them may cause a -1 reaction penalty.

Learning Languages

Languages other than alignment can be learned through study. Speaking a language may require a mouth similar to the species whose language is being studied. 

Languages are often related to each other. Given a steady stream of nonverbal cues, context, and words, a bystander can sometimes follow the gist of a conversation by others if the language being spoken is close to any they know.

The INT bonus determines how many additional languages (other than alignment, native, and common) a character can learn. These languages may be chosen from the list below during character creation or they may be saved for learning a language later. Adventurers aren’t scholars and simply don’t have the time to study/learn an endless number of languages. If a character wants to learn a language at some point and doesn’t have any open slots left, they may study to learn a kind of smattering or pigeon form of that language. Mark it with an asterisk on the character sheet to indicate its limited nature. To change languages, mark an old one with an asterisk (the character is extremely rusty with it) and fully learn the new one.

Starting Languages

Your list here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Words of power: weaponizing alignment languages

Acts of Power

I'm continuing to experience thoughts on alignment languages in D&D. This round I want to talk about speaking alignment language as an act of power. Inspiration came in the form of a response to an earlier post:

GrymlordeApril 21, 2021 at 10:00 AM

I think I can safely say that in the Midwest during the 1970s, everyone assumed that the Chaotic alignment language was the Black Speech of Mordor. Rightly or wrongly, Tolkein had an unbelievable huge impact on everyone's campaign. The early Judges' Guild products are a good examples.

Yes! This thought occurred to me at one point in my earlier writing and I lost it. So I am indebted for Grymlorde for both reaffirming it and returning it to my mind. When Gandalf makes the faux pas of reciting the Black Speech that is engraved in the one ring aloud at the council of Elrond, a shadow passes over the sun, everyone trembles, and the elves stop up their ears. Later, as the fellowship attempts to cross Caradhras the Cruel, Gandalf rattles off a fire spell and two things happen, only one of which is the intended effect of the spell:

Gandalf himself took a hand. Picking up a faggot he held it aloft for a moment, and then with a word of command, naur an edraith ammen! he thrust the end of his staff into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out, and the wood flared and sputtered.

"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," he said. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin" (The Fellowship of the Ring).

Art for the Bakshi Lord of the Rings
movie poster, by Tom Jung (I think)

If alignment languages are gifted by their representative gods, it's not unreasonable to assert that each alignment language embodies a fraction of the power of those forces. In other words, when one speaks Law or Chaos, one is literally doing something powerful – invoking supernatural forces. This may sound like a stretch, but how else can one explain the inability of a "former" Chaotic creature to speak Chaos? It is a gift that can be revoked! 

When a character speaks alignment, I want other character's ears to bleed. I want to see minds shattered. I want characters to think twice before speaking in an alignment language!

Here's how I might handle it at my own game table. Taking cues from Tolkien and dialing things up to 11, I would say that speaking an alignment language reveals not only your alignment, but may reveal your presence to enemies. Second, hearing an alignment language that you don't understand causes you immediate discomfort and, if prolonged, real physical and/or mental wounds. 

This treatment makes alignment languages feel powerful! And it keeps them from being a kind of shortcut. Theoretically, if there are no ramifications, a party consisting of characters from each alignment could converse with almost any intelligent creature in its alignment tongue. Despite Gygax's suggestion in the 1e AD&D DMG that one never flaunts their alignment language for reasons of secrecy and social pressure, many a player has remained undaunted by peer pressure inside the game world! Conversely, eliciting dangerous attention from the powers-that-be and causing pain to creatures of another alignment would be a good deterrent.

Weaponized Words 

Alignment languages could also be weaponized. If a party entirely consisting of lawful characters spoke Law in front of a gaggle of chaotic drow, they could slip in some extra damage. But it's a slippery slope, as they could also draw more agents of Chaos. 

It's more likely that weaponized language would be abused by the GM; having evil persons speak Chaos to cause damage to Law characters, under the assumption that it is safe to speak within a stronghold of like-minded chaotic creatures. It's likely, however, that this problem would be checked by two factors. 1) The GM really has infinite power and could kill characters any number of ways, so another trick doesn't really make things worse. The real limit to a GMs power is the tolerance of their friends. Rough handling and unfair practices leads to an empty table. 2) Chaos doesn't necessarily want to draw the attention of Chaos. Just because they share an alignment doesn't mean one Chaos Lord doesn't have a beef with another. The same might be true of Law. Not all agents of each faction are united in purpose.

Closing Thought

None of this is intended to be prescriptive or didactic. I am following my own ideas, interpretations, and preferences. If yours differ, please follow them to your own conclusions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Further thoughts on common and alignment languages

Literary Sources of Chaos and Law ... and Neutral?

The main sources for alignment concepts in the Appendix N are probably Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, Moorcock's Elric and Corum series, and Zelazney's Chronicles of Amber series. I have read all of these, with the caveat that I have only read four Elric books and four Corum books. 

For the most part, Neutral is not a force in these works, but rather an in-between, a neutrality. The exception might be Moorcock's Grey Lords. Even then, the position of neutrality is seen more as not taking sides, and Law and Chaos only really care about each other. (See quotes below; page numbers emitted because they were pulled from e-texts.)

“True,” Rackhir nodded. “Most recently we averted a threat with certain aid from the Grey Lords—but Chaos had caused the gateways to the Grey Lords to be closed to mortals. We can offer you only our warriors’ loyalty" (Stealer of Souls)
“Arioch!” Elric bowed his head before the Lord of Chaos.
“Aye, Elric. I took the demon’s place while you were gone.”
“But you have refused to aid me . . .”
“There are larger affairs afoot, as I’ve told you. Soon Chaos must engage with Law and such as Donblas will be dismissed to limbo for eternity.”
“You knew Donblas spoke to me in the labyrinth of the Burning God?”
“Indeed I did. That was why I afforded myself the time to visit your plane. I cannot have you patronized by Donblas the Justice Maker and his humourless kind. I was offended. Now I have shown you that my power is greater than Law’s.” Arioch stared beyond Elric at Rackhir, Brut, Moonglum and the rest who were protecting their eyes from his beauty. “Perhaps you fools of Tanelorn now realize that it is better to serve Chaos!”
Rackhir said grimly: “I serve neither Chaos nor Law!”
One day you will be taught that neutrality is more dangerous than side-taking, renegade!The harmonious voice was now almost vicious.
“You cannot harm me,” Rackhir said. “And if Elric returns with us to Tanelorn, then he, too, may rid himself of your evil yoke[…]”
(The Sleeping Sorceress)

If you search the wikipedia page on Elric you get 13 mentions of Law, 28 of Chaos, and 0 mentions of neutral or the Grey Lords. IOW, the works are focused on the former two and the latter, neutrality, is almost an afterthought or just natural byproduct of the dichotomy (anything NOT Law or Chaos). Using Wikipedia is a fairly weak argument, but I certainly believe that Chaos and Law are more realized than neutrality in Moorcock.

Given his state influences, one wonders why Gygax even established a Neutral alignment language in D&D. I've probably already said enough about that in my previous posts, however.

Common Is Esperanto?

My friend Aonghais (who also dug up the quotes above for me) reminded me of Esperanto as attempt at universal language. It hit a nostalgia chord with me as I was once an avid reader of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series. In that fictional world, Esperanto is the galactic common.

I think the efforts of linguists to create a universal language of some kind teaches us something. To date, their efforts have always failed to find any kind of widespread use. Why? Because language is political. Let's start by recognizing that some languages might be superior to others: more normalized and rational in construction but also with a depth and sophistication. Even if we could all agree on which language is the "best" – which of course we can't – it would not mean that everyone would rush to learn and speak it. 

There's lots to say here, but it has been said by others. We all recognize the fact that language is used to create borders, to mark insiders from outsiders, to force allegiance. We can look at both noble and not-so-noble manifestations of language wars: like the well-intentioned efforts to retain French as the native language of Montreal, Quebec, or the bigotry espoused by songs like "Speak English or Die!" by Stormtroopers of Death. It's a thing, and we all know it. 

Non-Verbal and Mimetic Langauges

In the comments on my previous Common Is... post, Ron Bishop said "Andre Norton utilizes this limited common tongue concept in her Beast Master stories. Terrans and Norbies communicate through a limited "finger talk" since Norbie vocalizations sound more like birds." Great example!

In other discussions I've had on social media about Common and alignment languages, gamers have indicated similar interpretations. 

"I always thought alignment language was like how Italians can talk with their hands and tattoo people have this inside thing."

"I’ve always understood alignment language to be more akin to unspoken like body language or maybe more what is talked about."

This is an interesting take. Of course hands might vary as much as mouths. Can two races share a hand-language if one has 5 fingers and the other 6 or 4? It's a viable alternative for your game world though. 

Gygax ultimately settled on alignment as a set of culturally-shared memes. 
On page 24-25 of the 1e DMG.

Alignment language is a handy game tool which is not unjustifiable in real terms. Thieves did employ a special cant. Secret organizations and societies did and do have certain recognition signs, signals, and recognition phrases — possibly special languages (of limited extent) as well. Consider also the medieval Catholic Church which used Latin as a common recognition and communication base to cut across national boundaries. In AD&D, alignment languages are the special set of signs, signals, gestures, and words which intelligent creatures use to inform other intelligent creatures of the same alignment of their fellowship and common ethos. Alignment languages are NEVER flaunted in public. They are not used as salutations or interrogatives if the speaker is uncertain of the alignment of those addressed. Furthermore, alignment languages are of limited vocabulary and deal with the ethos of the alignment in general, so lengthy discussion of varying subjects cannot be conducted in such tongues.

It goes on. And on. But it's all interesting. It's clear that by 1978 Gygax had thought about alignment languages in some detail. Oddly none of this is even suggested in the PHB. It also fails to explain how someone who changed alignments or successfully infiltrated one couldn't know multiple alignment languages at once. 

In America, for example, if you go up to someone and say "Peace be with you," you will know they are Christian (or perhaps just certain sects of Protestant) if they say "And also with you." If you say "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" to someone and they get it, you will know they are a Trekkie. If you sing "My Bologna has a first name" any American over 50 will find it hard to resist singing back "It's O-S-C-A-R." We have all kinds of insider languages that aren't true languages. 

If you get this, you were "alive" during the 2020 election primaries.

There's no magic to knowing these cultural codes. No magic at all. Boring! I personally prefer the god-gifted glossolalia discussed in my previous article. And such a perspective seems warranted by key game systems such as spells and magic items that depend on alignment.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

What are alignment languages?

In my last post I talked about "Common" as a language. In this one I want to answer the question, "What the hell are alignment languages?" Also, "Why is there an alignment language for Neutral?" (By extension this gets into whether Neutral is in itself an ideology or a lack of one.)

Alignment Languages

The concept of alignment languages was baked into the first iteration of D&D (Oe, 1974) and reached it's most elaborate state with the nine-point alignment as detailed in the 1e AD&D Player's Handbook (1978). Here are the relevant passages:

Law, Chaos and Neutrality also have common languages spoken by each respectively. One can attempt to communicate through the common tongue, language particular to a creature class, or one of the divisional languages (law, etc.). While not understanding the language, creatures who speak a divisional tongue will recognize a hostile one and attack (Oe D&D Vol. 1, 12).

In addition to the common tongue, all intelligent creatures able to converse in speech use special languages particular to their alignment. These alignment languages are: Chaotic Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Evil, Neutral Good, and Neutrality. The alignment of your character will dictate which language he or she speaks, for only one alignment dialect can be used by a character (cf. CHARACTER CLASSES, The Assassin). If a character changes alignment, the previously known language is no longer able to be spoken by him or her (1e AD&D PHB, 34).

[Edit: I skipped over a section in the 1e DMG which alters the following assumptions somewhat. For now, just go with it knowing that this is my own take on alignment languages. I address EGG's thoughts in the DMG in the following post. ]

Conceptually, we are led to believe that these alignment languages are:

  • Full languages in which two proficient speakers can converse.
  • Languages that "come with" a character's alignment - so they are neither learnable by someone of another alignment, nor retained if one changes alignment.
  • Of a nature that discloses one's alignment when spoken, or at least one's relationship to other alignments.

Inferences and Practical Effects

Given these points, alignment languages are gifted (and revoked) in a supernatural way. They are gifted "by" someone or something of a sufficient power, the supernatural forces (gods) that are representative agents of each fundamental alignment.  

This means that the languages can serve as a real litmus test for alignment. "You say you are lawful; prove it by speaking Law!" Note that this could prevent characters from effectively operating in disguise (physical or illusionary), a common occurrence in D&D games.

They also serve as a kind of secondary Common. A chaotic character could speak to a minotaur in Chaotic. 

Absurdities: Neutrality and Overlap

All of these effects are interesting and bear a kind of strange, but consistent internal logic ... to a point. I find it reaches the level of absurdity with the nine-point alignment and with the nature of neutrality in general. Here are my opinions in that regard.

Given that neutral characters are granted the Neutral language, and that it can be revoked by a change of alignment, we have to assume that Neutral is governed by gods equal/analogous to the gods of Law and Chaos. There gods of Neutrality, and Neutral is not just a position in-between Chaos and Law or some form of agnosticism. 

In practice, a lot of players use neutral alignments as just that, a kind of alignment agnosticism; they don't feel bound by alignment forces and don't have alignment enemies. It's a kind of Humanism, or perhaps even the somewhat toxic Objectivity Positivity espoused by Ayn Rand. That is, it's the ultimate form of self-love/selfishness.

Other players treat it as a kind of religion of its own - seeking a kind of harmony or balance in the universe. It takes some mental gymnastics to reconcile the two types of players. Selfishness and communalism, for instance, would seem to be at odds. (Though one can intelligently argue that what is best for the self is to neither be more or less advantaged than others.) More to the point, what are the gods of neutrality like? They have to exist if Neutral is a gifted language.

Nature is presumably the best model - each organism pursues its own interests, but larger forces (weather, species competition, geography...) conspire to enact change (evolution). IOW, balance is achieved effortlessly over eons, but individually life is a struggle. This gives us a kind of picture of a force that is both real in-game and allows characters a range of expression from selfish or apathetic to a zealot seeking to establish balance. The gods are probably gods interested more in the tapestry than its individual knots of fabric.

That's a cool idea, but functionally, in the game, I kind of want an out. Neutrality seems to draw players who want characters in a neutral, unaligned space (rather than aligned to Neutrality). This means a lowercase neutrality could exist alongside or in place of Neutrality. To relate that to the point of this article, a truly neutral person could not speak Neutral. 

If Neutral exists, each corner of the triangle should be antagonistic toward both of the other corners. Neutral clerics should war with both Lawful and Chaotic ones. Lawful clerics should feel equally antagonistic toward Neutral and Chaotic clerics. If Neutral doesn't exist ... if there is only neutral (lowercase), then the battle ground between Law and Chaos is a bit more charged. 

And what of the nine point alignment? Where we had Law, Chaos, and Neutral before, we now have things like Lawful Neutral, and Neutral Evil. Somehow, the Neutral half of LN is fundamentally different from the Neutral half of NE, otherwise the languages would overlap such that some words would be common to both. Similarly, the Chaotic of Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil would overlap? It's nonsense. I believe this is why Gygax retreated to a position where alignment languages are cultural rather than god-gifted. You aren't magically imbued with Chaos as a language the minute your alignment drifts into the chaotic, but rather you learn all the mannerisms of speech and body language that allow you to fit in. But ... how does this make sense with a magic system that allows you to detect alignment, or weapons that are tuned to one alignment or another? Alignment languages are a mess in AD&D.


As a kind of wrap-up thought, I want to talk about glossolalia. This is the word for what some religions call "speaking in tongues." (There is an argument among protestant Christians about tongues – some say the were other real-world languages, while other sects believe in a kind of angelic tongue. The latter also usually feature interpreters who can understand those speaking in tongues.) Glossolalia is a more "scientific" term for "speaking in tongues." It specifically means to speak in a language that is not known by others.

Part of me was tempted to think of alignment languages as Glossolalia. They are languages gifted by the gods that are a mark of "ownership" and for which understanding must also be gifted. If your character is lawful, they must be gifted the language of Law and others who would understand them must also be lawful and gifted the language of Law. Further, you have to be "moved by the spirit" to "speak in tongues" and/or to be able to translate them. If you are not living out your alignment, it might prove impossible to access your alignment speech.

From the perspective of a (lowercase) neutral character, a character speaking in an alignment tongue might appear to be speaking gibberish. They might assume such speakers are deluding themselves. 

It's extremely interesting to note that Gary Gygax himself was a member of a fairly extreme protestant congregation; he was a Jehovah's Witness. JWs acknowledge the reality of speaking in tongues. At the time Gygax was writing D&D, JWs believed it was a miracle of God in the first century, as recorded in the New Testament. Modernly, they believe that speaking-in-tongues still happens, but that it is instead caused by a demonic spirit wishing to create division in the church. So, while they don't believe people should speak in tongues, they definitely believe that people can and do speak in tongues and that it is an ability granted by an inhuman supernatural entity. It strikes me that I have never heard anyone claim that Arneson introduced the idea of alignment tongues, which makes me think it was Gygax's invention.  He is, therefore, both its creator and (when it comes to AD&D) it's destroyer.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Common is more-or-less 800 words

I've been thinking a lot about RPG languages recently. This article is pretty specific to D&D and related games, but general principles apply to other games as well. Some of the questions I've been asking myself are:

  • Why is each species language seemingly monolithic? Humans don't all speak the same language so why should goblins or lizardfolk?
  • Does it help to know a language in the same family as another? If my character knows Goblin, does he have a chance to understand the gist of a conversation in Orcish? It works that way in the real world, knowing one "Romance Language" can give you a leg up on another. 
  • What the hell are alignment languages and why is there one for "Neutral?" (BTW, my first thought is that they are bit like "speaking in tongues" or glossalalia. But I'm still mulling that over; watch for a future post.)
  • And, the topic of this article, what is Common, exactly?

The Common Concept
Let's start with how the Common language works in most games. In my experience, GMs and players think of Common as fully-fleshed language that nearly every creature in a setting can learn and speak. Further, most intelligent creatures that interact with humans learn Common and speak it by default. We can generally infer that it's a language invented by humans, though that is rarely explicitly stated. 

Common Problems
This conception of Common is increasingly less realistic the larger the setting gets. To start with, non-human species with variant mouth shapes and conceptions of language/body language would find it much harder to learn and speak Common. Lizardmen, for instance, probably don't have lips soft enough to correctly form words with b, f, m, p, v, w, and y. They would have to develop some analogous, approximation, given the lips and anatomy they have. (I bring anatomy into it because of common non-verbals, like shrugging.) Second, cultural drift, political borders, and other contrariness would both increase the need for, and spoil the efforts to preserve a universal Common, even among human tribes. There is likely to be some percentage of humans, perhaps whole regions of them, who haven't learned and might refuse to learn Common. 

New Rules for Common
What does "realism" have to do with fantasy anyway? Why do we care? Let's recognize that Common is just part of the game and tackle it as rationally as possible. The goal is to build something that is internally consistent, feels real, and is perhaps more fun to work with than classic Common. Here are some conceits that I believe would make for an, more realistic and interesting take on Common:
  • Common is a trade language developed or most heavily influenced by the most prosperous/prolific species in the area. Pretty much all games assume that is humans, but it wouldn't have to be. Your game, your choice. All species that commonly interact with the dominant one, learn Common growing up. Those that never wander or are more isolationist, don't. 
  • Common consists of about 800 words. This number is derived from the "Basic English" work of I. A. Richards and C. K. Ogen and affirmed by this recent article on functional language learning. As a result, the words that make up Common would be extremely basic and un-nuanced. The tyrannical Big Brother culture in 1984 provides a good example of a much-reduced vocabulary. All the synonyms for good and great are replaced with "good (good)," "plus good" (great), and "double plus good" (excellent). The practice of a Common language exchanges sophistication for universality: a lot of people speak it, but when speaking Common one can only communicate very basic ideas. For most things, there is only one word in common: hut, den, burrow, nest, etc. are probably all just "house." 
  • Having only 800 or so words makes the language easy to pick up in a short amount of time. It would take days and weeks to learn, not months and years. 
  • Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from the base-culture of Common are less likely to learn Common and, when they do, are difficult to understand. That being said, Common develops within a region to accommodate. Maybe instead of "house" the word "nest" is used because a common species can't speak an "h" easily.
  • Communication in Common takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing. It's too simple to be useful for deep subjects.

These simple ideas keep Common powerful, but also make it a lot less useful, so that knowing other languages is a huge benefit. In fact, let's add another bullet:
  • Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also means you have a rudimentary understanding of their culture.

Finally, let's assume a similar rule applies to all cultural and regional differentiations in the base-language as well. IOW, if you are of the base culture and travel far from home, you are more and more likely to rely on Common and not be able to speak the local language. It probably first pops up as heavy accent or dialect issues, so that you are speaking the same language but communication is slower and gives rise to a number of sidebars (to explain unfamiliar words and figurative language). 

As a counterpoint, we might assume that long-lived cultures experience less language drift. They are slower to adopt new and variant words. 

Practical Impact on the Game

My final thought is that, while I like all of these ideas, I recognize that they require energy in-game. This is why Common in most games is treated as outlined at the start of this article. Language barriers can be fun and interesting, but they can also be tedious. So I would generally allow a lot of latitude until someone tries to express an idea in Common that just seems really technical or nuanced. At which time I would point out the other conversant is looking confused, or angry, or trying to suppress a laugh.

Treating Common as an un-nuanced language makes learning other languages more useful and special. Thus supplying a reason for non-wizard characters to value a high Intelligence. 

The idea that your dialect of your own language becomes less useful the farther from home you travel is also an interesting one in game terms. It could serve as a signal that you are moving into a region where understanding local laws and cultural norms will be more difficult. You will be unable to pass as a local unless you keep your trap shut, and you may find yourself running afoul of local law or simply making embarrassing blunders. IOW, the GM could use it as a plot hook, to make an area feel more exotic, or even to encourage players to stick to the "known lands."

Also note that speaking the same language creates intra-party ties and politics. A human, an elf, and a dwarf walk into a tavern. The human speaks Common and local Human. The Elf speaks Elven, Common, and Dwarvish. The Dwarf speaks Dwarvish, Common, and Goblin. They can all order beer or wine in Common. Small talk is slow and sparse because they have to converse only about basic things, except when the Elf deigns to speak Dwarvish and the two of them can start commenting on the loutish human patrons of the bar ... and then possibly fall into an alcohol-fueled argument about the relative merits of smithing vs. woodcraft or some such.