Azeroth polyglot

Well, today is kind of a rambling post, mainly to kill time in this holding pattern before the Gamescon announcement and what I fervently hope is — surely it has to be this week, doesn’t it? — implementation of flying in Draenor.

Recently I have gotten interested in WoW languages. There are a lot of them, at least some 20-25 referenced in the game. They used to play a richer role in WoW than they do now. Your character could even learn new languages as skills, but as far as I know that is no longer possible. I think there are still a few artifact racial passives and minor glyphs that have some minimal language interface, but mostly the concept is gone. It survives mainly now in city and NPC names, and once in a while in an archaic inscription or boss/NPC phrase, but that is about it.

Still, I have just started looking into this aspect of the game, and I am going to keep digging and exploring possible contemporary uses. I am sure some of the RP-ers out there know a lot more about the subject than I do.

As a side comment, I wonder if there are any real lore-based RP-ers left in the game. I suppose there might be, on a couple of the old hardcore RP servers. My server is technically listed as RP, but I never see any serious groups doing lore-based role-playing. What I see is usually some horny teenager in trade chat asking “Anyone wanna RP?” by which they mean does anyone want to meet them in Goldshire because their mom makes them use the computer in the family room and so they can’t go to a real porn site.

Once in a while I also see people doing guild recruitment for RP guilds based on religion, or on trying to recapture bygone student days, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but I do not consider it to be real “RP” for the game.

When I first started playing WoW I was in a guild that advertised itself as RP, but what it actually consisted of was the clueless GM requiring everyone to use “thou” and “thee” and “thy” and “’tis” in guild chat. She was also big on using “prithee” and “art”. And she had absolutely no idea how to use any of these constructions, she just kind of threw them in. At one point a few of us including the GM were running some quests together and I was having some mouse problems, so I asked the group to wait a minute while I fixed things. After a minute or so, the GM asked me — this is a direct quote which I swear I am not making up — “‘Tis thee ready, art thy mouse fixed?” It took me a minute to get over my laughing fit, because of course never at any time in the history of any language would that phrase have made any sense whatsoever. I discovered the /gquit command shortly thereafter, and that was the end of my so-called RP days.

It seems like the whole idea of multiple WoW languages is a promise abandoned, never fully developed. Which is too bad. My undergraduate work was in Russian and German, with a heavy dose of both theoretical and applied linguistics, and I have an advanced degree in Slavic Linguistics. Though I do not currently work in the field, it is a lifelong interest.

In other words, I am a language nerd.

I admire any artificially constructed language, if it is well done, as much as I love real languages. And I think there are two somewhat diverse “gold standards” for modern conlangs. Of course, Tolkien’s are the ones everyone thinks of, and there is no disputing the depth and richness of them. Not only does his conlang poetry sing, but the linguistics hold together beautifully, in all aspects of phonetics, phonemics, and syntax.

The other fully developed modern conlang I think of is Klingon, initially devised by James Doohan and subsequently fleshed out by Marc Okrand. (There, I have now officially placed the stereotypical nerd crown on my head….) Klingon, like Tolkien’s conlangs, is a real language by almost any definition you care to apply. And no, I do not speak it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire it for its depth and linguistic wholeness. People can and do speak it, write poetry and songs in it, use it to communicate with others, and expand it using defined rules to encompass new concepts.

Contrast these conlangs with the so-called languages of WoW, which are little more than scattered phrases assembled mainly by following a skeleton set of linguistic rules. Perhaps the original WoW devs hoped the players would take the linguistic ball and run with it, developing the languages fully. But that never happened, at least that I know of.

No, I am not taking up the challenge, not even for one language, although it is very tempting. Still, for me, Azeroth languages retain a whiff of a hint of historic richness and contemporary diversity, and it is too bad that they have never been developed to their full potential.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

7 Responses to Azeroth polyglot

  1. Casually Odd says:

    Whoa, that nerd crown is blinding! (I love it)

    I like to RP outside of game (other pen-and-paper style) and I’ve tried in-game but I just have trouble. Part* of it is that I just can’t connect much with the lore. I’ve tried and I keep trying, but the lore just doesn’t stick with me. It doesn’t grab me overall. This bit here or that bit there will be good and resonate, but the sum total usually leaves me feeling unfulfilled. And it is frustrating because others seem to really get it and love it so I think “what am I not getting”?

    Reading Anne Stickney has been a big help (I’ve got a post developing on her and how much I enjoy her writing). The others at Know Your Lore have been good, but it is her columns that I always enjoy the most.

    This all ties into languages in that I understand that feeling of lost potential. When I look at a lot of lore and the “feel” of World of Warcraft I feel like these is a lot of potential there. The languages are one area of course but there is also the stuff hinted at in archeology. There are good ideas there and probably good stories.

    * another reason I have trouble RPing in game is what is touched on above – few people really doing the lore-type RP that I would want to try. And at this point I’ve kind of become used to just having it in my head that I don’t know that I could join a group if I did find one.

    • Fiannor says:

      I can never get the lore straight either, but I have always chalked it up to my lack of much interest in it. But now that I think about it, I wonder if I maybe the reason I can’t get interested in it is because it lacks a strong unifying theme and compelling story line. It has always seemed to me that WoW lore exists to legitimize and explain mechanics and quests, not the other way around. Draenor, of course, is the ultimate example of that.

      But I suspect I would be able to get very interested in any part of it that included a robust language component — night elf lore, for example, would be fascinating to me if I could trace similarities between all the elven languages to historical events. I could even get interested enough to come up with a decent character history and participate in some kind of night elf RP. Heck, if we ever get real player housing, I wouldn’t mind having a place in Darnassus!

      I am hoping some of the rumors are true about a strong night elf component to the next xpac. Maybe that will stir me to delve a bit deeper into at least that aspect of the lore.

      • Casually Odd says:

        “…WoW lore exists to legitimize and explain mechanics and quests, not the other way around. Draenor, of course, is the ultimate example of that.”

        I think you got it perfectly. The thing is, even knowing that gameplay trumps lore, you can still make the lore interesting and deep and still be secondary to gameplay, most times. It may take a lot of work, but if you’ve got passionate people (I again point to Anne Stickney – did I mention she’s awesome?) that know and care about the lore AND get the game, not only can they do it, they’ll WANT to do it.

        Look at you. If given a basic outline of a language you’d probably be able to really invest more in the game. And you likely aren’t the only one.

        I hadn’t thought about this before but in the rush to push out more expansions, there will likely be less time to create good lore.

        I’m going to try to be less pessimistic about WoW…I’ve been a bit negative for my taste lately. Still, I’m probably not buying the next expansion upon release. Having a strong Night Elf component will help though.

  2. Grumsta says:

    I find it fascinating as a relative new-comer to the game that seasoned vets like yourselves are also largely ignorant of the Lore of the game. I assumed I’d missed something as I levelled up (five times) but it’s clear that Fiannor’s comment is accurate: “WoW lore exists to legitimize and explain mechanics and quests”.

    My favourite role-playing game is RuneQuest, because it is set in a believeable world with well-rounded mythos and history. That made creating a player and knowing their place in it much easier and more satisfying. There is a good chunk of that in WoW in that the races have home areas and so on.

    My favourite video game is Morrowind. It had faults, and bugs, but these were largely fixed by fan-created patches. The thing I liked about the game was that there was a (largely) coherent story arc that your character could folow from noob to hero. If you wanted to you could just play that game, and of course when you start out that’s what you do.

    The game got really fun and enjoyably repeatable because you could ignore the main quest chain completely and go hunting for side quests. The fan-created patches added lots into areas of the world that had been created but not fleshed out or populated.

    I have always been disappointed that there isn’t a similar quest chain in WoW. One that will explain each xpac and take you on a story that develops over time. There are already more than enough side quests. As it is WoW feels episodic, not epic.

    Don’t get me wrong there are great storylines to be found, but I think the writers could do more to put our actions in a larger context.

    Verily and forsooth, ’tis proper roleplaying then, methinks.

    • Casually Odd says:

      First of all: “Verily and forsooth, ’tis proper roleplaying then, methinks.” I’m literally laughing to myself.

      Second, I do think Fiannor nailed it about lore. I think I’ve read that idea before too and sadly agree. The thing is, I know there are glimmers of potential and, as I mentioned, Anne Stickney over at Blizzard Watch is a great read because you can tell she really thinks about the lore. So she gets it, which is why I am always wondering if it is me.

      I loved Morrowind too and for all of the reasons you said. It obviously had its flaws but all of them do and its strengths more than made up for it.

      I understand what you mean about the episodic vs epic feel and that’s pretty true. I think one thing they got right in Draenor is that they had storylines that were the key focus of each area. So you could see the 4/8 quests for the Talador area or whatever. The problem they still have is that you wouldn’t know if you were on one of those quest lines until that name popped up.

      It would be nice if sides quests were yellow exclamation points, main storyline quests were green exclamation points and we’ll remake flight paths something else.

  3. gnomecore says:

    I assume that demon language is like Chinese. The Chinese can make a very long poem using only the word “Shi” with different tone and hieroglyphs. So zennsh zennsh zennshina may work the same way in Burning Legion.